(Communicated by the Prime Minister’s Media Adviser)

On Tuesday (26 Feb 2008), the second day of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s visit to Japan, he held talks and meetings aimed at strengthening and advancing bilateral economic relations. Bilateral economic relations have not yet reached their full potential, with reciprocal trade lower expected, despite the two countries’ common interests. Israel imports approximately $2 billion worth of goods per annum (half of this is motor vehicles) and exports approximately $800 million worth of goods per annum.

Prime Minister Olmert’s visit was designed – inter alia – to thaw bilateral economic relations and increase both cooperation and Japanese investments in Israel. To this end, the Prime Minister was accompanied by approximately 20 of Israel’s leading industrialists and business people, in the hope of forging links with their Japanese counterparts, who would perhaps decide to invest in Israel.

Prime Minister Olmert began the day with a working breakfast with a group of Japanese industrialists, including the vice presidents of Toyota and NEC. The Prime Minister briefed his interlocutors on the state of the Israeli economy and on ways to invest in Israel. With the assistance of the Israeli Embassy and Industry, Trade and Labor Ministry personnel, a series of personal meetings were also organized between the aforesaid Israeli industrialists and their Japanese counterparts in the hope of producing joint investments.

After breakfast, Prime Minister Olmert met with the Nippon Foundation President Yohei Sasakawa. The Nippon Foundation spends approximately NIS 1.5 billion per annum on investments. The Prime Minister asked Mr. Sasakawa to consider investing in Israel as well.

Prime Minister Olmert then meet with Fujio Mitarai, the Chairmen of the Keidanren, the Japanese Federation of Economic Organizations, which represents approximately 660 leading companies. Mr. Mitarai is also the Chairman and CEO of Canon, Inc. The two men discussed the need to strengthen cooperation between Israeli and Japanese companies, especially in the field of research and development.

In the afternoon, Prime Minister Olmert attended a seminar, organized by the Israeli Embassy, for approximately 300 leading Japanese industrialists and business people. The Prime Minister addressed participants about the Israeli economy and promised attractive conditions for whoever decides to invest in Israel and develop advanced technology in conjunction with Israeli companies.

Following the seminar, Prime Minister Olmert met with Japanese Trade and Industry Minister Akira Amari. They discussed several important issues, including the establishment of joint bilateral working groups, the need to invest in research and development, cooperation on space research and the development of related products, and the need for an economic partnership agreement to reduce barriers to bilateral trade.

Prime Minister Olmert and Minister Amari also discussed the Mediterranean fruit fly. Japan, with 127 million inhabitants, imports almost 60% of its food supply. Israel is greatly interested in agricultural exports to Japan, including from the Arava region. Until now, Japan has been concerned about Mediterranean fruit flies in the Arava. Israel and Jordan have jointly developed a special program against the fly’s damaging effects. Following this scientific success, most countries of the world were convinced that their concerns have been met. Japan, with its stricter standards, has not been among these. Thus, Arava farmers are denied potentially tens of millions of dollars per annum in exports to Japan. The Prime Minister explained to Minister Amari at length that Japan need not be concerned about the fly’s effects. The two men agreed to establish a working group on the issue. Thus, the Israeli economy is likely to profit from greater Arava agricultural exports to Japan.

In the evening, Prime Minister Olmert hosted a dinner for the Israeli delegation and approximately 80 Japanese business people and briefed guests on the state of the Israeli economy. The sense among the Israeli business people is that Prime Minister’s visit is certainly helping to open doors and opportunities.

Prime Minister Olmert will continue tomorrow with a series of diplomatic meetings with Japanese leaders.  Further economic work will be left to the Israeli and Japanese business people.