Israel and Japan have been negotiating a free-trade agreement, the financial newspaper Calcalist reported on Tuesday.
This development comes as a Japanese envoy, led by the country’s Economy, Trade and Industry minister Hiroshige Seko, visited Israel.
Seko met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Economy and Industry Minister Eli Cohen. This visit is Seko’s third in the past four years.
“There’s been a tremendous increase in Japanese investments in Israel. In the last few years, the growth of Japanese investments in Israel has been 120 times,” said Netanyahu. “Last time I spoke, it was 44 times. It grows in astronomic rate. Actually, $5 billion today, but it is growing very rapidly.”
He continued, “Our relationship is a natural one. Prime Minister [Shinzo] Abe and I agreed that we have to upgrade the economic relations and this visit is part of that.”
“We want to see more trade, more tourism, more investments in both directions,” added Netanyahu.
“The negotiation is highly significant,” said East Asia scholar Cory Evans. “Prime Minister [Abe] has made international outreach a very important part of his foreign policy. Trade is an important part of this effort. Japan seeks a rules-based global order for trade and, more broadly, for international relations. By striking new agreements, Japan seeks to strengthen ties around the world and to strengthen the broader rules-based global order.”
Evans added that the relationship between Israel and Japan is both historical and strategic.
“Historically, Japan has long held Jewish people in high esteem,” he said. “Jewish investment banker Jacob Schiff was the principal financial backer of Japan during the Russo-Japanese War. Later, during World War II, Japan famously refused to hand over Jewish persons under her jurisdiction to Nazi Germany. Many individual persons went to great efforts to aid the Jewish people.”
“Notably, Consul Chiune Sugihara provided duplicate passport documents that secured safe transit for thousands of Jewish persons,” he continued. “So the relationship between Japan, Jewish people and Israel has long been of historical and cultural significance.”
Strategically, said Evans, “Japan and Israel share broader goals of securing the rule of law in international relations. Both Japan and Israel have advanced economies, with a technological focus. Securing broad international standards, for example regarding intellectual property, is a significant strategic goal for both countries. Of course, geopolitically, Japan and Israel are both strong allies of the United States—part of the United States’ global network of allies and strategic partners.”
He continued, “Setting the rules of the game for these economies is very important, to the United States, to Japan and to countries throughout the region. These rules make the most sense if they are broadly adopted around the world. The principal way of advancing that adoption is by negotiation of new bilateral and multilateral trade agreements. Seen in this context, a free-trade agreement with Israel makes a lot of strategic sense.”