Israels exports to Arab nations fell 6.1 percent in 1999

The exports to Egypt consisted of mainly plastic products, chemicals, textiles, machinery and electrical equipment.

Exports to Jordan fell sharply, by 19 percent, to about $21 million. Imports from Jordan grew by 19 percent to $20 million. Exports included metal products, machinery and equipment, plastic products, non-pharmaceutical chemicals and farm products.

Despite those bleak figures, Nahum said, the situation with Jordan is better if one takes into account Israel's investments there. Because of lower labor costs in Jordan, Israeli companies have invested considerable amounts there in building industrial parks and factories, mostly in the textile industry,

Israeli exports to Morocco plunged 31.6 percent to $7.1 million. To the Gulf states, Israeli exports dropped by 47 percent to just $735,000. Exports to Saudi Arabia fell 31 percent to $854,000.

Running against the trend, exports to Tunisia grew by a factor of 4.5 to $2.5 million. Exports to Lebanon held steady at $1.4 million.

The trade potential between Israel and the Arab world is not huge, Nahum acknowledged. For example, he sees relatively few prospects of commerce with Syria even if the peace talks yield an agreement.

"There's not bad potential for regional projects, but the economy is very closed," he said.