Israel-Canada: Tech, cyber-security (and hummus)

| June 30, 2016 | 0 Comments
Canada’s Magna International Inc. and Israel’s Argus Cyber Security Ltd.  have partnered on vehicle security concerns related to cyber attacks. (Photo: Magna International Inc.)

Canada’s Magna International Inc. and Israel’s Argus Cyber Security Ltd. have partnered on vehicle security concerns related to cyber attacks. (Photo: Magna International Inc.)

After signing free-trade agreements with its North American neighbours, Canada’s next agreement was with Israel. Since it came into force in 1997, trade has tripled, from less than $500 million to $1.6 billion in 2014.
Israel’s top imports were aircraft, electrical machinery, paper and paperboard, precious stones and metals, cereals and vegetable products — in fact, one surprising fact is that Israel’s world-famous hummus comes from chickpeas grown in Saskatchewan. Israel’s top exports, meanwhile, were pharmaceutical products, electrical machinery and equipment, precious stones and metals, machinery, plastics, chemicals and scientific and precision instruments.
Last summer, we modernized our free-trade agreement to suit the digital age. In doing so, Canada recognized Israel’s value as a partner in science, technology and innovation. It is not a coincidence that the implementation of this agreement was noted as a priority in Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s mandate letter to his new minister of international trade — our leaders understand that partnerships are essential to success in the highly competitive globalized economy.
For Israel, high-tech is the main driver of the national economy and 2015 was a particularly good year, if not the best, for this sector. It witnessed 70 mergers and acquisitions or public offerings of Israeli companies at a combined value of more than $10 billion. Israel’s high-tech sector has become the focal point for global multinationals looking for “disruptive technologies.” The presence of approximately 350 multinationals with R&D centres in Israel — such as Apple, Facebook, Google, Intel, Siemens and Samsung — helps to keep a close eye on the talent.
The year 2015 was also a good year for Israel-Canada commercial ties. Four of Canada’s largest, most well-known companies signed major deals or launched joint initiatives with Israeli partners,
including BlackBerry, Bombardier, Magna International and MDA Ltd. From modernizing Israel’s railway system to launching a communications satellite that will offer free Internet access to remote regions in Africa, Israelis and Canadians are working together like never before.
One emerging area of mutual expertise is cyber-security. Israel has positioned itself as a global leader and Canadian companies have taken notice. Last April, BlackBerry acquired Israel’s WatchDox to enhance its position as a leader in mobile security. BlackBerry also announced plans to set up a research centre in Israel, becoming the first Canadian company to do so since Nortel Networks. In September, Magna, based in Aurora, Ont., chose Israel’s Arbus to provide solutions to secure automobiles from hacking. It may sound far-fetched that hackers could break into your car, but last year, two American researchers managed to control a Jeep Cherokee by hacking into its entertainment system.
Israelis are also turning to Canada. Canada’s high-tech hubs in Vancouver, Kanata, Waterloo and Toronto are increasingly welcoming Israeli firms. These companies — including some of the world’s largest players in cyber-security and software — are attracted by two key features: Canada’s vast pool of multicultural, multilingual workers and its highly educated, highly skilled workforce.
Despite growing economic ties, we are only scratching the surface. I would like to see even more collaboration and we must provide the institutional mechanisms to enable business-to-business opportunities. Our universities are already linked by a web of joint projects in a range of disciplines from ocean studies to quantum computing, from cancer research to engineering. We also have the Canada Israel Industrial Research and Development Foundation (CIIRDF) that connects small and medium enterprises in both countries to come up with new technologies and products. Nonetheless, our knowledge-based economy is constantly evolving, so we need to find novel ideas.
An example of such innovative thinking is the recent decision by Australia to establish a tech incubator, known as a “landing pad,” in Tel Aviv, a city that was recently named the top startup ecosystem outside the U.S. This program allows Australians to work in one of the most dynamic high-tech communities, gives them a collaborative workspace with all the necessary facilities and connects them to business networks, entrepreneurial talent and investors. A similar, but modified program would easily work in each of our tech hubs to bring Israeli entrepreneurs to Canada and Canadian entrepreneurs to Israel.
Together, Israelis and Canadians can make headlines by developing new cutting-edge technologies that include breakthroughs in medical devices and life sciences, fintech solutions, aerospace and space, water technology, cyber-security, the Internet of Things and all other sectors that will come to define the 21st Century.

Rafael Barak is Israel’s ambassador to Canada. Reach him at  (613) 750-7500 or information@ottawa.mfa.gov.il.

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