Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman is reportedly eyeing steps against “exploitive” supermarket chains in his bid to lower the prices of fresh produce for consumers.
Last week Liberman proposed a reform of the agriculture market, which was slammed by farmers who insisted it was supermarkets’ suppliers and the outlets themselves that were driving up costs.
And at a recent ministry meeting, Liberman appeared to agree, after being presented with figures on how much some chains have made in profits over the past year during the COVID-19 pandemic, Channel 12 News reported on Tuesday.
The figures showed that some larger chains’ profits have increased over the past year by 50 percent or more. While lockdowns and other restrictions such as distance learning for school children kept many people at home, increasing household food consumption, Liberman was said to still find the numbers unacceptable.
“These are unreasonable and worrying jumps which raise a suspicion of cynical exploitation of the fear, distress and emergency situation that were created here following the coronavirus,” Liberman reportedly said at the meeting, according to the station.
According to the report, which did not cite sources, the Shufersal supermarket chain made 44% more during 2020 than in 2019. The Rami Levy supermarket chain saw profits increase by 59% while the Victory chain made 113% more than it did the year before.
“Retail chains need to understand that this situation can’t continue and they need to think not only about profits but also of the consumer,” Liberman said.
Various proposals were raised at the meeting including breaking up some of the larger chains, Channel 12 said, though the station noted that idea would be difficult to put into practice.
On Sunday agriculturists held protests against Liberman’s reform plan around the country.
The planned reform will gradually over five years reduce import tariffs on most fruit and vegetables, and will immediately reduce them on eggs, avocado, garlic, peas, beans, dates, pineapples and artichokes, among others. In addition, Israel will recognize European standards for fruits and vegetables.
In a joint statement last week unveiling the plan, the finance and agriculture ministries said the reform would save Israeli consumers NIS 2.7 billion ($827 million) a year.
According to the ministries, the price of many fresh produce items has shot up by 80% in recent years.
The reform is part of the Economic Arrangements Law, which will be included in the coming 2021-2022 budget. It also includes over NIS 2 billion ($613 million) in budgeting to increase productivity in the local agriculture industry.
However, agriculturists say that opening up the market to imports will kill the local industry, which has long been sheltered by protectionist laws and tariffs.