Tel Aviv skyline
Four days into Florida’s six-day trade mission to Israel, about 20 cooperative economic agreements have been signed between state government, business, trade, academic, technology and tourist organizations and corresponding entities in the Jewish state.
Among the most far-reaching for Florida small businessescould be the “Memorandum of Understanding” [MOU] signed between the Florida Chamber of Commerce, the Federation of Israeli Chambers of Commerce and the Israel-America Chamber of Commerce at the Israel-America Business Summit.
“U.S.-Israeli relations are critical for the prosperity of the Israeli economy, and the basis of these relations are partnerships and commercial and economic ties,” Israel-America Chamber of Commerce CEO Oded Rose said. “Today we signed a commercial cooperation agreement with the Florida Chamber of Commerce, and I have no doubt that there will be additional U.S. states in the coming years.”
“Florida and Israel have a long history of strong cooperation in key economic sectors,” Florida Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Mark Wilson said. “By signing an MOU with our Israeli Chamber partners, small businesses in Florida and Israel stand to gain stronger economic benefits through strategic trade and investment partnerships.”
Wilson is among more than 90 Florida state officials, business executives, academics and religious leaders meeting with Israeli counterparts on the trade mission led by Gov. Ron DeSantis that began Saturday in Tel Aviv and ends Friday in Jerusalem.
The three-party MOU signed by the Chamber Wednesday will, among other things, encourage increased investment, create opportunities for more commercial flights and foster exchanges of technological innovation, said DeSantis, who was the summit’s keynote speaker.
In his address, DeSantis pitched the Sunshine State as a viable competitor to the Silicon Valley and Manhattan for Israeli innovators.
“We have a very positive business climate, low taxes and we want businesses to succeed. In that respect, it’s a ready-made relationship,” DeSantis said. “Israel and the United States, especially Florida, have a sound economic bond that we are working to strengthen even further on this historic business development mission. We are always looking for ways to build on our relationship.
“The state of Florida as a whole, including our legislature, Cabinet and the population, is very supportive of Israel,” he continued. “You won’t have a problem in Florida with BDS [Boycott, Divest, Sanction Israel movement] or any of that stuff, which is just not acceptable here. If you’re somebody in Israel looking to invest somewhere, you don’t want to go to a place with political blowback.”
Florida has curried a direct economic relationship with Israel for more than three decades. DeSantis is the fourth consecutive Florida governor to orchestrate a trade mission to Israel in his first year in office.
And it’s panned out: Israel is Florida’s fifth-largest international trade partner, up from 13th less than a decade ago.
According to Enterprise Florida, in 2018, state businesses exported more than $345 million in manufactured goods to Israel, a 21 percent increase since 2017 – more than $4 billion since 1996 – while Israeli businesses are finding Florida an attractive place to establish footholds in the U.S., with easy access to Central and South America markets.
Israeli Consul-General for Alabama, Mississippi, Florida and Puerto Rico Lior Haiat, who accompanied the delegation, told The Jerusalem Post that Florida is the ”most pro-Israel place on Earth.”
“This is the biggest governor-led trade mission to Israel, and it’s no surprise that it’s coming from Florida,” he said, adding, “Israeli companies, while well-connected to the U.S., are not connected to Florida yet — and we’re working to do that. I think we can double or triple the trade between our countries.”
The summit celebrated a May 1 agreement that enhances investment opportunities, with Israeli businesses eligible to receive an E-2 Treaty Investor Visa in the U.S. and Americans able to obtain a B-5 Israel Investor Visa.
“Israel-Florida trade is just on the precipice of taking off, and agricultural-type businesses are the indicators of what is coming in terms of potential collaboration,” former Democratic Florida Congressman and delegation member Ron Klein, of the Washington, D.C.-based Holland & Knight’s Public Policy & Regulation Group, told The Jerusalem Post.
The fact that it does not have a personal income tax is among reasons why Israeli businesses are increasingly seeing Florida as the place to launch their ventures in the United States, he said.
John Haughey is a Florida contributor for The Center Square.