Steinitz: Where there's no competition we'll intervene

The minister of finance said he was concerned about monopolistic power in both the dairy and gas industries.

"Gas prices and dairy product prices may be two different and separate fields, but the principle is the same: we cannot agree to a situation in which the interests of the country and its people are suppressed, and even trampled, by powerful and monopolistic groups," Minister of Finance Yuval Steinitz said today at the Caesarea Economic Policy Planning Forum, being held this year at the The College of ManagementAcademic Studies in Rishon LeZion.

Steinitz said that if it turned out at prices of cheese in Israel were double the prices of equivalent products in the Western world, this would clearly be intolerable and in need of being remedied. "If it does not sort itself out, for public protest can have an impact, we will consider a series of measures. They include removing barriers to imports in order to create genuine competition for the Israeli consumer. It also includes the question of restoring price supervision."

Steinitz revealed that he talked about the matter with the prime minister this morning, and said that he hoped in the coming months to promote the imposition of the Restrictive Trade Practices Law on agricultural produce for the first time.

"As minister of finance, I have to concern myself with agriculture and industry, but we must see the whole picture, in which the price paid by the Israeli consumer is part of our considerations. As we did with telecommunications, together with the Ministry of Communications, when we introduced additional operators, we will take such action as is necessary in the cheese market. It can't be that we should pay double," the minister of finance said.

Steinitz again compared the issue of milk and cheese prices to natural gas, to make clear that he was determined to change the situation. "Last year, I did not hesitate to defend the interests of the citizens of Israel and to fight heavy pressure, and we will do the same for the Israeli power consumer," Steinitz said, adding a threat to Yitzhak Tshuva and the gas partnerships: "If anyone thinks he can exploit what it happening in Egypt to raise the price of gas, and as a result raise the price of electricity, he is mistaken. This is how cartels and monopolies behave. We are already considering the idea of turning natural gas into a product under supervision, or declaring the gas partnerships a monopoly."

The minister of finance summed up the matter by saying, "Where there is real competition, we will leave matters to market forces, but where there is no competition, we will intervene."

Steinitz also commented on the need to stop the flood of foreign workers, which he said harmed Israeli workers. "The foreigners are not crowding out the CEOs, or the lawyers, or the brokers, or El Al pilots. They are crowding out the simple workers, the builders, the cooks, and the cleaners.

"Employing foreign workers enlarges wage gaps because it creates competition for the weaker members of society. Therefore, the most important rule at a time of growth is to insist on halting the growth in the number of foreign workers.

"We are witness to growing pressure from interested groups that want to bring in foreign workers," Steinitz said, "because they want to build and they want manpower, whether from Romania or other places. We must stand up to these pressures, even if it means a slightly lower rate of growth."

Steinitz ignored a remark from "Globes" to the effect that he himself had surrendered to pressure from the Association of Contractors & Builders in Israel and the Histadrut (General Federation of Labor in Israel), and had decided to freeze the policy of reduction in the number of foreign workers in the construction industry.

Published by Globes [online], Israel business news - - on June 19, 2011

© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd. 2011

Twitter Facebook Linkedin RSS Newsletters גלובס Israel Business Conference 2018