Industry, Trade and Labor Minister Benjamin Ben Eliezer
Industry, Trade and Labor Minister Benjamin Ben Eliezer Photo by AP
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Top U.S. and Israeli trade officials on Monday marked the 25th anniversary of a bilateral free trade pact by agreeing to look at ways to expand trade in agriculture, services and other areas.

"Today we met to celebrate our achievements and to lay a course for the future," U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk and Trade and Industry Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer said in a joint statement.

The two sides agreed to develop a plan by early 2011 to explore how to make the existing pact work better and to make a renewed pushed to tear down barriers to agriculture and services trade not covered by the agreement.

The United States and Israel also plan to negotiate a deal easing trade in telecommunications equipment and to examine ways to reduce red tape and other bureaucratic delays in customs clearing procedures, they said.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, a leading business group, on Tuesday is hosting industry and government officials from both countries for a day-long conference on boosting trade.

The 1985 deal with Israel is the United States' oldest free trade agreement, predating even the North American Free Trade Agreement with Canada and Mexico.

When it was implemented on Sept. 1 that year, Israel exported about e2.7 billion worth of goods and services to the United States and received about e3.7 billion in annual economic and military aid.

Under the pact, Israel's exports to the United States have grown to around $25 billion annually, or about seven times combined U.S. military and economic aid.

However, the pact contains only a rudimentary chapter on services, which is an increasingly important part of the U.S.-Israel commercial relationship.

Also, U.S. pressure for increased access to Israel's agricultural market has been a sensitive topic in the past because of the Mideast country's desire to keep its rural areas occupied for political and national security reasons.

The 1985 pact mainly eliminated tariffs on goods between the two countries. That includes the e2 billion in diamonds that New York jewelry firms imported from Israel in 2008 and billions more in airplanes and airplane parts, semiconductors, communication satellites, medical devices and other goods.