Making the Israeli connection

Israel, like Central and Eastern Europe, South Africa and certain Far Eastern countries such as Vietnam, is now well recognised by UK solicitors as an emerging market.

The country is becoming the financial and technological centre of the Middle East and consequently there is enormous potential for UK lawyers to supply complex legal advice.

But Israel has not always been so popular. Prior to the Gulf War in 1991 and the start of the peace process, the Israeli market was addressed by only a few UK firms whose interests stemmed from cultural and family ties rather than wholly economic considerations.

The attitude has now changed due to the optimism generated by the peace process and the ending of the Arab boycott, as well the participation in the Israeli economy of large multinational corporations.

Today the country is a regular marketing stop for many of the top 20 UK law firms with partners visiting Israeli legal practices, businesses and government agencies regularly.

In so doing they are linking their activities with: the Big Six accounting firms, all of which are now publicly represented in Israel; UK and US investments banks, most of which now have London-based Israeli desks; and the many UK companies which are either increasing their exports to the region or bidding to participate in the significant privatisation and infrastructure projects planned both in Israel and in conjunction with Egypt and Jordan.

Since English is the second language in Israel and Israeli law is derived from English common law, UK solicitors are better positioned to participate in the economic development of the region than their European counterparts.

Many firms are also encouraging the participation of Israeli enterprises in the UK, particularly in the financial services sector. Historically, Israeli companies have looked to the US capital markets for fund raising and there are more Israeli companies publicly trading in the US than any other foreign state except Canada. To date, however, there are no Israeli companies listed on the International Stock Exchange and only one has now reached AIM.

Most financial professionals with interests in Israel believe it is only a matter of time before more Israeli companies are introduced to the Stock Exchange, AIM, the Euro-market for institutional debt and equity, EASDAQ (a new exchange being launched later this year), and English institutional private placement funding.

These markets find Israeli high and mid-tech enterprises the most attractive. Over the next few years the task of financial professionals and the lawyers working with them will be to reassure the UK financial markets that Israeli companies can and do meet the management, commercial and product quality standards required.

The Israeli companies also need to be reassured that the UK and Euro-markets can provide them with the same or better liquidity and financial support as they can obtain in the US.

The development of this two-way professional and commercial trade with the UK is being strongly supported by the Israeli Minister for Economic Affairs and the Commercial Attache at the Israeli Embassy, the British-Israel Chamber of Commerce and the British Trade Group Israel (BOTGI).

In mid-February the BOTGI led a mission to Tel Aviv of 60 City financial and legal advisers to promote the services it can offer and Israeli involvement. The meetings were very successful and those firms with the correct strategies will eventually benefit.

An optimistic report has been written and will go to press during a period of uncertainty over the peace process after the recent terrorist attacks.

Businessmen and professionals who have been involved in the Middle East and other troubled areas of the world know that there will continue to be ups and downs. Nevertheless, they persist in their efforts and remain confident in the continued growth of Israeli, European and pan Arabian trade.