Canada, Israel update free trade deal

Knesset speaker Yuli Edelstein, centre, presents Prime Minister Stephen Harper an with an honorary jersey from the Israel Recreational Ice Hockey Association as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu looks on.

JERUSALEM — As part of Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s four-day trip to Israel, Canada and Israel have signed a memorandum of understanding that will update the 1997 Canada-Israel Free Trade Agreement (CIFTA) and advance trade between the two countries in such key areas as commerce, innovation, energy, security, international aid and development, and human rights.

Harper and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu witnessed the signing this morning (Jan. 21) in Jerusalem. It was carried out by Canadian Foreign Minister John Baird and his Israeli counterpart, Avigdor Liberman.

A second memorandum of understanding, signed by the presidents of Halifax’s Dalhousie University and Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, promises future research collaboration in the field of oil and gas development.

The CIFTA memorandum is a follow-up to Harper’s landmark Knesset speech the previous day – the first by a Canadian prime minister in Israel’s history. In it, he said “the elimination of tariffs on industrial products and some foodstuffs has led to a doubling in the value of trade between our countries.” Total bilateral merchandise trade between Canada and Israel was valued at $1.41 billion in 2012.

Calling the CIFTA memorandum “a testament of the goodwill between our two nations,” Harper said it “lays out a strategic direction for stronger future relations between our two countries in commerce, innovation, energy, security, international aid and development, and the promotion of human rights globally.”

During his Knesset speech, Harper mentioned the benefits Canada has already reaped from its partnership, including military reconnaissance technology, which he said has saved many Canadian lives in Afghanistan. In the areas of science and technology, as well, Harper mentioned that Canada has seen key benefits from the partnership so far.

CIFTA, which Harper called “very successful,” has been amended twice since it came into effect on Jan. 1, 1997, and now includes most manufactured and agricultural goods, with the exception of poultry, dairy and eggs. Canada was motivated to implement CIFTA in light of the significant benefits enjoyed by U.S. importers following the signing of the U.S.-Israel Free Trade Agreement in 1985.

The memorandum of understanding between the two universities heralds future collaboration in the area of offshore oil exploration. In 2011, Dalhousie vice-president Martha Crago visited Israel to explore possibilities of mutually beneficial research projects.

Following the discovery of significant shale oil deposits near Jerusalem, Canada and Israel signed an agreement in 2012 to collaborate in oil research.

Oil exploration has been going on for years off Israel’s coasts, but the results have often been disappointing, with “dry holes” offering little reward. However, recent breakthroughs show that Israel’s southwest coast could yield as much as 1.7 billion barrels of oil, offering Israel long-sought-after energy independence.