Israel, EAEU Edge Closer to Free Trade Agreement

ASTANA – The Joint Study Group of Israel and the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) has concluded its study on the feasibility of establishing a free trade zone between the new economic union and Israel, Novosti-Kazakhstan reported on April 17. The group will give its recommendations over the summer, after which formal negotiations could launch. 

“Economically, Israel sees it as a positive opportunity, for our economy and for the global liberal economy,” Deputy Chief of Mission at the Embassy of Israel in Kazakhstan Emil Ben Naftaly told The Astana Times on April 28. “We are reviewing the conditions of course, to see if they [share] the same idea as we have but yes, we would look at it as a positive.”

President of Kazakhstan Nursultan Nazarbayev confirmed in a speech on April 27 that more than 40 countries had expressed an interest in setting up free trade agreements with the EAEU. The union is already in the final stretch of signing its first such agreement with a country with a large economy, Vietnam, and is expected to sign the final documents in May, Eurasian Economic Commission Trade Minister Andrey Slepnev announced in March. 

The Joint Study Group’s recommendations must be submitted first to the Council of the EAEU, which includes the deputy prime ministers of participating countries. If the council approves of the plan, initiating negotiations on the free trade agreement would be arranged among the presidents of the countries involved, Novosti-Kazakhstan reported on April 17. 

Russia is already an important trading partner of Israel’s, Ben Naftaly said, and of course the possibility of the EAEU affecting their current trade is one reason for considering a free trade agreement. “This is one of the reasons we would like to be part of it, to still be competitive in the market. But it’s also an opportunity, because it means products we export to Russia could also be exported to [other EAEU countries],” he said. 

Director of Trade Policy Department of the Eurasian Economic Commission Andrei Tochin suggested in the RIA Novosti report that Israel’s biggest interest was not even the development of trade in goods, but rather developing relations in investment and technology. “Since the economy is all interconnected, opening up the market entails greater investor interest and the interest of those who may come with certain technologies,” he said.

Since the EAEU was launched, there has been the idea of creating a free trade agreement with Israel, Ben Naftaly noted. He also said his country isn’t interested in engaging in speculation about the organisation’s possible political evolution.

“We separate those two things: our economic targets and policy and our political policy,” he said.  Other countries are asking questions about the EAEU’s agenda, its possible political goals, where it might be heading, what it aspires to be. “We don’t deal with this. We look at it as an opportunity. President Nazarbayev, when he started this organization, stressed the economic opportunities and we are with him in this point of view. So we don’t want to go into the future political sphere of what will happen.”  Globally, he believes, economic unions have helped countries economically, Ben Naftaly said. “So if this area can also have a good economic customs union and if we can be part of it, of course we support it.” 

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