Ministries Take Aim at Standards Regulator in Bid to Ease Imports

The Histadrut labor federation may take the opposing side, fearing that regulations weakening the Standards Institution's powers may result in dismissals there.

The Standards Institution of Israel is in the crosshairs: A new ministerial proposal would significantly decrease the regulator's monopoly power over imports, amid allegations that its work blocks competition and raises consumer prices.

The proposal, drafted by the Finance Ministry and the Industry, Trade and Labor Ministry, is based on recommendations by both the Trajtenberg committee and the team reviewing the country's food sector. It is scheduled to be brought for cabinet approval on Sunday.

The Histadrut labor federation may take the opposing side, fearing that regulations weakening the Standards Institution's powers may result in dismissals there.

The institution is responsible for clearing a long list of products for import. Its tests result in goods being delayed at the country's ports and add to the bureaucracy facing importers. Ultimately, the costs - including those of the tests themselves - are passed on to consumers.

The ministries are proposing appointing a team headed by the Industry, Trade and Labor Ministry director general. This team would create a list of foreign standards institutes whose approval could substitute for Israel's institute. The team would submit its final recommendations by September 1.

The new proposal goes a step beyond those of the committee headed by Prof. Manuel Trajtenberg, which was charged with drafting wide-reaching recommendations for social and economic reform. Trajtenberg's committee had called for easing imports by adopting international standards, believing that the local institute was redundant in many cases.

Under the latest proposal, the Industry, Trade and Labor Ministry director general would rule which products still need Standards Institution approval based on public health, safety and environmental considerations.

The changes would take effect within six months to a year.

Currently, a significant percentage of imported goods need Standards Institution approval, including home electronics, toys, children's furniture, baby products, wood for building furniture and other construction materials. Imported foods need Health Ministry approval and laboratory checks, in keeping with standards set by the institute.

Items deemed to pose little risk still sometimes need institute approval. In some cases, the importer can free them from customs merely by signing a declaration. This applies to items such as ceramic toilet seats, brass faucets and ceramic tiles.

In other cases, importers need to send a sample to the institute for approval, and future imports are then cleared on the basis of a declaration. This applies to rugs, glass sheeting, water meters and other items.