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Trade between Israel and South Africa is good, but it can be exceptional

  • JordanIsraelSATradeAmitLev
Known the world over as the start-up capital, Israel is always eager to widen its business network and trade with as many countries as possible. Despite political currents and the diplomatic obstacles, the country continues to enjoy a prosperous relationship with South Africa.
by JORDAN MOSHE | Apr 19, 2018

“South Africa is a country of unquestionable business potential,” explains Amit Lev, trade and investment consul and head of the Israeli Economic Mission to Southern Africa. “While it can be difficult at times, the trade relations between South Africa and Israel are mutually beneficial and have potential to improve both countries significantly.”

Having been appointed to the position only a few months ago, Lev describes himself and his office as a business facilitator. They offer scouting services on behalf of the Israeli government to Israeli companies looking to invest on the African continent, and help parties with shared interests come into contact.

“Essentially, I try to create a gateway which allows companies to get in touch with one another, and offer them exposure to foreign sectors to which they might not ordinarily have access.

“Most money in Israel is foreign currency, but trade with South Africa is low, relative to business engagements with other countries, accounting for only 1% of overall trade.

“With the right approach and resources, there is an opportunity to make a difference in the markets of both Israel and South Africa.”

Despite the mutual interests the countries share, there are certain challenges which make business difficult to conduct. However, Lev stresses that these challenges are not often born out of political or anti-Israel problems, but differences in the business cultures of both countries.

“BDS activity and political pressures have a minor impact where business is concerned. It is true that there are threats, such as the presence of the ‘silent BDS’ – for instance, when a head of procurement refuses to buy from Israel, but when pressed for an explanation, cites only various business reasons for doing so. These threats must be addressed. However, our success stories outnumber such problems.

“When we do face obstacles, they’re more typical of all business interactions. Examples of this are: Israeli companies that don’t know how to approach operating in South Africa; the problems posed by the currency difference; and the different perceptions of how to do business which clash from time to time.”

Despite these challenges, it is certain that trade with South Africa remains an advantageous engagement for Israel, says Lev.

“There are so many advantages to carrying out business in South Africa. Besides being a portal to the rest of Africa, the country has a growing economy, a sophisticated banking system which is compatible with Israel’s, and it is a member of the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) group.

“Also, the country is a top agriculture producer, and the issues it is currently facing regarding water are ideal for the implementation of business infrastructure and solutions from Israel. Israel has so much to share with South Africa in the water, hi-tech and agriculture sectors, and the opportunity for Israel here is immense.”

Given the potential which exists for mutual prosperity, Lev is eager to advance business negotiations further into the continent. He envisions the establishment of a business triangle, one which would see Israel’s Trade Office in Johannesburg engage with Israeli trade missions in Kenya and Ghana in future.

Beyond allowing for trade with Israel, this would, in effect, encourage trade among African countries on an enhanced level. “The problems faced by the other African countries are not unlike those in South Africa. There is an opportunity for these countries to overcome their own economic issues by working with South Africa and Israel, pushing their economies forward and making something great.”

Reflecting on the economic achievements Israel has notched up in the past 70 years, Lev is proud of what Israeli economic savvy has achieved so far, and is positive that the future is even more promising.

“Israel has achieved economic innovation in all its sectors. From cherry tomatoes to desalination to medical technology, Israel has made a diverse contribution to the marketplace and changed the way business is done.

“Now is the time for Israel to mature its economic sector and move into its next 70 years of success. By creating multinational corporations, growing its trade network around the globe, exposing itself to more opportunities and inviting others to be a part of the growth, Israel can be enhanced and make giant steps in this magical movement of economy.”

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