Israel and Italy conclude mutually beneficial trade and environmental talks.An Italian executive recently declared that in only a few years, Israel could be viewed as the Eldorado of the Middle East – a welcomed statement that captures Italian confidence in the dynamism and resiliency of the Israeli people.

Italian industry has that rare ability to look beyond its borders and see the world the way it should be. Therefore, in the hardest of political times, with bombs exploding on the very eve of their visit, a delegation of thirty leading Italian environmental companies and scientific institutions arrived in Israel for a groundbreaking event.

The Porter School of Environmental Studies of Tel Aviv University hosted the 1st Italian/Israeli Forum on Environmental Technologies on Oct. 14-15, in cooperation with the Italian Embassy in Tel Aviv – spearheaded by the dynamic Italian Ambassador Guillo Terzi. Ambassador Terzi served previously as Italy’s deputy ambassador to the United Nations and as chief of staff to the secretary general of the foreign ministry.

The interdisciplinary, innovative and proactive Porter School is a viewed as a leading force in Israel’s environmental arena. Founded in 2000, the school is led by Professor Zev Levin, who also holds the Goldemberg Chair in Physics at Tel Aviv University and is the principal investigator for Israel’s first astronaut experiment.

The First Forum on Environmental Technologies also received extensive support from the Italian Trade Commission, the Israel Export Institute, MATIMOP of Israel’s Ministry of Commerce and Trade, the Israel-Italy Chamber of Commerce and Industry, and the Italian airline Alitalia.

The Israeli and Italian governments viewed the Forum as a groundbreaking platform for the exchange of know-how, shared experiences and long-range cooperation. Foreign Minister Shimon Peres provided an inspiring keynote address on “Environmental Challenges in the New Millennium,” emphasizing that the topic of the conference “belongs to the future.”

The Forum officially launched the implementation of the Italian-Israeli Agreement on Industrial, Scientific and Technological Cooperation, recently ratified by the parliaments of both countries.

The primary goal of the new agreement is to foster bilateral initiatives in innovative and marketable systems, products, applications and processes. Grant support in sums up to fifty percent of eligible research and development costs will be provided for joint research projects for new environmental technologies.

The First Forum on Environmental Technologies emphasized collaboration and exchange of scientific/academic expertise in the critical water quality, solid waste and air pollution quality areas.

A delegation of thirty leading Italian companies and scientific institutions, matched by an equal number of Israeli counterparts, will participate in this event.

The Porter School’s Corporate Partners for the Environment Program – a unique environmental bridge between academia and industry – was one of the driving forces behind the conference. CPE provides a scientific platform for the achievements, concerns, and research challenges of the private sector in broad-reaching environmental fields.

This convergence between scientific and industrial cooperation is a strong priority for the Italian Government. In remarks before the Johannesburg Convention, Italy’s Minister of the Environment, Altero Matteoli, emphasized Italy’s determination to ensure the availability of water and energy for the developing world in general and for the Mediterranean region in particular. Both Israel and Italy (in the southern part of the country) face the challenges of scarce water resources, population density, and an industrial infrastructure that requires ever-efficient environmental technologies.

The Forum also reinforced the dynamic economic and scientific relationship that has been evolving between Israel and Italy:

— Italy exported $757 million worth of goods to Israel in the first semester of 2002, with more than 30 percent in the medium- and high-technology sectors.

— Italian industry recognizes the market potential that can emerge from partnerships with innovative and highly competitive Israeli groups. A number of Italian companies are involved in joint ventures in Israel, several within the context of the European Union Fifth Framework Program. In 1999-2001, the European Commission financed 41 joint projects coordinated by an Italian or an Israeli “Prime Contractor” – with joint participation of Israeli and Italian institutions – for a total amount of 71 million Euros.

While Israel’s environmental sector is can be viewed as a “new frontier” for venture capital investment, Italy provides a natural gateway to European capital markets. Indeed, several Israeli high-tech companies are considering the possibility of listings on the Italian Stock Exchange, following intensive discussions with a high-level Italian delegation in January 2002.