WASHINGTON — U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman called on Israel Friday to lower barriers to U.S. exports and put the U.S. on more equal footing with Europe’s market access to Israel.
Froman made the case for a more open market for U.S. products at the U.S-Israel Business Initiative’s forum, which was celebrating the 30th anniversary of the U.S.-Israel Free Trade Agreement.
Trade in goods between the U.S. and Israel has grown significantly over the past three decades, rising from $4.7 billion to $38 billion, Froman said. Trade in services has grown more than sixfold since 1992, increasing to $10.7 billion in 2014.
Israel is also currently home to 2,500 U.S. firms that employ over 72,000 Israeli citizens. Conversely, the U.S. is a vital market for Israeli firms, having granted nearly 3,500 U.S. patents to them, Froman noted.
“But there’s more we can do, including through trade, to make our relationship even stronger,” Froman said. “In some respects, our FTA has been bypassed by time. Thirty years ago, it was a very forward-looking document. But the world has changed dramatically since then.
“Whether it is advances in technology or the changing patterns of trade, the global landscape of trade has changed. There is no reason for us to be stuck in a vision of our economic relationship frozen in time,” Froman noted. “Rather, it is clear we can and should go further.”
U.S. companies continue to face challenges in doing business in Israel, despite the progress and market opening under the trade agreement, he stressed, noting they are “often at a disadvantage to firms from Israel and other trading partners.”
The U.S. trade chief pointed to agricultural products and example and said Israel provides much greater market access to European firms than it does to U.S. firms. He also said Europe’s quota on wine exports to Israel is three times larger than that given to the U.S., while Europe’s quota on frozen foods exports to Israel is six times larger than the U.S. quota.
“Why does that make senses?” Froman asked rhetorically.
“The U.S.-Israel FTA is unique among our FTAs in not achieving meaningful market access for agricultural products, and getting that done would cement closer economic ties and increase our two-way trade,” Froman said.
“Another area where we could go further is customs,” Froman said. “We would like to eliminate a customs documentation burden that our exporters and Israeli companies face under our FTA. According to one estimate, the elimination of one particular form would save an estimated $5,000 in fees and 25 man-hours for every $100,000 shipped.
“We believe it is time to modernize our approach, which will allow our exporters to enjoy the cost-savings and other benefits of electronic communication. We’ve been talking about doing this for some time. Let’s get it done,” Froman declared.