Tariffs on a range of imported fruit and vegetables are being temporarily removed to keep prices from climbing due to the damage wrought by December’s snowstorm on local farm produce.
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Finance Minister Yair Lapid and Agriculture Minister Yair Shamir agreed Saturday night to suspend the duties immediately with the aim of keeping the cost of living in check.
“This is another step we’re taking to lower the cost of living,” said Lapid. “The decision to lower tariffs on crops damaged in the storm was intended first and foremost to save on consumer expenses. We will continue acting to make things easier for the middle class and reduce the price of a family’s food basket.”
“The Agriculture Ministry will continue working to boost competitiveness in Israel’s agricultural sectors while at the same time making sure to allow producers fair payment with emphasis on strengthening the family farm,” Lapid said.
Suspending duties comes a week after the two ministers ordered controlled prices on dairy products rolled back and imposed controls on two others. Lapid has been trying to revive his image as a finance minister for the middle class, an image that was badly dented when he instituted tax hikes and budget cuts last year.
Produce prices have begun soaring as shortages for basic vegetables seemed to be developing in local markets. On some fruits and vegetables it was decided to place quotas on quantities imported free of duties to avoid hurting Israel’s agricultural sector.
According to the order signed by the two ministers, unlimited quantities of imported zucchini, eggplants and lettuce will not be subject up to duties until February 28, while up to 3,000 tons of tomatoes and 1,500 tons of cucumbers can be imported duty-free until March 31. They also agreed to remove tariffs on up to 8,000 tons of apples and 3,000 tons of pears from the beginning of March until the end of the year.
Wholesale prices for tomatoes have soared to 7.00 shekels ($2.00) a kilogram, compared with 2.50 shekels a month ago while eight heads of lettuce have risen to 47 shekels from 22 shekels. The list price for a kilogram of zucchini is now 8.20 shekels, compared with 2 shekels a month ago while eggplants are listed at 8.80 shekels a kilo, up from 2.20 shekels.
Supermarket chains said they expected that shoppers will see a drop in price within the next several days.
Rami Levy, who controls the Rami Levy Hashikma Marketing chain, said prices on store shelves could fall within one day if produce becomes available from Jordan. It will take seven to 10 days if it needs to be imported from more distant countries such as Greece, Turkey or the Netherlands.