Israel: a thriving technology and financial services culture

Did you know that Israel has the greatest number of new technology companies listed on NASDAQ after the United States and China?

In fact, Israel, a country with only nine million people, has one of the world’s fastest growing economies and can boast a thriving technology and financial services start-up and scale-up culture. Something that UK Finance chair Bob Wigley, and I were able to see for ourselves during a recent government-led trade delegation to Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.

Alongside representatives from FinTechs such as Revolut and Wise and firms such as Citi and the London Stock Exchange Group we met Israeli businesses, regulators and policy makers. It was an especially timely trip with negotiations recently having begun for a new, post-Brexit, UK-Israel free trade agreement (FTA).

This trade delegation learnt that while over 75 per cent of the United Kingdom and Israeli economies are services-based only a third of total trade between the two is rooted in services. This is partly because the current UK-Israel FTA dates to 1995, the same year Amazon sold its first book, Windows 95 was in every household and eBay debuted online. So while it provides for 99 per cent tariff-free trade in goods, it contains no provisions to support the services sectors which have grown and developed in both countries since then. To take Israel as an example, its services sector has increased by over 45 per cent in the last decade.

As a result, there is then both scope and opportunity to grow financial services trade between the two countries. This is why it is good to see the government seeking a dedicated financial services chapter which would “lock in” UK-Israeli market access at the core of a new and ambitious FTA. The government should also aim to secure commitments on digital trade, which is especially important as financial services are generally provided digitally.

With the formation of the new Department for Business and Trade, which aims to back businesses at home and abroad through promoting investment and championing free trade, UK Finance will continue to work with government to relieve frictions to financial services trade. So we welcome a forward thinking and ambitious UK-Israel FTA that puts financial services right at its very heart and looks forward to supporting the government on this and future trade-enhancing deals.

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