PHL-Israel trade not seen sufficiently developed to warrant FTA

THE PHILIPPINES and Israel have not yet reached the point in their trade relationship that warrants a free trade agreement (FTA), Ilan Fluss, Israel’s ambassador to the Philippines, said.

“(An FTA is) always interesting, but you need to have a certain level of trade between the countries in a variety of areas to make it interesting for both countries. I think we’re not there yet,” Mr. Fluss said on the sidelines of an event organized by Digital Pilipinas in Makati City last week.

Mr. Fluss said the Philippines and Israel are set to convene a joint economic commission (JEC) meeting in the second quarter of 2023 to discuss more business and investment collaboration.

“This will be an opportunity for the two governments to sit down and discuss how (we can introduce) more tools to do more business together,” Mr. Fluss said.

In June, the Philippines and Israel signed a memorandum of understanding creating the JEC.

According to Mr. Fluss, interest in investment and collaboration centers on agricultural technology, digitalization, water management, financial technology, and cybersecurity.

“Israeli companies are here (and) seeing a lot of interest. We’re trying to get more Philippine companies to come to Israel, to identify opportunities in Israel, because the two economies complement each other,” Mr. Fluss said.

“The Philippines is a vast island country (with) a lot of challenges (and) needs. Israel is a small country, but has a lot of technology and best practices that it can share with the Philippines. I think that it just makes sense to work together,” he added.

Mr. Fluss said that the investment promotion and protection agreement (IPPA) signed by the Philippines and Israel in June 2022 has yet to be ratified by Israel’s parliament, which was newly elected in November.

“The Philippines went into elections. And then in Israel… we also went into elections. We need to ratify this agreement. Our parliament is convening again. So hopefully this will be ratified,” Mr. Fluss said.

The Department of Trade and Industry has said that the IPPA provides opportunities to tap investment in life sciences and healthcare, water technology, high technology and semiconductors, cybersecurity, financial technology, and defense.

Bilateral trade in goods between the Philippines and Israel was $323 million in 2021, higher than 2020 levels but lower than the pre-pandemic total of $338 million in 2019.  — Revin Mikhael D. Ochave