Canada must get on Israel’s high-tech juggernaut or risk lagging even further behind.
That was the message sounded by Canada’s ambassador to Israel, Vivian Bercovici, to a blue-chip luncheon audience March 24 before members of the venerable Empire Club.
“If you want to make it in global tech, in global innovation, you must be in Israel,” Bercovici told about 400 people.
Since the early 1990s, Israel has become a global tech powerhouse rivalled only by the United States and China, an “economic miracle” that must contend with “unimaginable security challenges,” she said.
Appointed Canada’s envoy to Israel in January, 2014 by former Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Bercovici was in Toronto for a few days to help lay the groundwork for Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne’s trade mission to Israel, slated for May 15 to 19. More than 100 leaders in business, politics, commerce and trade are expected to go.
In her talk, Bercovici stressed Israel’s booming high-tech sector, and “a telling fact”: In 2014, Israel spent 4.1 per cent of its gross domestic product on high-tech research and development. Canada, she said, spent 1.6 per cent of its GDP on R&D.
That means Israel is ranked No. 2 in the world by this metric, and Canada 19th.
However, in terms of actual dollar amounts spent on R&D, Canada is 13th in the world and Israel 22nd.
“If you want to support a robust economy with strong tech fundamentals, you have to invest the dollars,” Bercovici said. “More than that, it also means you have to ensure your investment is tied to commercial viability.”
While it’s true that Canada is investing more money than Israel in R&D, “we’re lagging in terms of technological prowess. And we are now in a game of catch-up. We must assess our strengths and weaknesses very critically and quickly, and we must deploy our considerable resources and talents very strategically.”
Canada “cannot waste time. Tech power is economic power. Period.”
Over the past few years, Bercovici said she has watched as other countries – South Korea, China, India, Britain. and Australia – “have focused and accelerated their national tech investment on partnering with and investing in Israeli ventures. They’re all over the place.”
As well, Israeli companies represent the fourth-largest number of listings on the NASDAQ stock exchange, exceeded only by companies from the United States, Canada and China, and all of them are high-tech firms.
“Pause and consider that for a moment,” Bercovici urged. “Nobody can still be sitting here and saying ‘Why do we want to be [in Israel]? Why do have to be there?’ Everybody’s there.”
She touted other opportunities, such as water, in which Israel is a world leader in use, re-use, desalination, and recycling, as well as agri-tech, medical and health breakthroughs, cyber-security, aerospace, and a “tremendous opportunity” for Canada to help Israel extract and distribute recently discovered offshore natural gas deposits.
Canada “should be in the mix, and we’re not. We have pockets of investment and activity. But we don’t have near the representation a country our size and sophistication should.
“We will never sell a million TV sets there,” Bercovici stated. “We will never have a balanced trade budget with Israel. Commercial relations with Israel are all about leveraging Israeli intellectual property and capital with assets and resources in our economy to enhance our productivity and spur our growth.
“We have to start to understand that here, because most other countries are way ahead of us. Other countries have all figured it out.”
Bercovici was scheduled to be presented the Community Service Award for Israel at Beth Sholom Synagogue on March 29.
Photo: State of Israel