Time for a New Zealand office in Israel – if not for shared values, then for trade


Investors from The StartUp Nation will be helping Finestere, a Kiwi-run global investment success story, run a new agtech and foodtech startup incubator in New Zealand.

Jerusalem-based OurCrowd, founded by Jonathan Medved, is part of a consortium chosen by Callaghan Innovation to run the new initiative. This is the first such endeavour for OurCrowd outside of Israel. Medved says “This is our second incubator in the food and agtech arena, and there is no better place to do this than the incredible innovative environment of New Zealand.”

A group of New Zealand professionals visited Israel in May, 2018, to learn first hand about Israel’s advanced agritech and foodtech innovations and about investment possibilities. There is increasingly strong private sector cooperation between New Zealand and Israel in the agritech and foodtech sectors. The Finestere-Ourcrowd-Sprout announcement will be a welcome enhancement to many in the farming, food and high technology industries and will help realise more of the potential.

The importance of Israel to New Zealand’s future high growth economy lies less in Israel’s potential as a destination for NZ’s primary goods and more in Israel’s potential for corporate and investment joint ventures in clean agri and food technologies which add high margins to goods for cleaner farming and food-producing practices. Israeli innovation partnerships have helped UK, US, Canada and Australia stimulate the development and commercialisation of higher-end, smarter products that earn more export dollars around the world in big markets.

Israel’s small but potent knowledge-based innovation economy is a conduit for growth in those countries it partners with. For example, Israel has the third-highest number of technology companies listed on Nasdaq and is an important component in California’s food, agritech, cleantech, software and communications markets. The 2000’s have seen a global drive to partner with the Israeli high technology economy. So much so, that next year Israel will open its expo in Dubai, the capital of the United Arab Emirates.  While the more backward theocracies of Iran and Yemen refuse relations with Israel, increasingly Israel’s formerly hostile neighbours like Oman, Bahrain and the Emirates are looking more like future regional partners in trade, investment and ecology.

New Zealand’s import/export trade with Israel is growing. Two-way direct investments between Israel and New Zealand are also growing significantly, but they are doing so despite, and not because of, the government’s lagging diplomatic and trade policies and initiatives. Notable recent private sector direct investment transactions between New Zealand and Israel include Frutaroms NZD$100m investment into Tauranga based Taura Fruit products, Vector’s US$10m investment in Mprest, Algaetech’s x dollar investment into Supreme Health, and Finestere’s investment into NZ-Israeli technology success CropX. We can expect more agritech and foodtech investments between NZ and Israel in 2020.

Australia recently signed an innovation agreement with Israel for a wide range of industries. The bilateral trade between Israel and Australia is significantly more advanced then it is between New Zealand and Israel. Australia-Israel trade is now estimated to have passed $2b annually and it is growing. The investment relationship between the two countries is also flourishing with no fewer than 20 Israeli companies now listed on the AUX and outperforming as an investment class.

The Australian-Israel investment success story has been significantly facilitated by the physical locus of Australia’s embassy in Israel and its building of a “Australian Landing Pad” for innovation in Israel. The UK, Canada and USA, and almost all the major EU economies also have embassies, trade consulates, and various start-up landing platforms located in Israel, to help innovators, investors, and corporates tap into Israeli innovation and capital.

Disappointingly, and unhelpfully, New Zealand’s diplomatic, trade, and investment representation in Israel is through a single de facto part time Ambassador based in Turkey – a nation hostile toward Israel in word and deed and a nation increasingly hostile to Europe and the USA. Even more oddly, a significant portion of NZ’s Middle East representational budget is tied up in a anachronistic and negative signalling Kiwi embassy located in Iran, a theocracy at war with the USA. Surely this won’t help Kiwi farmers obtain the free trade agreement with USA which MFAT portends it has been trying so hard to obtain for them. Surely the Kiwi taxpayers capital tied up in Iran could be better allocated.

New Zealand needs a physical embassy, with a trade and investment office and a start-up launchpad in Israel – just like our democratic allies Australia, UK, USA and Canada. If we can invest in embassies in Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar; surely we can afford to deal respectfully and fully with the only democracy in the Middle East – if not for values, then for economics.

If you would like to see New Zealand represented in Israel, write to MFAT by clicking here.