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British-Israel trade can thrive in the Brexit era - here's how

Israeli investors are looking for four key measures from government in the wake of the UK leaving the EU

    Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu promoting trade with Israel during a visit to the London Stock Exchange last week
    Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu promoting trade with Israel during a visit to the London Stock Exchange last week

    On the November 16 1950, leaders including Marcus Sieff came together to incorporate the Anglo-Israel Chamber of Commerce. Their objective was to "promote and protect the trade, commerce, shipping and manufacturers of the United Kingdom and Israel". 

    Sixty-seven years on, we’re known as UK Israel Business (UKIB), where I am chief executive under the chairmanship of Leon Blitz.  We have chosen Spitalfields as our home, an area of London Simon Schama spoke so movingly about in his Balfour lecture last week, where so many of our pioneering entrepreneurs have roots.

    Just like in 1950, Britain has a challenge and an opportunity. In terms of investments by Israeli companies over the next five-10 years, 53 per cent of respondents to our recent Ipsos-MORI poll see a possible decrease on the back of the Brexit decision. Given that since June 2016, 32 Israeli firms have opened operations here, investing £152m and creating almost 900 jobs, it is vital for Britain to maintain this investment momentum.

    So how do we move forward in this Brexit era?  I constantly speak with Israeli firms who are upbeat and want to use the UK as their main hub outside Israel.  It's not just about a much vaunted trade deal, it’s about the Chancellor Philip Hammond and the Business Secretary, Greg Clark redoubling their existing efforts to use levers we already value and which could be expanded post-Brexit to increase foreign investment in the UK. 

    Three key tangible drivers for Israeli investment in the UK are:

    • The obvious accessibility of the UK in terms of distance and time zone and also the convenience of using the UK as a base to access Europe and elsewhere.
    • The Seed Enterprise Investment Scheme (SEIS) and ‘Enterprise Investment Scheme’ (EIS). These offer taxpayers incentives to invest in early-stage firms and reduce the costs in the event of failure. While potentially under threat in the upcoming budget, this scheme enables companies to keep their R&D in Israel while operating from Britain, making the UK an attractive place for Israeli start-ups.
    • Government grants for companies in certain sectors. Israeli entrepreneurs in areas such as electric vehicles and agricultural technology are choosing to base their entire business in the UK in part due to targeted government grants which go hand in hand with British expertise.

    We have four requests of government and EU negotiators, which echo what Israeli investors are telling us:

    1. A regulatory framework that ensures a smooth Brexit transition and on-going access to the EU market. 

    2. A visa system that welcomes skilled Israeli experts to the UK .

    3. A comprehensive bilateral trade deal between the UK and Israel. 

    4. UK importers and exporters of goods, especially fresh food and time-sensitive products, require a rapid and straightforward customs process. 


    There is a hunger in Israel to hear how Britain will deal with Brexit. In March 2017, we held a special summit in Tel Aviv, with over 100 Israeli firms keen to hear the practicalities.  

    September saw us bring 17 scale-up firms to London for Innovate Israel, where they met representatives from over 150 British businesses, including household names in banking; technology and manufacturing.

    Next week, we’re taking our largest delegation yet of British investors to Israel, where over 35 investors will meet 40 Israeli firms and funds, creating 1,400 potential new relationships in just two and a half days Our group will meet with the likes of the co-founder of Mobileye; Dov Moran, the inventor of the USB stick, and start-up companies supported in Israel by the likes of Barclays, Intel and Microsoft.

    In 2018, we celebrate Israel’s 70th anniversary. We have every reason to make this a landmark year for trade as we lay foundations for a post-Brexit Britain with a pipeline of delegations to Israel; the British Israeli Business Awards Dinner on February 27 and a programme of UK events including Innovate Israel 2018.

    Hugo Bieber is chief executive of UK Israel Business – https://ukisrael.biz