TEL AVIV, Israel — The Israeli Cabinet on Sunday approved an investment plan aimed at strengthening trade ties with Japan across a spectrum of sectors, including space- and cyber-related research and development.
The plan calls for investing an unspecified "millions" of shekels over three years to foster bilateral trade ties, expand joint research grants and increase cooperation in space, cyber and information security, according to a Jan. 4 announcement.
It "constitutes a roadmap" for future bilateral cooperation and builds on protocols signed in Tokyo last May by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
The Israeli statement noted an uptick in Israeli-Japanese parliamentary, government and economic exchanges, since Netanyahu's May 2014 visit to Tokyo.
In July, the predecessor of Yoichi Miyazawa, Japan Minister for Economy, Tade and Industry, led a delegation here followed by an Israeli delegation to Japan led by Harel Locker, the director of Netanyahu's office.
Not specified in the Jan. 4 announcement were reciprocal visits by defense research and development officials of the two nations, the latest of which took place at the end of December.
Defense and industry sources here said Israeli defense exports to Japan constitute a negligible portion of the approximately $7 billion in new contracts signed annually in recent years.
"It will take a long time to cultivate anything close to the defense trade ties we enjoy with India, South Korea or other East Asian partners," a defense source said.
While there is "considerable potential for bilateral cooperation in the defense and dual-use sectors," the source said it could take years to translate "interest on both sides" into concrete programs.
"Things are changing under Abe," the source said of the Japanese premier. "But they are conservative and cautious. Don't expect them to become a defense trade partner overnight."
The Israeli government statement noted that the Japanese economy is the world's third largest, with a 2013 gross domestic product of about $4.7 trillion. It further noted that Israeli exports to Japan — about $720 million in 2013 — have stagnated in recent years and constitute just 0.1 percent of Japan's total imports.
And in the context of Israel's overall exports, sales to Japan have been shrinking, the government said.
"Deepening trade ties with Japan contains several advantages for the Israeli economy ... There is demand in Japan for Israeli technologies and know-how which have yet to realize their market potential," according to the statement.
Netanyahu said the plan to strengthen trade and cooperation with Japan is part of his overall strategy of cultivating new and important markets.
"The state of Israel must vary the markets in which we are active," Netanyahu told Cabinet members Jan. 4. "In the last two years, I have met with the leaders of China, Japan and India as part of a comprehensive policy of turning to major markets, including Latin America and Africa."