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Trade and Industry Minister Ehud Olmert recently met with leaders in the retail and restaurant business to hear grumbles against Antitrust Commissioner Dror Strum, suggesting that the minister is likely to be more hands-on than his predecessors regarding antitrust issues.

While former ministers may have been happy to sign off instructions from Strum without getting too mired in the details, Olmert has taken a different tack. Yesterday he met with Yoel Feldschuh, CEO of the Supersol retail supermarket chain, Yossi Lovton of Burger Ranch, and Omri Padan of McDonald's to hear their complaints about Strum's instructions concerning the retailers' exclusivity arrangements in commercial centers. The Trade and Industry Ministry said that yesterday's meeting was intended to help the minister reach an informed opinion on Strum's instructions before approving them.

The issue concerns the opening of chain stores or fast-food outlets in shopping malls, and granting them "exclusivity" by barring any potential competitor from opening a branch in the same mall. McDonald's, for example, has reached exclusive agreements with malls and commercial centers that guarantee its prime and uncontested position for 25 years, and in many cases, for 50 years. It is clear that new entrants into the supermarket and fast-food sectors are keen on canceling Strum's instructions regarding such exclusive arrangements, since those who met Olmert yesterday are also keen on the cancelation.

The antitrust tribunal, which oversees implementation of laws on fair trade and competition, is an independent body within the Trade and Industry Ministry. Last week, Olmert extended Strum's contract by two years.