The Covid-19 pandemic has forced the Foreign Trade Administrations (FTA) at the Israeli Ministry of Economy and Industry, and its economic attachés across the globe to completely rethink their role in the world of economic diplomacy. While facing an unprecedented financial crisis and a fog of uncertainty, the attachés discovered that many of their previous strategic tools became almost irrelevant. Simultaneously, the Israeli industry found that they needed them more than ever. After all, how else could an Israeli exporter promote cross-border trade transactions in remote regions, where technology cannot bridge the closed sky and cultural differences?
CTech asked five of Israel's Economic & Trade attachés to discuss the biggest lesson they learned from the pandemic and 2020, as well as what they believe will be the trends of 2021 and where they intend to focus their efforts in the coming year.
Ayelet Levin Karp (Ghana) and Nir Adam Sella (Colombia) feature in this second and last part of the series after the last installment
included Bareket Knafo (Romania and Ukraine), Shai Zarivatch (Australia) and Esti Ayalon Kovo (Beijing).
"In general, I think the pandemic highlighted both the strengths and flaws of countries and societies. Watching how Covid was handled in different places teaches us a lot about the culture and leadership of the country, as well as its resilience and economic strength," Levin Karp told CTech when asked of her biggest lesson from the pandemic and 2020. "In that sense, Ghana has done well, in spite of its challenging starting point as a developing country with an underdeveloped health system and a high debt. Ghana’s president and community leaders demonstrated strong leadership and solidarity as well as impressive logistical abilities. Ghana’s economy, though badly hurt and its debt-to-GDP ratio rising to almost 70%, still showed quite a rare positive in terms of its growth rate at 2020 (of course much lower than projected before Covid hit). This outcome is mostly due to Ghana’s relatively diverse and stable economy and the rise in gold and cocoa prices in 2020, which compensated for some of the economic damage done by the oil crisis and Covid-19."
Sella noted the opportunities the pandemic afforded Israeli companies in Colombia. "When the pandemic started and Colombia entered into a lockdown that lasted for many months, it seemed like economic activity was coming to a halt in the country. However, we learned that every period, including during the Covid-19 crisis, leads to new opportunities. While some sectors were completely 'frozen' and are still struggling to return to activity – other sectors thrived and opportunities opened up for many Israeli companies," explained Sella. "The pandemic was also a great opportunity to see the strength of Israeli companies, that continued innovating, adjusting their solutions to the new situation, and creating value for clients with flexibility and agility that kept Israeli solutions in high demand throughout 2020 and the pandemic, which continues to impact Colombia and the LATAM region also now."
Sella spoke of the main trends he is expecting to develop during 2021. "The Israel-Colombia Free Trade Agreement came into effect during August 2020, which resulted in immediate elimination of customs duties by both sides on the majority of products (including almost all industrial products, and a large number of food and agricultural products). Accordingly, we see more Israeli companies interested in doing business and selling in Colombia," said Sella. "The Israeli Economic Mission to Colombia made a large number of new business connections between Israeli companies and potential Colombian buyers, distributors and clients. We expect to see more Israeli companies that show interest in Colombia enter into the market during 2021, and expect to see a realization of business connections that were made during 2020 and will result in new sales in Colombia."
Levin Karp said Ghana's efforts towards industrialization and digitalization present plenty of opportunities for Israeli companies. "As far as the pandemic is concerned, I hope I am wrong or speculating too quickly, but it seems that the second wave of coronavirus with the new mutation is affecting Africa much more than the original strain. Thus, if Africa “got off easy” in 2020, this might not be the case in 2021. I am concerned that we might see a much higher impact on public health and death rate than recorded in 2020. In addition, when it comes to vaccination, Africa seems to be at the bottom of the world's priority, and that might affect the rate at which it is able to fight the virus and regain a somewhat normal life routine," she explained. "From the economic perspective, the re-election of His Excellency Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo to his second term as president, the activation of the AFCFTA (Africa’s Continental Free trade Agreement), and the lesson learned by the pandemic regarding dependency on foreign supply chains and aid brings refreshing hope. These factors are likely to enhance Ghana’s focus and policy direction to support its efforts towards industrialization, and higher agricultural productivity and efficiency. Those focuses alongside continued digitalization of the economy, especially the financial sector, and a growing middle class presents very interesting opportunities for Israeli exporters looking to expand their operations or branch into Africa. More specifically, we expect to see more business activity of Israeli companies in agriculture, health (both medical equipment and digital health), water technologies, cybersecurity, fintech, communications and cleantech."
Levin Karp said the economic mission in Ghana is planning for international travel to be largely restricted, at least for the majority of 2021. "This makes the role of local partners and representatives for Israeli companies even more essential than before. At the Ghana mission, we will focus on strengthening our relationships with local market leaders, and finding more dependable and excellent partners for Israeli companies," she said. "We will also continue to explore the best platforms and setups that will replace the traditional business delegation and conferences most efficiently. We have come up with some very interesting and innovative events to address this challenge, with varying degrees of success. Therefore, we will continue with the successful models and continue to explore new ones.
"More specifically, we are looking at interesting opportunities in the agriculture sector, especially in agro-processing and better farming practices," she added. "In health (both medical equipment and digital health), we are looking at opportunities both at the private hospitals and public domain (specifically due to the government's plan to build 50 new hospitals in near future). Cybersecurity is another area of great potential as the digitalization process is moving fast and there is a growing awareness of the cyber risks involved. Lastly, we will be looking at opportunities within the water and cleantech sector for Israeli companies interested in a bigger investments that include infrastructure projects."
Sella said he is expecting solutions that are related to Covid-19's broader relevance or impact to remain in high demand this year. "Due to the growing internal security concerns in Colombia and the rise in crime - Israeli technologies in the HLS sector, law enforcement and smart cities will be promoted," he said. "Additionally, the Israeli Economic Mission to Colombia will promote Israeli products that benefit from the reduction of customs duties and that can be now sold at more attractive prices in the Colombian market thanks to the entry into force of the Israel-Colombia Free Trade Agreement. Lastly, the Mission in Colombia is facilitating a program for funded pilot-programs with key Colombian players, as part of the new connection between the Israel Innovation Authority and the parallel entity in Colombia (InnPulsa). As part of this initiative - a significant number of Israeli companies operating in sectors such as CleanTech and Smart Cities – will benefit from our close attention in the B2B matching process, and will enjoy soft landing into the Colombian market."