Israeli trade commissioner promotes knowledge exports

MADISON REIDY
Last updated 05:00 08/10/2017
SHANE DESIATNIK/SUPPLIED

Israel's trade commissioner to New Zealand and Australia Shai Zarivatch says New Zealand technology companies are not doing themselves a favour by ignoring his country.

BAZ RATNER/REUTERS
Companies such as Google have acquired multiple Israeli technology companies.
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Zarivatch says Israel's coastal town Tel Aviv is a "major technology powerhouse".

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Israel's first trade commissioner to New Zealand and Australia does not like the word trade.

On his first visit to New Zealand this week, Shai Zarivatch​ said Israel had knowledge to share, not just goods and services to sell.

He said Israel was home to a technology industry as significant as Silicon Valley, but New Zealand companies had not set up shop there to make the most of its talent pool yet.

His job was to change that. 

READ MORE: Move over Silicon Valley, New Zealand techies take note of Israeli entrepreneurs

Trade between Israel and New Zealand was near non-existent, Zarivatch said. But the success of his role would not be measured by larger trading figures. 

His mandate was to form co-investment and co-working links between New Zealand and Israel's business communities. 

He wanted New Zealand companies to set up research and development centres in Israel and hire its local talent.

Large technology firms had being doing so since the 1970s, he said. Apple, Google, Facebook, IBM, Microsoft, eBay and Yahoo all have multiple technology subsidiaries set up in Israel

"They realised the value of hiring Israeli employees," he said. 

"It is a major technology powerhouse, it is not a cute thing. They develop the future."

Israel's technology hub, coastal town Tel Aviv is booming with venture capital groups looking for new companies to fund.

The Israeli Government's National Innovation Authority was the largest of them all, Zarivatch said. The state-funded grants agency, Israel's equivalent to New Zealand's Callaghan Innovation, had a unique approach to funding new technology ideas.

It spent Israeli taxpayers' money on the most risky ideas, but Israeli's had no problem with it because it was more profitable than any other investment group in the country, he said.

"It is the driving engine behind our economy."

Zarivatch said Israel had thrived amidst decades of war and conflict. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict had forced Israel to look for offshore opportunities because it could not do business with its neighbours.

Setting its sights beyond its own market made it similar to New Zealand, he said.

One month into the job based in Sydney, Australia, Zarivatch  acknowledged he had a lot more to learn about New Zealand's business scene. 

 He will join a delegation of New Zealand business leaders visiting Israel this month.

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- Sunday Star Times

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