Israel's Health Ministry Backtracks on Plan Meant to Lower Prices of Toiletries

Ministry says it will no longer seek to exempt health-sensitive items from new rule allowing for faster, easier imports

Health and cosmetics products in a Super-Pharm pharmacy in Tel Aviv.
Daniel Bar-On

After objections, the Health Ministry has backtracked from a plan to bar personal care products that it deemed most health-sensitive from rules designed to ease imports and bring down prices for consumers.

Sources at the Economy and Industry Ministry said on Wednesday that the ministry will no longer seek to exempt a number of items – all products intended for babies and children under 12, those used by pregnant or breast-feeding women, toothpastes, mouthwashes and sunscreen – from the liberalized rule.

According to a study by the Finance Ministry, prices for cosmetic and toiletries are on average 62% higher in Israel than in other countries belonging to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

The Finance and Economy ministries threatened to suspend the plan, due to go into effect later this year, after the Health Ministry announced last week that it wanted to keep the most health-sensitive products off a list of cosmetics and toiletries entitled to be fast-tracked for so-called parallel imports.

Under the reform, parallel importers would only show documents detailing the products' origin and who previously bought and sold them.

Parallel imports are brought into the country by companies that have no official relationship with the manufacturer and source their goods from third parties.

The ministries are still arguing over what products should be regarded as health-sensitive; as a result, the reforms are unlikely to go into effect at the end of September as originally planned, Health Ministry director general Moshe Bar Siman Tov told the Knesset Labor, Welfare and Health Committee on Wednesday.

The Knesset approved the reforms last December and have already been delayed several months at the Health Ministry's behest.

Bar Siman Tov also said that perfumes and hard soaps would not be included in the reforms and will remain under regulatory supervision – albeit a lighter version – for at least another two years.