Economy Minister Amir Peretz said Friday he intended to raise the tariff on imported cement from 0.25 percent up to 17.25%, citing a need to protect local producers.
But he was quickly blocked by Finance Minister Israel Katz, who must approve such a move, saying it was “completely opposite to my worldview, which espouses competition, is against monopolies and supports lowering the cost of living.”
In explaining his wish to raise taxation, Peretz said cement was being sold to Israel at dumping prices — lower than the prices offered at the country of origin — that were harming local industry.
He added that these low prices had not brought down housing costs. And he said Nesher, Israel’s main cement producer, had vowed not to raise prices to more than NIS 250 ($73) a ton, compared to an average of NIS 240 a ton today.
He said his aim was to keep prices low while safeguarding the local cement industry.
Katz said he intended to reject Peretz’s request out of hand. Nonetheless, the two were set to meet to discuss the matter.
Peretz’s decision went against the recommendations on an advisory committee, which said the tariff on imports should be kept at its current rate, though the director of import policy at the ministry supported him.
Although the committee acknowledged that dumping was taking place in imports from Turkey and Greece, it noted that cement imported from Jordan and Cyprus was brought in at non-dumping prices, calling into question the claim that such tactics were hurting the local industry.
Priot to his political career, Peretz spent years at the helm of the Histadrut Labor Federation of powerful labor unions, and seen as connected to Israeli industry interests.
Cement importer Ciment accused the minister of seeking to take Israel back to “the rule of monopolies and committees” and said his decision would increase centralization and living costs.
Peretz, chairman of the Labor party, and Katz of Likud are on separate camps in the new unity government, with Peretz allying with Blue and White and its leader Benny Gantz and Katz loyal to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.