The burgeoning trade relationship between Britain and Israel was given a further boost last night when Boris Johnson unveiled plans to lead an unprecedented trade delegation to the Jewish state.
The Mayor of London told the Jewish News that he has held preliminary talks with Ambassador Daniel Taub about organising a trade and business mission that could take place as early as next year – a move hailed by community leaders as the “best possible response” to efforts to boycott Israel.
“We think there’s lots of synergy between Israel and London, particularly in the tech sector,” Johnson said. “Israel is an incredible illustration of what a country can do without any natural resources to speak of. Just energy, dynamism, creativity, entrepreneurial spirit – that’s what we need in London. We need to create something like Israel’s culture of innovation. That’s what I want to go and talk about.”
While plans are in their formative stages, Johnson said it was a “cast iron guarantee” that such a visit would take place during his mayoralty. “I’m determined to go,” he added.
Despite boycott calls targeting Israel products, the value of UK imports from Israel have more than doubled between 2009-2012 to £230m, with tech the biggest factor in that growth. But a delegation would nevertheless represent a huge vote of confidence by the Mayor, who has previously taken part in delegations to India and the Gulf and is set to lead a large group of business figures to China later this year.
Jeremy Newmark, chief executive of the Jewish Leadership Council, described the prospect of the delegation as “good news for London and good news for Israel”. He added: “The Mayor’s delegation will further galvanise the bilateral relationship between the UK and Israel. At the same time it represents the best possible response to recent efforts to promote anti-Israel boycotts within local Government institutions in a number of London boroughs.”
Both the British and Israeli governments have spoken of the importance of nurturing the trade relationship between the nations, Hugo Bieber, the new CEO of UK Israel Business, added that planned delegation to Israel “is yet another example of the economic benefits both countries can offer each other. The two economies are highly complementary, and when business is put ahead of politics, significant economic benefits can be seen for both the UK and Israel”.
The Zionist Federation‘s Alan Aziz described news of the mission as “excellent news. The trading relationship between the two countries is a shining example of how other countries who make decisions intelligently should be operating”. Asked for his views on boycott calls against Israel, Johnson said simply: “My mayoralty will be building ties”.
Britain is now second only to America in terms of Israel’s export markets. One of the key drivers of the bilateral partnership is the UK Israel Tech Hub, established by British Ambassador to the Jewish state Matthew Gould in 2011 to create partnerships in which British companies help Israeli innovation go global and Israeli innovation gives British companies a global competitive edge. The Hub’s activities focus on areas such as digital, biomed and cleantech.