Steinitz defends Dead Sea salt deal

Finance minister reaffirms his support for the business sector.

January 13, 2012 00:18
2 minute read.
Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz (file)

Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz 311 R. (photo credit: REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun)

Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz on Thursday praised the agreement reached between the Treasury and Israel Chemicals on Dead Sea salt harvesting, saying he has no intention of taking any steps that would harm the business sector.

“As finance minister, my job is to increase the state’s share in revenues from natural resources... while also ensuring that the entrepreneurs and investors receive their fair share of the profits,” Steinitz said at an event marking the Association of Publicly Traded Companies’ 20-year anniversary at Tel Aviv’s Sheraton Hotel.

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The Treasury-Israel Chemicals deal, which was approved by the government January 1, stipulates that ICL unit Dead Sea Works will contribute 80 percent of the total cost of a full salt harvest of the sea’s southern portion.

The state’s share of potash sales will rise from 5% to 10%, with the extra royalties to be designated to a Dead Sea rehabilitation fund.

Steinitz responded to public criticism of the deal, saying that last summer’s protests over the cost of living had created an atmosphere of populism, expressed occasionally through what he called incitement against large companies, corporate executives, investors and the entire business sector.

If the Sheshinski Law on distribution of natural-gas and oil revenues were put before the Knesset in today’s environment rather than one year ago, the public would demand it hand the state a 90% share of those revenues, Steinitz said. The actual law, which was based on the recommendations of a governmentappointed committee, raised the state’s share of gas and oil revenues from one-third to 52%-62%.

Outgoing Israel Chemicals CEO Akiva Moses, who announced his retirement last week after 13 years in the job, said Israel needed to learn from the example set by other developed economies when it comes to supporting the business sector.

Half of ICL’s factories are situated in North America and Western Europe, he said, where on the one hand regulators require companies to stand by the rules, while on the other they encourage them to develop economic and investment activities.

“To my regret, instead of [Israeli] regulators providing the business sector with a tailwind that encourages expansion of investment in Israel, we deal with a headwind that hampers growth, investments and development,” Mozes said.

Mozes’s speech marked his last as chairman of the Association of Publicly Traded Companies, as he officially passed the role back to Dan Goldstein, who he replaced in 2008, on Thursday.

Israel Securities Authority Chairman Shmuel Hauser spoke about upcoming projects, including the effort to encourage publicly listed companies to make financial reports more easily readable for shareholders.

The authority recently published a call for public proposals on the matter, he said, and will soon hold a dialogue with market players in the hope of finding a workable solution.

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