The newly-elected President of the Israel-Asia Chamber of Commerce, Anat Bernstein-Reich, who has worked to promote Indo-Israel bilateral trade for more than two decades, has said the Free Trade Agreement (FTA) between Israel and India will act as a catalyst in fulfilling the huge trade potential.
The first woman to be elected President of the prestigious body since its establishment in 1984, Bernstein-Reich would be replacing Matan Vilnai, who in the past has served as the Ambassador of Israel in China, the Deputy Chief of Staff of the Israeli Army, and a Minister in the Israeli government.
Vilnai served as the President of the Chambers for the past six years and will now serve as its honorary President.
"India and Israel trade relations have reached new heights but have still not fulfilled their potential. The long-awaited Free Trade Agreement will be a catalyst for the same", Bernstein-Reich told PTI.
"I call upon the two sides to break the current deadlock in discussions over FTA. I was recently in India and during my meetings with officials there have also requested to look into ways to move the process forward to boost bilateral trade", she said.
Bernstein-Reich was elected the new President of the prestigious commercial body last week by the Chamber's General Assembly that opened for 2023 recently.
The meeting was attended by representatives of the Israeli ministries and economic organisations.
Among those that participated in the General Assembly included Jonatan Zadka, former Consul General of Israel in Bangalore, and Shai Mozes, former Economic Attaché in Bangalore and today Head of the Asia Pacific Desk at the Ministry of Economy.
Bernstein-Reich, who also holds the position of Chairperson of the Israel-India and Sri Lanka Chambers within the Israel-Asia Chamber, will continue in that role.
An investment banker and lawyer, Bernstein-Reich has been operating in India for the past 24 years and has been involved in dozens of transactions on the Israel-India axis, including the establishment of the Agribator, the centre for Israeli agricultural technologies in New Delhi.
In 2018, she managed the Israel-India Bridge for Innovation Program for the Israeli Innovation Authority. The Bridge was a joint initiative of Prime Ministers Benjamin Netanyahu and Narendra Modi that assisted Israeli and Indian start-ups to access each other's markets.
She received the "Friend of India Award" from WeSchool for her contribution to the advancement of the Indian economy in 2020 and in 2022 received an honorary doctorate from Jharkhand Rai University.
Dubbed by several local business persons as the "Maharani of India", Bernstein-Reich, emphasised that the current figure of over 7 billion US Dollars in bilateral trade, not including defence, doesn't "really present the right picture".
"Indo-Israel bilateral trade has diversified so much over the past decades and continues to add new sectors into it. Recent collaborations in health tech, energy, water management etc. continues to provide new impetus to growing bilateral trade ties. The potential is huge and all efforts need to be made to close the Free Trade Agreement that will give a further boost to it", she stressed.
"Our chamber has signed MOUs for collaboration with the leading Indian chambers of commerce including FICCI, CII, ASSOCHAM, and SICCI (SOUTH INDIA)", she noted.
In a new initiative, Bernstein-Reich pointed out that together with FICCI Ladies League, her organisation has also formed the IIBWF- Israel-India Business Women Forum to promote women-led businesses collaborations.
Bernstein-Reich received the Woman of the Decade award as part of the Women Economic Forum (WEF) that convened in New Delhi in December 2022.
A graduate of the Faculty of Law at Tel Aviv University and an MBA in Finance from the University of San Francisco, she also holds a teaching position in Haifa University's Asian Studies department.
The Israel-Asia Chamber of Commerce is a multinational chamber of commerce that promotes trade between Israel and 15 countries in Asia, including countries with which there are no diplomatic relations such as Indonesia and Malaysia.
India and China are the most prominent countries in the activities of the commercial body.
The chamber is part of 48 bi-national chambers of commerce that operate in Israel.
The Israel-Asia Chamber of Commerce was established in 1984 by the Israeli government and the economic organizations to promote trade with Asia which was, at that time, in its nascent stage.
Following the establishment of full-fledged diplomatic relations with India and China in 1992, Israel's trade with Asia has grown tens fold in the past 30 years.
The role of the President of the Israel-Asia Chamber of Commerce has been held by prominent public figures since its inception.
Ambassador Amir Hayek, the Israeli ambassador to the United Arab Emirates, also served as its President between 2005 and 2010.
Vilnai, in his farewell speech, was quoted in a press release as saying that "today Asia accounts for 60 per cent of the world's population and includes the largest economies, creating a global power shift towards the East with India and China being major players in the world arena".
Bernstein-Reich also serves as CEO of the Israel-India Investment Banking Company in the BDO Group Israel.