Arab trains to carry Indian goods to Israeli port, says Foreign Minister Eli Cohen

India, Israel and the Gulf Arab countries are “gate from the east” to the West: Israeli Foreign Minister

Updated - May 10, 2023 12:29 am IST

Published - May 09, 2023 01:54 pm IST - NEW DELHI

External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar meets Minister of Foreign Affairs of Israel Eli Cohen, in New Delhi on May 9, 2023.

External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar meets Minister of Foreign Affairs of Israel Eli Cohen, in New Delhi on May 9, 2023. | Photo Credit: PTI

Arab train networks in future would be carrying Indian goods to the Israeli port of Haifa, said Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen in New Delhi on May 9.

Addressing the India-Israel Business Forum organised by the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII), Mr. Cohen announced support for increasing the number of Indian employees in Israel and urged for an early conclusion of a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) between New Delhi and Tel Aviv.  

“Our vision is that Israel, the Gulf Arab countries and India is the gate from the east to the west. The trade that will come from India will go to some Arab port and from there by train till Haifa port in Israel and from there to the markets in Europe,” said Mr. Cohen laying out the outline of a new regional connectivity and trade that is unfolding in the West Asian region.

The visiting Minister’s comment on railway transport is an early sign of the shape of the connectivity projects that are emerging in India’s backyard in the West Asian region covering the leading GCC economies like the Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. The United Arab Emirates became the first Arab Gulf state to sign an agreement for normalisation with Israel in 2020. The Israel-UAE agreement known as the Abraham Accords Peace Agreement was followed by a Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement signed by the two sides in May 2022.

Mr. Cohen’s visit to Delhi and Mumbai comes in the backdrop of growing interactions between India and Israel as the two sides are preparing for a possible visit from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to India.

The two sides signed a framework agreement on facilitation of the temporary employment of Indian workers in specific labour sectors in Israel. According to a press release from the Israeli embassy, the agreement will cover “caregivers and construction workers”. It is understood that the agreement will be a “stepping stone” for the two sides towards the FTA. India has been keen for more work visas from Israel for getting the FTA and Israel on its part is keen to have “custom benefits” for agriculture technology products from the Indian side. The Hindu has learned that discussion is ongoing between the issues and modalities for the FTA.

During the visit which was cut short because of the evolving security situation in Israel concerning Operation Shield and Arrow, Mr. Cohen met with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, National Security Adviser Ajit Doval and Minister of Jal Shakti Gajendra Singh Shekhawat. Mr. Shekhawat announced that the India-Israel Centre for Water Technology would be set up in IIT Roorkee.

Given the situation in Gaza, the entire Cabinet has been asked to be present in Jerusalem, Israeli Ambassador Naor Gilon told The Hindu. He said that while the Foreign Minister will not be able to travel to Agra and Goa as planned, he completed all his meetings and his agenda in Delhi

Israel-Asia Chamber of Commerce president Anat Bernstein-Reich who accompanied Mr. Cohen in his trip echoed the Minister’s remarks and said, “The bilateral trade is around $9 billion at present but we hope to take it to $20 billion within a decade and I think for that to happen India and Israel should sign the Free Trade Agreement because close strategic partners should have an FTA.” Ms. Bernstein-Reich, who signed an MoU with the CII, said bilateral cooperation would benefit India’s growing trade relations with other powers notably the I2U2 (Israel-India-U.S.-UAE) partners.

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