Opening remarks by FM Silvan Shalom at the Ethiopia-Israel Business Seminar

Addis Ababa, January 8, 2004

His Excellency, my colleague and friend, Foreign Minister Seyoum Mesfin, Minister of Trade Girma Birru, Corporate Leaders, Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a great pleasure and privilege for me to be herein Ethiopia, on my first visit as Foreign Minister to Africa.

I would like to express my gratitude for the warm and friendly welcome that my delegation has received. It has been enriching for us to witness first hand, Ethiopia’s unique and special traditions and the hospitality and kindness of its people.

Israel and Ethiopia indeed share special bonds and strong ties. Minister Seyoum, your recent visits to Israel, and the invitation you extended to me which led to this visit, represent our joint commitment to advancing bilateral cooperation.

Encouraging two-way economic activity is a major axis of this cooperation. Before assuming my current position, I served as Israel’s Finance Minister. I believe that economic cooperation is a dominant and integral part of foreign relations.

It is for this reason that we have given the economic dimension of our visit very high priority. I am pleased that more than 30 business leaders, representing 20 leading Israeli companies, were able to join our delegation and to participate in this important exchange today.

Israel’s Embassy here in Addis Ababa has been very active in promoting business growth. Initiating and organizing this event, in collaboration with the Ethiopian government is just one example of its vital work.

I would like to thank all parties who worked on making today possible and also recognize the Israel Export Institute, which, in cooperation with the Economic Division at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, ensured the presence of Israel’s business delegation.

I would also like to highlight the effective work of the Ethiopian Embassy in Israel in promoting economic ties.

The joint effort made by all sides has already borne fruit. Ethiopia is today among the very few countries in the African continent that enjoys a trade surplus with Israel. Its export to Israel, mostly plants and vegetable products, has significantly outpaced its import from Israel.

Between January and November of 2003, Ethiopian exports to Israel reached $15.2 million dollars, up 5 percent in comparison with 2002, which was in itself an increase of about 6 percent from 2001 and 20 percent from 2000.

Israeli export and investments in Ethiopia increased between January and November 2003 by an unprecedented 500 percent reaching $9.6 million dollars, 90 percent of which was in the high-tech sector.

The trend speaks for itself, yet great potential remains to be fulfilled.

Israel is fully aware of Ethiopia’s impressive economic growth in recent years. At the same time, we are aware of the needs of emerging and developing sectors of the Ethiopian economy. It is no secret that the great potential here attracts the international business community, and that at times competition is intense.

In this respect, allow me to say that Israel enjoys an excellent reputation as a technologically advanced economy.

Israel’s transition from a largely collective economic system based on agricultural products and several traditional items to a liberalized marketplace, trading a wide variety of manufactured goods in all corners of the globe, was achieved in a remarkably short time span.

This development might sound familiar to you here in Ethiopia, and I hope that the Israeli experience will also serve to encourage you and stimulate new ideas.

In sectors including Agriculture and Telecommunications, Israel not only has rich expertise and high quality products, but also a very attractive quality-price ratio, which distinguishes our products in the competitive market. Several Israeli companies here today are bidding right now for contracts in Ethiopia. If they are successful, these increased business to business relationships will help to concretize bilateral ties.

Israel’s skilled work force owes much to immigration – the return of Jews from the four corners of the earth to their historic homeland. The Ethiopian community in Israel is gradually integrating as well, and this community is already producing excellent professionals in all fields of our economy.

This is another very unique aspect in the relationship between Ethiopia and Israel. Ethiopian-Israelis, a community of 85,000, will naturally use their knowledge of both cultures and both languages, to play an active and important role in promoting joint economic ties.

Additionally, both our countries are in a unique position of enjoying Free Trade Agreements with the European Union and the United States, and our Chambers of Commerce and Industrial Associations have recently signed cooperation agreements with one another.

Last but not least, there is geographical proximity and direct flights-very significant factors.

We are pleased with the excellent service provided by Ethiopian Airlines, with its two weekly flights between our two countries.

I would encourage Ethiopian Airlines to examine the possibility of increasing the frequency of this flight, which is by all means a route of historical significance. Let me also mention that this flight is becoming increasingly popular among Israeli business people working in various parts of Africa, thus strengthening the role of the new and impressive Addis Ababa International airport as a regional hub.

We in Israel firmly believe that achieving peace with our neighbors will boost regional economic expansion, offering new business opportunities with a wider circle of trading partners.

Despite our readiness and willingness to restart negotiations with our Palestinian neighbors, terrorism remains a major obstacle to peace efforts. Unfortunately, Israel’s experience in fighting terrorism is vast. I know that the government of Ethiopia stands strong against the global terrorist network. This is another area where we can use our resources together to the benefit of the entire community of nations.

Let Ethiopia be part of this vision. With peace achieved, our common region can prosper for the benefits of the people in all countries.

Healthy economic development will prove to be an essential force in combating situations such the drought which has recently affected Ethiopia.

We in Israel regard Ethiopia as a very unique and special friend, and I wish to reiterate that Israel will always be responsive and assist Ethiopia in whatever way it can.

Let me express my hope that today’s seminar will engender new ideas and new exchanges, and that it will also promote pending and imminent projects.

I wish all participants fruitful deliberations and success.

Thank you very much.