Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu lauded Israel's burgeoning ties with China Monday, during a meeting in Jerusalem with Chinese Vice Premier Liu Yandong.
In particular, Netanyahu hailed Beijing's overtures to begin free trade negotiations with the Jewish state, which could potentially double bilateral trade, from $8 billion to $16 billion.
"I was delighted to hear today from Vice Premier Liu that China is prepared to begin free trade agreement negotiations with Israel," Netanyahu told reporters at a joint press conference. "This is a momentous development and we are ready to do so right away.
Echoing comments made earlier Monday by Israeli President Reuven Rivlin, Netanyahu added, "We have so much that we can do together. We discussed the various fields in which this can happen – in health care, in remote education, in agriculture, in marine agriculture, in IT. In every field of human endeavor the cooperation between Israel and China can yield enormous results. And we believe that Israel can be a perfect partner."
Chinese Vice Premier Liu Yandong for her part said China was pleased to begin talks on a free trade zone with Israel, and added that her country is ready to cooperate for the benefit of both peoples. She said that Israel and China are heading toward major joint projects and noted that Israel is known throughout the world for its innovation.
The free trade agreement, which will include trade in goods and services, as well as economic and technological cooperation – is expected to significantly increase GDP in both countries by encouraging increased investment and boosting bilateral relations.
It comes as Israel continues to pivot eastward in its trade, diplomatic and other relations, in part as a way of offsetting anti-Israel sentiment and economic pressures in Europe.
Among other things, the China-Israel free trade agreement will aim to remove impediments to trade between the two – Israeli exports to China will benefit from easier entry to China and vice-versa – and enable the lifting of impediments in the fields of standardization and regulation.
During their meeting at the Israeli Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem, the two leaders opened the second meeting of the 2016 Israel-China innovation conference – the most important Israel-China inter-governmental platform, which both Netanyahu and Liu established during the latter's 2014 visit to Israel. The first meeting was held in January 2015 in Beijing.
The work of the conference was led and coordinated by the Israeli Foreign Ministry and the Chinese Science and Technology Ministry. Dozens of government ministries and agencies (including the Foreign Ministry; Science, Technology and Space Ministry; the Economy and Industry Ministry Chief Scientist the Economy and Industry Ministry; the Health Ministry; the Education Ministry; the Culture and Sports Ministry; the Energy Ministry; the Agriculture Ministry; and the Patents Authority), as well as the Higher Education Council, the National Science Foundation and leading universities in both countries, all participated in the work of the conference.
Thirteen bilateral cooperation agreements were signed during the event.
At the start of the event, there was a meeting between the two delegations, led by the Prime Minister and the Chinese Vice Premier. Also participating were Health Minister Yaakov Litzman, Science, Technology and Space Minister Ofir Akunis, Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely, Foreign Ministry Director General Dr. Dore Gold and Israeli Ambassador to China Matan Vilnai.
The Chinese Vice Premier arrived with the Chinese Science and Technology Minister, the Chinese Ambassador to Israel, the deputy Foreign and Health ministers and other senior officials.