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Seventeen Arab-Israeli companies are taking part a program designed to boost exports from the sector.

Speaking in Nazareth yesterday at a conference promoting the program, Israel Export and International Cooperation Institute director Avi Hefetz said the institute has identified 120 Arab-Israeli companies with export potential.

The program, dubbed Tevel, provides Arab-owned businesses with professional training and advice, as well as ongoing support. The institute has plans for a Nazareth-based course for exporters in October and an additional conference in Haifa in December.

With a million-shekel budget, Tevel is funded by the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Labor, the export institute and the Authority for the Economic Development of the Arab, Druze and Circassian Sectors in the Prime Minister's Office. Its initial goal is to reach 30 Arab-owned companies with export potential, providing them with professional support to assist them in marketing their products abroad.

Industry, Trade and Labor Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer (Labor ), said: "The Arab population of Israel constitutes about 20% of the country's residents, but their business presence and activity in relation to the gross national product is far below their proportion of the population. People in the sector can be serious contenders in the markets. The Tevel program ... will assist in creating awareness over the importance of exporting and business development in the Arab sector."

Iman Saif, who directs the Arab economic development authority, said: "The Arab sector is primarily managed by a young, new generation that wants to develop and integrate into the Israeli economy. I am sure that providing the tools will assist the development of the sector."

Dov Lautman, who founded Delta Galil Industries and now chairs the advisory committee on investments in the Arab sector in the Prime Minister's Office, added: "As someone who has been involved in exporting for 45 years, there are a number of things [to note] in my experience. Someone who has initiative and the will to learn and get down to details [will find that this is] the only way to grow. The global market is open and can enable anyone who has the initiative and the will to grow in unlimited proportions. The key is to be optimistic."