This government has made a priority of building economic relations between Britain and Israel. We believe that both countries can benefit from a stronger partnership, finding those areas where both countries are world leaders, and where together we can do amazing things.
One such area is oil and gas. It used to be said that Moses had chosen the one part of the Middle East that had no oil in it. But in recent years Israel has discovered huge reserves of natural gas. In a few weeks, the gas will start flowing from the enormous Tamar field. In just a few years, the even bigger — and aptly named — Leviathan field will come on-stream. Between them, they are expected to produce 28 trillion cubic feet of gas, offering vast economic opportunities to Israel, and changing the balance of energy supply in the region.
As Israel builds up its gas industry, the UK is well placed to be a key partner. We have our own experience of building up an oil and gas industry from scratch. We have a huge range of expertise and experience, all the way from deep-sea drilling to project finance. Scotland, renowned as the industry’s UK hub, has more than 2,000 companies in the energy industry, operating in over 100 markets worldwide. And we have the world’s financial centre — I was delighted to find British banks leading the field in financing Israel’s new gas sector.
That is why, this week, I am in Israel leading a delegation of British oil and gas organisations and companies, to forge a new partnership in exactly this area. On Wednesday I flew to the impressive Leviathan 4 rig and saw Israel’s gas sector in operation. And I have met the leaders of the sector, discussing with them how our countries can work together. The possibilities are huge.
This is only one area of our burgeoning partnership. We have already made enormous progress. Despite fears about boycotts, trade between our two countries has actually grown sharply over recent years. Two-way flows of trade and services are now worth well over $8 billion annually. The UK is now Israel’s second biggest export market in the world, after the US; and Israel is the UK’s second largest customer in the Middle East.
In recent years, we have put a particular emphasis on building a strong partnership in tech, in the firm belief that British companies can help Israeli innovation go global, and Israeli innovation can help give British companies a global edge.
During my trip to Israel, I met some amazing young Israeli tech entrepreneurs, and saw for myself the extraordinary drive and creativity that has made Israel the Start-Up Nation.
Our economies ought to be working closely together. Britain offers Israeli businesses the perfect launch-pad. We can give Israel market access to the rest of Europe, and trading links across the world. We have four of the world’s top 10 universities, and world-class skills in business development, law and marketing. Israel offers world-class innovation and technology that nicely complements British companies.
The UK and Israel have a strong and growing bilateral relationship. We are in a unique position now to expand that partnership to a sector that has potentially enormous economic benefits for both countries.
I was delighted to visit Israel, and to be part of this exciting story.