Economic diplomacy in action: Jobs, vaccines, travel and more

Throughout the pandemic, the foreign ministry has been busy serving entrepreneurs, developing markets and pitching Israeli technology abroad

The establishment of relations with Gulf countries has lifted the veil of secrecy surrounding the Foreign Ministry’s years-long activities to promote economic ties with these states. Economic diplomacy has always, however, been at the heart of the Foreign Ministry’s diplomatic work. For many years now, Foreign Ministry staff have been promoting Israeli businesses around the world, and the results speak for themselves.

In 2019 and 2020, staff of the Economic Division and the Ministry’s headquarters in Jerusalem, as well as Israeli diplomats abroad, assisted in promoting some $8.8 billion dollars in business transactions for Israeli companies, of which almost $2 billion dollars came from Africa. This statistic doesn’t include the many transactions whose value was not publicized, and represents a significant contribution to export promotion as well as an addition of tens of thousands of new jobs.

According to the Israel Export Institute, every billion-dollar increase in exports creates an additional 2,500 new jobs in the economy. Considering the economic crisis that the coronavirus pandemic has inflicted upon both the global and Israeli economies, the Foreign Ministry’s role in developing national resilience and strengthening the Israeli economy is more significant now than ever, and worthy of an in-depth analysis. 

The presence of 103 Israeli diplomatic missions across the world, and our diplomats’ access to decision-makers and political and economic leaders, were found to be essential resources this year. With the outbreak of the pandemic, Foreign Ministry staff worked to remove barriers to the import of goods and raw materials, while countries abroad imposed bans on the export of these products. The Foreign Ministry became integrated with the National Control Center for management of the coronavirus crisis immediately upon its opening, and was behind the acquisition of more than half of the medical equipment that was supplied to Israel when it was in desperate need. Throughout the first wave, the Foreign Ministry created real-time tools which provided economic policy-makers, economic organizations, and decision-makers with information on the steps countries took to protect their economies and preserve their functional capacity.

The coronavirus pandemic has severely disrupted the world of aviation. The Foreign Ministry succeeded in facilitating flights and allowing for the import of medication and medical equipment, as well for the entry of technical teams to preserve the functionality of our national infrastructure. The Ministry led the operation that repatriated thousands of Israelis home.

At the direction and leadership of the Foreign Minister, the Ministry also initiated dozens of political initiatives, including discussions between the Foreign Minister and his counterparts, as well as the execution of tough negotiations. Did you visit Greece this summer? This was just one of the results of the negotiations that the Ministry held together with ambassadors, representatives of Israel’s Aviation Authority, the Health Ministry, Ben Gurion Airport, and some twenty countries to create an agreed-upon framework for the renewal of flights and tourism. Together with them and the Ministry of Economy, a framework that allows for the entry of businesspeople into Israel has also been consolidated. Political communication on the resumption of flights following the current wave of the virus continues even now.

Have you gotten vaccinated? You may be surprised to know that the Foreign Ministry and its diplomatic missions in Europe and the United States worked hand-in-hand with the Ministry of Health to advance negotiations with vaccine manufacturers and ensure the punctual delivery of vaccinations. It was our Consulate-General in Boston that initiated the partnership between Moderna  and the Ministry of Health, while our embassy in Paris worked with Sanofi to acquire flu vaccines. The Economy Division, Permanent Mission of Israel to the UN in Geneva, and Health Ministry led Israel’s process of joining COVAX, a joint international acquisition initiative that provides an “insurance certificate” for the supply of vaccines to the Israeli people. 

Many here in Israel lost their jobs this year, and the statistics surrounding unemployment are concerning. Despite the difficult conditions that they and their families have experienced, Foreign Ministry staff have stepped up their efforts to create effective market connections for Israeli companies. New economic agreements have been signed, and hundreds of virtual and other activities have been held to give Israeli companies exposure to new markets and clients. The great difficulty for businesspeople of moving from place to place has been answered by the dedicated service of our ambassadors across the world, who have striven more than ever before to identify opportunities, remove barriers for entrepreneurs, display Israeli technologies – including innovative technologies for coronavirus management – and promote steps to prevent harm to companies. Take, for example, the assistance that our Ambassador to Ghana provided to an Israeli company operating in the area of water infrastructure construction, which prevented millions of euros’ worth of damage. The numbers speak for themselves. 

After many challenging years, the Foreign Ministry has this year received a budget that will enable it to realize the power of its reach, its expertise, accessibility for decision-makers at the most senior levels of the international arena, and the capacity of Israeli diplomats to assist the economy. Amidst challenging infection rates that did not spare our staff serving abroad, the Foreign Ministry’s diplomatic missions across the world have been working tirelessly. The Foreign Minister did not cut its staff, and our diplomats remained on duty knowing that during this time of emergency, our embassies are essential outposts that serve the national interests of Israel and its economy.

Now is the time for economic diplomacy, which works to consolidate connections and diplomatic capabilities for the good of the economy. These challenges will continue to accompany Israel and the entire world well into 2021. The Foreign Ministry will continue to utilize its knowledge, expertise, and connections to serve Israeli entrepreneurs, protect and develop markets, and display Israeli technologies and capabilities to the leaders of countries, local governments, and all other potential clients. The Foreign Ministry’s assets and contributions to the Israeli economy have been proven. Tens of thousands of new jobs are no trivial matter.

About the Author
Yael Ravia-Zadok is Deputy Director-General and Head of the Economic Division at the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
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