ISRAELI Foreign Minister Eliyahu Cohen said his country’s tourism ministry is seeking to arrange direct air links between Tel Aviv and Manila to boost visitor exchanges and trade.

“Direct flights would be good for business and would be beneficial for both our peoples,” he said at the Israel-Philippine Business Forum held at the New World Hotel in Makati City.

Mr. Cohen’s two-day visit to the Philippines is the first by a foreign minister in 56 years.

“My goal today is to build a bridge for the business community to increase the trade volume between our countries and embrace prosperity for both of us,” Mr. Cohen added.

Ilan Marciano, deputy director-general of the Israel Ministry of Tourism, told reporters during the event that he was set to meet with executives from airlines in the Philippines and with the Department of Tourism to discuss proposals for more airline connectivity between the two countries.

Mr. Cohen said Israel has much to offer in terms of “innovation and finding solutions for complex challenges, often applying out-of-the-box types of ingenuity… Being a small economy, Israeli entrepreneurs are always looking for new partners outside of Israel.”

Mr. Cohen is also due to meet with Foreign Affairs Secretary Enrique A. Manalo.

The Philippine Exporters Confederation, Inc., Israel Export Institute, and the Israel-Asia Chamber of Commerce signed a trade cooperation agreement during the forum, which featured networking opportunities for agricultural technology, water, and cybersecurity companies from both countries.

National Economic and Development Authority Secretary Arsenio M. Balisacan said at the event that the government expects any resulting partnerships to support the growth of key Philippine industries and expand export opportunities.

“I invite (Israeli businesses) to invest in our growth drivers, water, agriculture, transportation, agribusiness, and manufacturing,” he said in a speech.

In February, the head of Israel’s Economic and Trade Mission to the Philippines Tomer Heyvi told BusinessWorld editors and reporters in a roundtable discussion that Israeli firms are interested in investing in Philippine infrastructure, agriculture, water, and business process outsourcing industries.

Israel’s Ambassador to the Philippines Ilan Fluss has called it an Israeli priority to expand relations via economic development and innovation.

Trade between Israel and the Philippines totaled $534 million in 2022, a 70% increase, according to the Israel Economic and Commercial Mission to the Philippines website.

It added that demand is growing for Israeli products in the Philippines in industries like agriculture and water technology, cybersecurity, and healthcare.

In September, Mr. Fluss said Israel is seeking tie-ups with information communications technology firms to bolster cooperation in innovation.

“Together, we can elevate our bilateral trade volume to new heights, strengthening our economies and improving the lives of our citizens,” Mr. Cohen said. — John Victor D. Ordoñez