Minister Optimistic About Canada-Israel Trade Relationship

Oct. 14, 2020

By RON CSILLAG

Mary Ng is bullish on Israel, and says she has her reasons.

Not only has the Canada-Israel Free Trade Agreement (CIFTA) seen the value of trade between the two countries triple – nudging $2 billion in 2018 – but the recently revised agreement puts both nations on surer footing in a changing business environment.

CIFTA came into force in 1997, and Ng, Canada’s Minister of Small Business, Export Promotion and International Trade since 2018, calls the deal “heartwarming” because it was first free trade agreement Canada signed with a partner outside North America.

Minister Mary Ng

That, Ng said, “says a lot about the Canada-Israel relationship.”

In 2018, the two nations updated the agreement to provide better access to each other’s markets, but also to include terms for gender equality, corporate responsibility, and environmental and labour protections, among other modernizing provisions.

Other new provisions are aimed at reducing red tape for businesses, increasing transparency in regulatory matters, and establishing mechanisms for resolving disputes over non-tariff barriers.

Ng granted the CJR an interview on the recent first anniversary of the modernized agreement having taken effect.

She emphasized that the revised CIFTA will benefit female-owned and small businesses in both countries, and that it also addresses corporate social responsibility.

“These are areas that really are important to both countries, and the modernized trade agreement lends itself to work that is a lot more inclusive than ever before,” Ng said.

With the COVID pandemic, it’s even more important, she said.

“You can’t use COVID as an excuse to stop trading and to look inward. In fact, we need to make sure there are multilateral trading systems [that] continue to work for our economy and people, and that we do have to make a deliberate effort to ensure that those systems are working for our businesses.”

Neither is it just about removing tariffs, she added.

“Israel is known to be a start-up nation and there are incredible innovations and great companies [there]. Canada has done a lot of investing in innovative start-up companies, so this agreement really provides an opportunity for those kinds of synergies.”

Indeed, science and technology are “significant drivers of the Israeli economy,” notes a federal government website profiling business opportunities in the Jewish state. Canada, Ontario and Quebec maintain active science and innovation agreements with Israel, providing more than $13 million in annual funding for research and technology commercialization, it adds.

From 2016 to 2018, Canada’s top merchandise exports to Israel were aircraft and parts; industrial machinery; precious stones and metals; electrical and electronic equipment; and scientific and precision instruments.

In the same period, this country’s leading merchandise imports from Israel were, in order of value, industrial machinery; electrical and electronic equipment; scientific and precision instruments; pharmaceutical products; and precious stones and metals.

In tourism, Canada welcomed 68,053 visitors from Israel in 2018, while in 2016, nearly 100,000 Canadians travelled to Israel, according to the government website.

The website adds that the best opportunities for Canadian investors are in the following Israeli sectors: Aerospace and defence; agriculture and agri-food; clean technologies; education; information and communications technologies; and health and life sciences.

Under the modernized CIFTA, nearly all Canadian agriculture, agri-food, and fish and seafood exports to Israel benefit from preferential tariff treatment.

Asked to name a Canadian success story in the bilateral relationship, Ng mentioned LED Roadway Lighting Ltd. in Halifax, a Canadian-owned and operated clean technology company that designs and manufactures energy-efficient LED streetlights and adaptive control solutions.

“Thanks to CIFTA,” said Ng, the company has sold more than 10,000 smart street lights to Israel – from Ashdod to Tel Aviv – 2,000 of which are connected to a wireless network that can be controlled remotely. The Canadian company’s products also light airport runways in Israel, she added.

It’s a “tangible example that demonstrates the real business environment.”

Another example, Ng noted, is SodaStream, an Israeli success story globally. Canada is the company’s fourth-largest market in the world, and last year, it opened a plant in Mississauga, Ont., where spent carbonators are recharged, creating about two dozen jobs.

When it comes to trade, Ng said she takes the long view.

“I tend to always talk about trade agreements as being infinite,” she said, “of helping businesses grow, and that growth leads to jobs, and jobs lead to prosperity.”

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On Oct. 12, Ng spoke with Amir Peretz, Israel’s Minister of the Economy and Industry.

According to a news release from Global Affairs Canada, the two discussed the ongoing collaboration between Canada and Israel in response to COVID, including efforts to support economic recovery for workers and businesses in both countries.

“The ministers exchanged views on how to deepen the Canada-Israel trade partnership, which is led by engagement in science, technology and innovation and strengthened by the modernized Canada-Israel Free Trade Agreement (CIFTA),” the statement read.

Ng highlighted CIFTA’s potential to advance the Canada-Israel partnership in the years ahead and reviewed ongoing joint work in implementing parts of the agreement that will ensure that the benefits of trade are more widely shared by people in the two countries. These include strong provisions on gender and small businesses, as well as high standards for labour and the environment.

Ng also “emphasized Canada and Israel’s steadfast friendship, as well as Canada’s continued commitment to strengthening all aspects of the relationship while supporting deeper trade ties, economic recovery, and growth in both countries.”

BREAKING: West Bank Wine Case Shuts Out Interveners

Oct. 8, 2020

Jewish advocacy groups will not have a say in the case of the wine labels from Israel.

In a recent ruling, a Federal Court judge denied intervener status to a dozen organizations that sought input in the ongoing challenge to wines made in the West Bank but labeled as “Product of Israel.”

Psagot Winery

They included the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) and B’nai Brith Canada’s League for Human Rights.

One of wineries at the centre of the case, Psagot Winery Ltd., was added to the case as a respondent, but the court said its participation “must be limited.”

At issue in the case is whether wines produced by the Psagot and Shiloh wineries in West Bank Jewish settlements can be labeled as “Product of Israel” under Canadian law.

Last year, a Federal Court judge found that “made in Israel” labels on settlement wines are “false, misleading and deceptive” because international law does not recognize the West Bank as part of Israel, and that Canadians have a right shop “conscientiously.” She returned the case to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency’s appeals board for further consideration.

The government appealed her ruling. But before the appeal could be heard, a judge dismissed everyone who wanted to weigh in on the case, saying, in effect, that the court will not be drawn into a battle over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

In his ruling, Federal Court of Appeal Judge David Stratas said that “a number” of parties wishing to intervene wanted to address “Israel’s occupation of the West Bank, including the status of the West Bank, the territorial sovereignty of Israel, human rights and humanitarian concerns, issues of international law, and other related issues. Many of them appear to want this Court to rule on the merits of these issues.

“But there is one basic problem,” the judge wrote. “This appeal does not raise the merits of these issues.”

He said the case should properly rest on Canadian laws regulating the labeling of food and drugs, which are designed to protect consumers. There is “nothing to suggest,” Stratas said, that these laws “were enacted to address state occupation of territories and, in particular, Israel’s occupation of the West Bank.”

The Israel/West Bank issue “is a controversial one, with many differing views and deeply-felt opinions on all sides,” the judge went on. However, it is not “useful” for the appeals court to hear the interveners.

In addition to CIJA and B’nai Brith, Stratas dismissed requests to intervene from Independent Jewish Voices, the Centre for Free Expression, Amnesty International Canada, Prof. Eugene Kontorovich, Prof. Michael Lynk (the UN special rapporteur on Palestinian human rights), the Arab Canadian Lawyers Association, the Transnational Law and Justice Network, and Canadian Lawyers for International Human Rights, Al-Haq.

Independent Jewish Voices and B’nai Brith’s League for Human Rights were interveners in the Federal Court case.

Stratas also took aim at other judges who “give the impression that they decide cases based on their own personal preferences, politics and ideologies. Increasingly, they wander into the public square and give virtue signalling and populism a go.”

The judge said he didn’t want to be too hard on the prospective interveners, saying he suspects that some of them were “lured” to the appeal “by torqued-up press reports distorting what the Federal Court decided. And once one group applies to intervene on a controversial issue like this, others feel they also have to apply.”

The Psagot winery, about 20 kilometers northeast of Jerusalem in an Israeli settlement of the same name, was added to the case as a respondent because the court should have notified it of the case, said the judge. The court said the winery was “never invited” to join the case but should have been, and that it found out about the matter from media reports.

The winery “is pleased to have been granted the opportunity to be a party to this important legal proceeding,” said its lawyers, David Elmaleh and Aaron Rosenberg of the Toronto firm RE-LAW.

The firm’s website leaves little doubt about how it feels when it comes to the winery’s legal status:

“Psagot Winery’s wines are produced by Israelis under the auspices of an Israeli company in an Israeli community on Israeli land subject to Israeli law, in the State of Israel, and in the Land of Israel. Its wines are products of Israel.”

In a statement to the CJR, David Matas, legal counsel to the League for Human Rights, found fault with Stratas’ “over-generalizations.”

Also, this ruling was made by a single judge. “Yet the appeal itself will be heard, presumably, by a panel of three judges. The other two members of the panel might disagree with this judge on many of the statements he made.”

Interveners may ask the court to reconsider its decision within 10 days of the ruling, but “it is too early for B’nai Brith Canada to decide whether we will or will not do so.”

The case goes back to 2017, when Winnipeg resident David Kattenburg raised concerns with Ontario’s liquor board that products from the two wineries were from Israeli settlements in the occupied territories, not from Israel itself, and were deceptively labeled as “Product of Israel.”

He then complained to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA), which sided with him. However, after Jewish groups protested, the agency abruptly reversed course, saying the wines could be sold under the Canada-Israel Free Trade Agreement.

Kattenburg appealed to the agency’s Complaints and Appeals Office, which upheld the reversal. He then sought a judicial review at the Federal Court.

The court sided with Kattenburg, and Jewish groups urged an appeal based on what they said were errors committed by the judge. The government agreed. Due to delays brought about by COVID, it is not clear when the matter will be heard.

* The above clarifies that the Psagot winery was added to this case as a respondent, not an internever.

– By CJR Staff