Four months ago, Canada and Israel modernized their free trade agreement, 20 years after it was signed. Warp-speed progress in science, technology and innovation meant that both countries had to reappraise access to each other’s markets.
That’s why Jim Carr, Canada’s minister of international trade diversification, was in Israel from Sept. 2-6. Mainly, it was to present opportunities for Canadian businesses to expand trade and investment, but it was also to listen to ideas from Israel, which Bloomberg has ranked the 10th most innovative country in the world (the United States was 11th).
Carr, who was named to the newly minted post by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in July, visited Tel Aviv, Haifa and Jerusalem. In Ramallah, in the West Bank, he attended the launch of the Palestinian-Canadian Business Council and met with government and business officials, including female entrepreneurs.
In Tel Aviv, he met with Eli Cohen, Israel’s minister of economy and industry, to discuss how Canada can translate the modernized Canada-Israel Free Trade Agreement (CIFTA) into additional sales and partnerships.
Other meetings were meant to find partnership opportunities for Canadian companies in the transportation, clean energy, high-tech and financial sectors.
“We all agree that trade means growth and growth means jobs,” Carr told The CJN in a telephone interview from Israel. He also lauded the personal relationships that have been forged between Israeli and Canadian business officials over the years. “They have been strong and meaningful,” he said.
Driving public-sector innovation in the Jewish state is the Israel Innovation Authority, a government body that’s tasked with nurturing and developing innovation in what’s been called the “knowledge industry.”
Canada, Carr noted, has something similar.
Earlier this year, the Canadian government announced its $950-million Innovation Superclusters Initiative. To be matched dollar for dollar by the private sector, Ottawa said it would create more than 50,000 middle-class jobs and pump $50 billion into the economy over the next 10 years.
A cluster is a dense area of business activity. A supercluster, as defined by a government website, is an “innovation hotbed that is home to a strong industrial cluster, or clusters, linked through their shared reliance on specialized inputs, including technologies, talent and infrastructure.”
Canada outlined superclusters in five areas: oceans, artificial intelligence, advanced manufacturing, protein industries and digital technology.
“There’s a good alignment between those superclusters and the Israeli innovative brilliance and leadership,” Carr said. In a recent article in the Jerusalem Post, he said he was pleased “that Israel has already expressed an interest in engaging with us on this initiative.
“Together we are creating more economic linkages between our democracies to strengthen the people to people ties that have always served as the bedrock of our fundamental friendship and partnership,” Carr wrote.
Among the joint areas of research and development between Canada and Israel is a surgical training tool that recreates the sense of touch for surgeons operating remotely. Canadian and Israeli firms have also joined forces to develop an ultraviolet water-monitoring system that ensures the safety of drinking water, Carr noted in the Post.
“We feel very good about having made the journey,” he said.
He noted that the updated CIFTA broke new ground in the areas of e-commerce and gender equality. He believes it’s one of only three trade agreements in the world that emphasizes the importance of gender equality, “because it makes no sense that so much of the brain power and energy in our societies have not been taken full advantage of.”
Carr was one of six MPs of Jewish lineage who were elected in 2015. He was a musician, journalist, provincial politician in Manitoba and president of the Business Council of Manitoba before being elected for the Liberals in Winnipeg South Centre in the last election.
“I’m delighted as (a) Jewish member of Parliament and as a Jewish member of the cabinet to be here representing Canada,” he said.
He said that his grandparents came to Canada in 1906 to escape pogroms in Odessa and Kiev. “They came with nothing – no language, no skills, no money – and they also came as Jews who had a belief in the Zionist dream, which was instilled in us.”
Carr promised “lots of follow-up” to the trip. “It will be intense and immediate,” he said.
Carr was joined on the trip by Liberal MP and chair of the Canada-Israel Parliamentary Friendship Group Michael Levitt; Montreal business executive Mitch Garber, the chair of Invest In Canada, which was created earlier this year by the federal government to pursue investors; Ronnen Harary, the co-founder and co-CEO of toy maker Spin Master Corp.; and Winnipeg business and community leader Mel Lazareck, who, in 2010, was named the special representative for Manitoba to Israel for economic and community relations.
Since CIFTA came into effect in 1997, trade in goods between the two countries has more than tripled, reaching a value of over $1.7 billion in 2017.