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Exports of equipment and raw materials for agriculture grew by 16 percent in 2005, to $1.85 billion, according to Yechiel Assia, director general of the Israel Export and International Cooperation Institute. Speaking ahead of the Agritech exhibition, which opens today, Assia said that this rate of growth was more than double that of general exports from Israel.

Assia said that deals amounting to $50 million were expected to be closed at the exhibition.

Delegations of experts from 40 countries have come to Israel for the exhibition, including 20 delegations from China, six from Mexico, five from India, and one from Vietnam. A business delegation comprising 60 agronomists and company executives will arrive from Greece, headed by the director-general of the Greek ministry of agriculture.

Some 50 agricultural equipment producers are coming from Italy, and 20 representatives of farming cooperatives in Vietnam will also attend the fair. In addition, a 55-member delegation is expected to come from the Gaza Strip to study advanced farming methods.

Agriculture ministers from India, Bulgaria, El Salvador, Latvia, Angola, Ethiopia, Georgia, Kenya, Macedonia, Nigeria, Turkey, South Africa and Mongolia, as well as the Japanese deputy minister will also be visiting.

Assia called on the government to give favorable credit terms to exporters and to sign financial agreements with countries designated as export targets in Africa, Latin America and Eastern Europe. This, he said, would double the sector's exports.

Trade Minister Eli Yishai, who will open the Agritech exhibition, said yesterday that dozens of countries around the world were interested in Israel's agrotechnology industry, since Israeli companies were considered world leaders in irrigation, greenhouses, seeds and fertilizers.

During the exhibition, the Peres Center for Peace will hold a special session on date growing. Scientific delegations from Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, the Palestinian Authority, France, the United States and the United Nations are expected to attend the session, scheduled for tomorrow.