Jim Carr, Canada‘s recently-appointed Minister of Trade Diversification, fondly recalls his first visit to Israel in the early 1990s.
The descendent of Jewish-Russian immigrants who arrived in Canada in 1906, he traveled the length and breadth of the country in a non air-conditioned rental car in the sweltering Israeli summer heat.
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"It was a terrific first experience. Israel has changed, the world has changed. When I was growing up Jewish in Winnipeg, I would put 10 cents in the pushka [charity box in Yiddish], knowing that it was going to end up planting a tree in Israel," Carr recounts as he spoke to The Jerusalem Post at his Tel Aviv hotel on Wednesday.
Nearly three decades after that first visit to the Jewish state, Carr has made Israel only his fifth foreign destination since assuming his new ministerial role less than two months ago.
Visiting Israel soon after taking office is not surprising given that Carr identifies great potential for further growth in the already-thriving trade relations between Israel and Canada.
Bilateral trade totaled C$1.7 billion in 2017, having more than tripled in the two decades since the Canada-Israel Free Trade Agreement (CIFTA) entered into force in 1997.
In May,signed a protocol expanding and modernizing CIFTA, producing one of the world‘s most liberal trade agreements to date, including clauses recognizing women‘s rights and gender equality in trade.
"Israel is very important to Canada because of the close personal ties that we have, in families, communities, politically and the values that we share," said Carr. "We are very proud of the changes we have made to the free trade agreement.
"In 2018, the brainpower, energy and creativity of women has not been utilized to its potential. We‘re very happy to recognize among our Israeli partners that that is an ambition for both nations."
In addition to CIFTA, the countries boosted their commercial relations in 2012 with the implementation of the Canada-Israel Agreement on Bilateral Cooperation in Industrial Research and Development. The agreement commits both countries to invest C$1 million annually in industrial research.
Carr is not only in Israel to promote Canadian trade, he explained, but also to learn from Israeli excellence in innovation and technology, and to evaluate how "the Israeli experience" might inform Canadian economic decision-making.
"The essence, the energy, the sense of entrepreneurship and innovation and of creation and creativity is very strong in this country. It‘s a very powerful way of understanding what drives individuals and individuals together in nation-building, which is as powerful today as it has ever been."
In recent weeks, has relaunched its "Invest in Canada" investment promotion body, inviting potential foreign direct investment into Canada, including from Israel.
"Many of the values that promote Canada as a place to invest are shared with Israelis. This is a place with a very stable political system, a competitive tax environment and a skilled and diverse workforce," Carr said, adding that he hoped to see positive Canadian-Israel relations serve as a platform to work hand-in-hand with the private sector in both countries, thereby creating increased wealth, growth and jobs.
On Thursday, Carr will travel to Ramallah to launch the Canadian-Palestinian Business Council. He sees his visit as mutually beneficial, both for Palestinian businesses and himself and his delegation.
"I think that the potential to develop the economy in the West Bank can be helped by Canadian know-how and Canadian technology. I am also there to listen, and to observe and become better-informed."
Carr‘s eagerness to listen and learn at every opportunity reflects his role as a founding member of the Winnipeg-based Arab Jewish Dialogue group, established in 2006. He still represents his hometown today as member of parliament for Winnipeg South Center.
"Arabs and Jews would meet once a month. They still do to talk about things that we had probably never discussed before. We‘re always looking for ways to establish person-to-person relationships."
Far from the political world in which he now works, Carr began his career as a musician – an oboist and trustee with the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra. His musical roots remain relevant today as an analogy for successful international cooperation.
"A musician has to be disciplined, and has to understand that the only way an orchestra can produce harmony, is to play together – in rhythm and in sync. If not, you get dissonance and not harmony.
"You can use that as a metaphor for collaboration, and collaboration means you‘re in tune," Carr said.
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