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June 16, 2014 6:26 pm

Israeli Foreign Affairs Minister Lieberman Leads Roadshow to Africa, Where Israeli Exports Total $1.4 Billion

avatar by Joshua Levitt

Israel's 20 shekel bill. Photo: WikiCommons.

Israel's 20 shekel bill. Photo: WikiCommons.

Israeli Foreign Affairs Minister Avigdor Lieberman is leading a delegation of 50 Israeli executives to Africa this week, Bloomberg News reported on Monday.

Israel’s sub-Saharan exports reached $1.4 billion in 2013, almost four times the total of $374 million a decade ago, according to Shauli Katznelson, director of the economic division at the Israel Institute for Export and International Cooperation, in Tel Aviv, Bloomberg reported.

Bloomberg said the push into Africa was to diversify from Israel’s exports to Europe, its largest trading partner, where the threat of international boycotts against Israeli companies that operate in the West Bank has dampened enthusiasm for Israeli products, “though the economic impact of the move was minimal.”

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In January, Norway’s $880 billion sovereign wealth fund, the world’s largest, put Lev Leviev’s Africa-Israel Investments Ltd., and its subsidiary Danya Cebus, on its blacklist because of a housing project in East Jerusalem. As a result, the fund sold its Africa-Israel shares worth $2.1 million (NIS 7.3 million) from its $1 billion Israel equities portfolio that holds shares in 62 companies.

Bloomberg cited Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, at the annual Washington conference in March of the America-Israel Public Affairs Committee, as saying attempts to “boycott, divest and sanction Israel” are driving business from traditional trading partners in the U.S. and Europe toward Africa, Asia and Latin America.

The companies on the road trip include defense contractor Elbit Systems Ltd., irrigation equipment maker Netafim Ltd. and billionaire Tal Ofer’s Israel Chemicals Ltd.

Bloomberg said Ofer was in Ethiopia last month to inspect his latest investment in a $642 million potash mining project. Israel Chemicals was targeted by a 2010 Israel Divestment Campaign to compel the California Public Employees’ Retirement System to sell its shares, but the campaign failed. Israel Chemicals harvests minerals from the Dead Sea, which is what caught the boycott’s attention.

Bloomberg said the company indicated that it would seek more international ventures and may reduce domestic operations when it bought a $23 million stake in Ethiopia’s Danakhil mine being developed by Toronto-based Allana Potash Corp. Last year, Potash Corp. (POT) of Saskatchewan suspended a proposed takeover of Israel Chemicals opposed by Israeli Finance Minister Yair Lapid.

Ofer is worth an estimated $5.4 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.

Other Israelis who invest in Africa include Dan Gertler, whose fortune is estimated at $2.5 billion, and Beny Steinmetz, whose wealth is estimated at $4.1 billion. Gertler owns stakes in copper, iron, manganese and cobalt mines in the Democratic Republic of Congo, complementing his diamond trading business. Steinmetz is the target of a corruption investigation into his iron-mining activities in Guinea, where he has denied wrongdoing.

Economist Katznelson told Bloomberg: “When you look at the map, you see growth in the sub-Saharan countries that is even greater than in Asia and that offers a great deal of opportunity for Israeli companies.”

Of the region’s 52 countries, Nigeria, Angola, Kenya, Tanzania, Ghana and Ethiopia are likely to be most fruitful, Katznelson told Bloomberg.

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