Two years after the signing of the Abraham Accords, excitement and wonder dominated the Tel Aviv business conference
“My mother sends her greetings to the people of Israel,” laughing Fahima Al Bastaki, director of business and market development at the Abu Dhabi Securities Exchange (ADX), told a meeting of business leaders and officials from the UAE and Israel on Tuesday in Tel Aviv.
These simple words perhaps best reflect the excitement, enthusiasm but also awe that has surrounded the growing ties between Israelis and Emiratis since the signing of the Abraham Accords on the White House lawn two years ago, which promise to open up new cultural, touristic and economic worlds to the citizens of both regions.
“It’s surreal to be in Tel Aviv,” said one of the attendees at the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange (TASE) conference, which on Tuesday hosted Abu Dhabi’s largest business delegation in Israel.
“Who would have thought this could happen in our lifetime? “, he added, words that were repeated over and over throughout the conference organized by TASE for the delegation, which included representatives of the financial center Abu Dhabi Global Market (ADGM), the Abu Dhabi Development, Mubadala Investment Company, National Oil Company ADNOC and the Abu Dhabi Stock Exchange, among others.
“Who would have thought two years ago that this would happen? TASE CEO Ittai Ben Zeev said at the event, where he rang the opening bell with UAE Ambassador to Israel Mohamed Al Khaja and ADGM Chairman, Ahmed Al Zaabi, under a rain of confetti and big smiles.
“Israelis generally look west for business,” Ben Zeev said. “It’s time to look east” for opportunities in trade, investment and finance.
The aim of the conference was to expose the Abu Dhabi business community to Israeli companies listed on the TASE, and to learn more about the local economy, the TASE said in a statement.
This conference follows the visit of TASE officials to the UAE and the ADGM last March, to strengthen collaborations in the financial sector and facilitate the establishment of a UAE-Israel economic corridor. During this September visit, “several mutually beneficial agreements” in a variety of areas will be signed, the statement said.
“Just two years ago, we didn’t expect so much,” Ambassador Al Khaja said in his speech. “Many Emiratis woke up for the first time here in Tel Aviv and were brought face to face with reality,” he said.
“By working together, entrepreneurs and business people from Israel and the UAE can be a catalyst for change in the region,” he added.
“These relationships can show the world that good things can happen in this region, to create a better narrative” and an alternative path for our peoples. »
More than 120 MoUs have been signed between the two countries with more to come, he added, along with a double taxation agreement and a free trade agreement. There are currently “72 weekly flights between Israel and the UAE, which will increase to nearly 80 per week in the coming weeks”, he said.
Trade relations have intensified, Al Khaja noted, and “we believe we can easily become Israel’s fifth largest trading partner” within five years.
“Since the beginning of their relationship, Israel and the UAE have seen their trade exchanges jump by more than 500% to reach some $1.2 billion in 2021, compared to $190 million in 2020,” said Shira Greenberg, economist in Chief at the Ministry of Finance, during the conference. An investment treaty signed between the two countries to define the infrastructure enabling mutual investments was negotiated and signed in just one week.
“It is the fastest agreement ever signed by Israel,” she said, and it indicates the importance for both sides to strengthen their relationship.
During the first half of 2022, trade (imports and exports) with the United Arab Emirates reached 774 million dollars, according to the Ministry of Economy.
Trade with Bahrain and Morocco, which are also part of the Abraham Accords, has also increased. Total trade with Bahrain in the first half of 2022, over the period January-June, exceeded that of the whole year 2021 – 8.2 million dollars, against 7.3 million dollars. Trade with Morocco totaled $83 million in January-June 2022, after reaching $148 million in 2021, compared to just $69 million in 2020.
Ties between Israel and the United Arab Emirates, the first signatory of the Abraham Accords, appear to be at their strongest. Notable deals struck between the two countries over the past two years include Abu Dhabi’s sovereign wealth fund, Mubadala Investment Co., investing $100 in Israeli venture capital funds and the start-up Beewise , while Mubadala Petroleum acquired a 22% stake in Israel’s Tamar gas field in 2021 for around $1 billion.
In January, Israel approved a multi-million dollar joint fund with the United Arab Emirates to support collaboration in technology projects. Joint projects have also emerged in third countries: in June, Israel and the United Arab Emirates began a collaboration to finance a healthcare project in Ghana, while the Israeli internet service provider Bezeq International partnered with Arc Solutions, a Dubai-based telecommunications infrastructure solutions provider, to provide common telecommunications connections between Tel Aviv and Dubai.
Speaking at Tuesday’s conference, Mohammed Al Binali, head of growth and strategy at Hub71 , Abu Dhabi’s global tech ecosystem backed by Mubadala, Abu Dhabi Investment Office and ADGM, said six equity funds- Israeli ventures were already part of its ecosystem and that they were welcoming the first Israeli start-up.
“This is just the beginning of Israelis’ access to our ecosystem,” he said.
Ismail Abdulla, CEO of Strata, an aerospace and manufacturing subsidiary of Mubadala, said the company is looking for partners in Israel to work in biopharmaceuticals, robotics, water technologies and agro-technology, all new sectors targeted by the company.
We want partners “who bring things to the table, who want to use the UAE as a platform to launch into the Arab world and the Middle East,” Abdulla said.
Other panelists explained that Israelis and Emiratis should not seek a quick transactional relationship, but rather strive for long-term bonds, learning about each other’s culture and ways of working , based on “trust and transparency”.
Entrepreneurs on both sides should work together, not to capture market share in the other’s territory, but with a view to “taking on the rest of the world”. Israel should be a gateway to the West for Emiratis, while the UAE should be a gateway to the East for Israelis, the speakers said, adding that relations have so far “only scratched the surface”.
These links could also help boost liquidity on local exchanges, Ben Zeev said on the sidelines of the conference. Israeli brokers could offer Emirati stocks to Israeli investors, while international brokers could offer Emiratis attractive investment opportunities in Israeli securities, he added.
“The creation of these liquidity pools has great potential,” he said.
Within a few years, Ben Zeev added, Israelis and Emiratis will be doing business together in a wide range of business segments.
“It’s a huge opportunity for Israel to do a lot of great things with areas they’ve never worked with before. »