Minsteral Committee Orders Tougher Rules on Protective Duties

Bennett-led committee decides to make import duties more consumer friendly.

In a move aimed at bringing down prices to the consumer, the ministerial committee on the cost of living on Tuesday instructed officials to take into account the effect on competiton in the market and the cost of living when they impose protective duties on imports.

The committee also accepted a proposal by Finance Minister Yair Lapid that the new criteria apply to duties that are already in force, which means officials will have to reconsider levies that they had already imposed.

In addition, the committee, which is chaired by Economy Minister Naftali Bennett, ordered officials to begin conducting their own, independent reviews of prices and other relevant information before making a decion on duties, instead of relying on data supplied by the companies seeking protection from import competiton via duties.

Until now, trade officials have only been required to weigh price factors and the effect of import competion on domestic industry and company that is seeking the duty.

Committee sources said the decision will be put into effect immediately but that it will take as much as another year before legal status, either as a ministerial order or in a law.

During the meeting, Lapid sought to frame the issue of import duties in the broader context of the financial struggles of the Israeli middle class pointing out that in the last decade the Israeli economy grew 24% but real wages only increased 2%.

The middle class is asking itself why it isn't seeing any of the wealth that it is creating, said Lapid. We must reduce the cost of living. We will go from product to product, store to store and do this.

Bennett and Lapid announced they had formed an inter-ministerial team to increase competition in the marketplace and lower the cost of living by finding ways to reduce import barriers. The team will be led by Economy Ministry Director General Amit Lang and Yoni Regev, the deputy head of the Finance Ministry's budget division.

Emil Salman