Israel trusts India, comfortable sharing security secrets: Minister Nir Barkat | Latest News India - Hindustan Times

Israel trusts India, comfortable sharing security secrets: Minister Nir Barkat

Apr 19, 2023 09:09 PM IST

Israeli economy and industry minister Nir Barkat said the Adani Group’s investment in Israel was a “classic good investment”

NEW DELHI: Israel has no concerns about the Adani Group’s plans to expand its presence in the country after taking over the management of Haifa port, and it is also looking to India to help boost cooperation in crucial sectors such as skilled IT manpower and desert tech, Israeli economy and industry minister Nir Barkat has said. Though the focus between the two countries may not be on pushing ahead negotiations on a free trade agreement (FTA), the Israeli side is keen on encouraging more Israeli companies to set up office in India and to develop joint ventures while aligning interests with the “Make in India” initiative, Barkat said in an interview.Edited excerpts:

Israeli economy and industry minister Nir Barkat said they had been discussing how can we encourage Israeli companies to set up office here, to develop joint ventures and to align interests with ‘Make in India (ANI)
Israeli economy and industry minister Nir Barkat said they had been discussing how can we encourage Israeli companies to set up office here, to develop joint ventures and to align interests with ‘Make in India (ANI)

What were the priorities in your meeting with commerce minister Piyush Goyal?

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Fundamentally, I shared my vision of what Israel needs to do, which is to expand its technology. In the next 20 years, we want to increase the number of hi-tech employees from 10% to 25%. It’s a huge undertaking and the opportunity is in aligning interests with other countries that are interested in growth. What I found on this trip is that India is well on course to becoming the third largest economy. It was a bit of deja vu for me because in the beginning of the 1990s, we broke ice and developed a relationship with the US. It took us a few years to figure out what is the optimal way for Israeli companies to engage in the US marketplace, and the challenge we have right now is not just on the security side, but actually to expand the relationship on the business-to-business or B2B side [with India]. I think minister Goyal and I see eye to eye on the opportunities. It goes well over and beyond the FTAs. It’s a lot of business development, engagement between companies on the technology side in areas like desert tech, which is the technology that improves quality in deserts, agro-tech, food tech, creating food from the sea, water management and energy. We’re talking a lot about health and natural and classic IT, including security.

Israel is going to go into many other areas – satellites, space and others – that are very complementary. Because the relationship between the Jewish people and the Indian people goes back thousands of years, we have always felt secure and safe and you have good people-to-people and government-to-government ties, now it’s time to develop the business side.

When you talk about increasing skilled IT manpower, are you looking at the possibility of a migration and mobility agreement with India?

Possibly, yes. In the long term, I believe there’s going to be a lot of outsourcing and joint ventures between Israel and India based here [in India]. The majority of the effort will be focusing on this side of the ocean. Certainly, we have the largest number of foreign students in Israel coming from India and I believe we should expand that relationship on both sides.

What is the status of the FTA that was being discussed by India and Israel?

We’ve been discussing it. Right now, there’s not a lot of trade happening that you need to...we need to sort of figure out where it makes sense for both sides. Put aside the FTA, the business development is much, much greater. We’ve been discussing exactly that – how can we encourage Israeli companies to set up office here, to develop joint ventures, to align interests with ‘Make in India’. It’s an interesting concept that makes a lot of sense, how to synchronise into that effort. Because of the growth and scale of India, I’m going to give the relationship with India very high priority because it matches our strategy into the future.

Could you identify a few priority areas where you think India could drive business with Israel?

First of all, security is a big deal and scaling and growing that. We feel comfortable sharing our security secrets with India because we trust the Indian government and people. The next would be what I call desert tech, which includes how we grow better food, and provide better water and better energy. The southern part of Israel is a desert. It has a huge amount of entrepreneurs. Drip irrigation comes from Israel. We have a number of startups that are totally thinking out-of-the-box and improving the yield in agriculture. Hydroponics is a good example where Israel is developing really well. On one acre of hydroponics, you could develop food equivalent to 50 acres of land. Imagine what you could do with that agriculture here in India, if we know how to share that knowledge in a big way. I think the sky is the limit in terms of the potential here and Israel is a tiny country. We’re less than 10 million people and India’s 150 times larger. Naturally, when you want to develop business models that are scalable for the rest of the world, I believe India is a classic development partner. That’s what we’re going to be doing. I believe that’s a classic win-win.

There’s been a lot of interest in when Prime Minister Netanyahu will visit India because the trip has been in the pipeline for long. Do we have any indication of when he’s going to be headed to India?

I haven’t spoken to him before [coming to India] but honestly, when I go back, I’ll strongly recommend to him to pay a visit as soon as possible. I know his relationship with [Prime Minister Narendra] Modi is really good, and it’s been very helpful for the business community. I’m going to provide some ideas on how to take that to the next level and create better understandings with the Indian people. So, I’m very optimistic and excited.

Given the problems faced recently by the Adani group, are you concerned about the group’s investments in Israel and its plans to expand its presence in your country?

No, it’s not a concern. We’re not looking into the businesses here. It’s a classic good investment in Israel and we welcome more investments. As a matter of fact, we don’t have a lot of ports. We have one in Haifa and one in Ashdod. The port in Haifa – the fact that Israel’s trusting a foreign entity to manage and lead the port is testimony that we trust our friends in India. We’re not looking at what’s happening here. It’s clean, hopefully a good deal and we want to welcome more deals like that in Israel.

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