Israeli Consul-General Zohar Raz is delighted with the growth of Israeli contacts with Hong Kong over the past year. And, in a National Day message, he said he was looking forward to an even more successful 12 months ahead. 'There are already signs that commercial and trade relations are widening between us,' he said. 'I think with the transfer of sovereignty and the peace process in the Middle East they will go on getting better. 'As the representative of Israel in Hong Kong, I hope this year our relations will strengthen still further.' Pointing to the tripling of exports of Israeli high technology to Hong Kong from US$15 million to $45 million last year, Mr Raz noted the Israeli companies' leadership in sophisticated electronic applications. High-speed telecommunications equipment leader ECI serves virtually all Hong Kong Telecom's international calls and has installations all over China. Scitex, a pioneering visual information communications systems maker for the graphic arts, digital printers and digital video market, sells about US$40 million worth of equipment a year in the Asia-Pacific region alone. From computer networking equipment supplied by RAD to electro-optical quality-control techniques from Orbotech and Elscint's medical diagnostic equipment, Israeli companies are at the forefront of development and marketing their products in China and around the region. 'When Hong Kong is part of China, it will be even easier and more convenient for Israeli companies to operate here,' Mr Raz said. Meanwhile, with new Israeli companies looking for business in Hong Kong and China, Hong Kong-based United Development (UDI) is helping them make contacts and is concluding deals on their behalf. UDI is a giant Israeli-owned company with offices all over China, experience in hundreds of projects, trade deals, joint ventures and multi-million-dollar investments which range from power stations to commemorative mugs, and a history of contacts with China dating back before most Western investors had thought of it as a market. 'Our Minister of Finance, Avraham Shochat, visited Hong Kong in January,' Mr Raz said. 'That shows Israel's interest in Hong Kong is growing. One of the results of the visit was an increase in interest by Israeli banks.' The biggest bank, Bank Hapoalim, has an office in Hong Kong. 'Representatives of Bank Leumi were here on a fact-finding mission last month and the Israel Discount Bank will be sending a mission next month.' Israel's exports to Hong Kong grew from US$637 million in 1993 to US$771 million in 1995, while the share of diamonds, still far and away the biggest market here, declined from 90 per cent to 85 per cent of the total. Hong Kong's exports to Israel rose from US$331 million in 1993 to US$423 million last year. Israel is the only country with a free trade agreement with both the United States and the European Union and the European Free Trade Area (EFTA). Israel's economy grew by 6.9 per cent in 1995, the highest rate in 20 years, inflation fell to a 26-year low of 8.1 per cent, unemployment fell to 6.3 per cent, despite large-scale immigration, and per capita GDP reached a creditable US$15,600. But with the peace process offering openings for joint ventures, trade and travel in the Arab world, especially Jordan, Egypt and the Palestinian Autonomy, Mr Raz is keen to spread the message that investment is welcome. 'We hope the openings provided by the peace process for companies to work not only in Israel but also in the Arab world, encourages people in this region to invest in Israel. 'Even in the cultural field there are new developments. This is the first time Israeli films were shown in the International Film Festival here and the producers visited Hong Kong.'