Two Countries, One Economy Interview with Israeli lawmaker & trade expert Uriel Lynn
In Nicosia to speak at a Cyprus-Israel Business Association event, renowned Israeli economy expert Uriel Lynn was articulate and expressive as he shared his views about business opportunities that have arisen as a result of Israel’s peace agreements with several of its Arab neighbours and what this could mean for Cyprus.
Having turned 87 just a few days before the April 6 business lunch, Lynn drew on his decades of experience in commerce and politics to suggest ways in which countries in the region can work together for their mutual benefit, suggesting that Cyprus could also benefit from a ‘two countries, one economy’ agreement with Israel.
Speaking to GOLD after the event, Lynn was full of ideas regarding the economies of Israel and its partner countries, including Cyprus, suggesting that “Fortune favours the bold” and recalling that some of his own out-of-the-box thinking had gone on to financially benefit his homeland significantly.
Speaking in his capacity as President of the Tel Aviv and Central Israel Chamber of Commerce and President of the Federation of Israeli Chambers of Commerce, he noted that those interested in investing in Israel, exporting to Israel or importing from Israel could look forward to assistance from the relevant Chambers of Commerce and their connections.
Commenting on how new peace agreements between Israel and neighbouring Arab countries could further increase business between Cyprus and Israel, Lynn noted that conditions for further economic partnerships with Middle Eastern countries had also been created with Bahrain and the UAE.
He observed that many sectors were ripe for investment but suggested that agriculture, including water management, could be the most important.
“When I talk about agriculture, I mean it in a very broad sense and not just about getting the best crop. It’s also a lot about using technology and knowledge,” he said, adding, “You have to protect yourself from pesticides; you have to use irrigation in a very wise way. You have to know how to feed your crop. And a great deal of knowledge has to be put into that.”
This is also where water management comes in, through retaining rainfall, purification and also water dissemination, the expert noted.
Other attractive sectors for cooperation include healthcare and tourism. “The UAE is investing a lot in healthcare. We are investing in healthcare and Cyprus also has quite a developed industry in healthcare treatments and medical devices. This is a big field, because a considerable amount of any country’s GDP goes on healthcare.”
Expanding cooperation on tourism should also be explored, he noted, including among other things, making it easier for people from Israel to travel to Cyprus and vice versa, through frequent and efficient air connections.
He went on to state that agriculture and energy currently constitute the two most vital sectors in the world and that deficiencies and rising prices had become a problem.
As regards energy, he said that “We can’t live without energy so we should apply the best technology we have to the sector and think about partnerships in solar and wind energy. It’s a global problem. So, this is why we have to come in together.”
Lynn gave an example of such cooperation: a joint venture between Israel and Jordan whereby a solar energy plant in the Jordanian desert will benefit Israel in return for its expertise in water desalination. “We will give Jordan water. Jordan will give us electricity. This is how you create a situation that has each country using its best advantages and natural resources, by which each country benefits.”
He added that, while cooperation at a government level is always welcome, joint projects by private enterprises can also be extremely beneficial and he expressed the view that, “We can concentrate on our joint projects but most of them should come from the private sector.”
A universal obstacle to cross-border cooperation is bureaucracy, Lynn continued, recalling his own efforts to reform Israel’s taxation system when he was the country’s Governor of State Revenues. Avoiding issues such as double taxation is always an important step forward in cooperation between countries, he added.
Lynn was also careful to underline the importance of countries investing in their youth and he pointed to the dramatic improvements experienced by Israel’s economy after 1985 when a national programme was implemented, which included a high level of support for education.
“It was not a miracle. It was gradual,” he recalled. “The Government should invest in the young generation in terms of higher education by changing people’s motivation and giving them a chance to experiment. That is what brought change to Israel,” he said, noting that Israel today is a major exporter of services.
“This has happened thanks to a combination of venture capital and the young generation, who are the creative part and they are ambitious,” Lynn noted.
While stressing that he is a lover of literature, the arts and history, he nevertheless believes that educational investment is best placed in science and technology to ensure a country’s future financial well-being.
On his expectations for Israel and Cyprus for 2022 and the years to come, Lynn reiterated, “My vision is: Two countries, one economy. I feel that the ties between Israel and Cyprus are not only related to the economy; we also have some national security interests in common and a shared desire to safeguard our interests and rights in the Mediterranean.”
He explained that the idea of ‘two countries, one economy’ was inspired by China’s references to ‘one country, two economies’ with regard to its view of Hong Kong, and he simply turned the philosophy on its head. “I don’t see any reason why Israelis should not come and invest here instead of investing in Israel,” he added.
Uriel Lynn has had an illustrious career in both the private and public sectors, as well as making his mark in politics. He began his career as a barrister before entering the corporate sector as a director of major corporations, including state-owned enterprises. He has also held key public sector positions including as Director of the Israel North America Investment Authority, Governor of State Revenues and Director General of the Ministry of Energy & Infrastructure. From 1984 to 1992, he was also a Member of the Israeli Parliament, during which time he was Chairman of the Energy Committee and Road Safety Committee. He was also Chairman of the Constitution, Law and Justice Committee, where he led major reforms, including steering no fewer than 95 new laws to approval and, to this day, he is considered to be one of Israel’s most influential lawmakers.