By Eran Bar-Tal
MONTREAL — Israel and Canada on May 30 signed a modernized free trade agreement in what has been described as a historic step in the countries’ bilateral relations.
Canadian International Trade Minister François-Phillippe Champagne and Israeli Economy Minister Eli Cohen signed the revised agreement, officially referred to as the Canada-Israel Free Trade Agreement, at Montreal’s federation conference center.
The revised agreement will replace the free trade agreement the two countries signed in 1997. One of its main modifications will scrap duties for thousands of additional products, including fresh fruit and canned goods.
According to the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, Canada’s top exports to Israel include “industrial machinery and aircraft parts,” followed by “electrical and electronic equipment.” Industrial machinery is also Israel’s top export to Canada.
Speaking at the signing event, Liberal Parliament member Anthony Housefather, chairman of the Canadian Parliament’s standing committee on justice and human rights, called the agreement “historic.” He said his first speech in Parliament dealt with the need to counter the efforts to boycott Israel.
He also called Champagne a true friend of Israel and said both Cohen and Champagne know how to get things done.
Canada’s Jewish population numbers some 400,000, with many holding prominent positions. This, and their large turnout in elections, make them a key constituent for the major parties.
“Canada’s relationship with Israel is based on strong economic, cultural and social ties. Israel is a longtime trading partner, and Canada’s free trade agreement with Israel has contributed to better opportunities for businesses and economic prosperity for hard-working Canadians,” the Canadian International Trade Ministry said in a statement.
“Canada and Israel have modernized the original CIFTA to include progressive elements, such as dedicated chapters on labor, the environment, trade and gender, and small and medium-sized enterprises, as well as provisions on corporate social responsibility.
“New provisions will also help to make the dispute-settlement mechanism more efficient, effective and transparent.”
Champagne hailed the agreement, saying it would bolster both economies. “A strengthened economic partnership with Israel will help create better market access opportunities for Canadian businesses and eliminate tariffs in many sectors.
“Today’s signing of the modernized Canada-Israel Free Trade Agreement marks another milestone in our growing trade relationship while contributing to the growth and prosperity of both countries.”
Cohen recalled that “in 1997, Israel became the third country to sign a free trade agreement with Canada. Since then, the trade between Canada and Israel has increased significantly.”
He described the agreement as a launching pad for a bolstered relationship.
“Today, we are witnessing a historical step in the trade relations between the two countries with the signing of the upgraded agreement. The upgraded free trade agreement between Canada and Israel will open new opportunities for Israeli exports to this significant market.”
Cohen said Canada was one of Israel’s best friends and that the new agreement would bring more competition and reduce the cost of living.
The new agreement will take effect once it is ratified by the parliaments in both countries. The goal of the agreement is to double the scope of trade between the two countries.