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President George Bush is set to sign a bill that includes a provision for Israeli-U.S. energy cooperation. The Energy Independence and Security Act, which passed the U.S. House of Representatives Tuesday by a 314-100 vote, includes a provision that establishes a U.S. grant program in cooperation with the Israeli Ministry of Energy and Infrastructure. That program would promote solar, biomass, wind, geothermal, wave and tidal energy, as well as advanced battery technology and energy efficiency. Joint ventures between businesses, non-profits, academic institutions, national laboratories and the federal government in the U.S. and Israel qualify for the grants. A new “International Clean Energy Foundation,” whose board will include high-ranking U.S. and USAID officials, will oversee the awarding of funds. Jewish groups including the Jewish Council on Public Affairs, the American Jewish Committee, the American Jewish Congress and the American Israel Public Affairs Committee had lobbied for the bill. This particular provision was spurred in part by a speech Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert made to the U.S. Congress in May 2006.

“Israel is an ideal research partner because Israel’s strategic position has required it to be at the cutting edge of research to reduce reliance on fossil fuels,” said U.S. Rep. Brad Sherman, D-Calif., one of the lead sponsors of the bill’s language. The Senate version of the bill passed by an 85-12 vote in June. President Bush is set to sign it on Wednesday.

Mercosur, the South American trade bloc, signed a free-trade pact with Israel.

The agreement, signed Tuesday during the organization’s two-day summit in Uruguay, is the bloc’s first trade pact with a country outside of Latin America.

The new partnership, which follows two years of negotiations, marks Israel’s first trade agreement in Latin America. Under the new plan, trade is expected to double between Israel and the Mercosur member nations: Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay. Associate members of Mercosur include Chile, Bolivia, Venezuela, Colombia and Peru.

Trade between Israel and Mercosur member countries totaled $1.1 billion in 2006.

The agreement comes at a time of growing Iranian influence in the region, backed by Venezuela. “Free trade sustains democracies, and strengthens relations between these countries, some of which have had strong ties with Israel since its creation,” said B’nai B’rith International Executive Vice President Daniel S. Mariaschin, who applauded Mercosur on the pact. “This further cements ties between these countries.”

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