Steinitz orders importation of yellow cheese

Move to open dairy market results in Dairy Board protesters saying finance minister is "making a shameful grab."

August 4, 2011 03:05
3 minute read.
cow farm

cow farm 311. (photo credit: Liat Collins)

Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz signed a directive to allow the importation of yellow cheeses, his ministry announced Wednesday, leading to claims from the Dairy Board that he had pre-empted a legal decision on the matter.

“Opening the dairy market to imports will encourage competition and ultimately reduce retail prices. This step will improve the welfare of consumers and of the Israeli economy,” Steinitz said in a press statement.

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Under the new directive, the import tax on yellow cheeses will be set at 70 percent, and drop by 10% each year, until reaching 20% in 2016. At the same time, a limited amount of yellow cheeses will be permitted for export at the 20% rate, starting immediately.

The limit has been set at 1,500 tons per allotment, and will rise 1,500 tons each year, until reaching 7,500 tons in 2015.

Existing trade agreements allowing the duty-free importation of yellow cheeses will continue to be honored, the ministry said.

But the Dairy Board, the central institution dealing with regulation of the industry, accused Steinitz of “making a shameful grab” and signing the directive without waiting for a High Court of Justice ruling on the matter.

“The continued implementation of the Treasury’s piggish capitalist ideology – even during these public protests – testifies more than anything to its unreceptiveness,” the board said in a press release.

“Every 40 tons of imported cheese will mean the closure of one dairy farm in the periphery, and the movement of milk production to Europe. Steinitz has signed the closure of 250 dairy farms in the periphery.

In the wake of this decision the price of basic dairy products paid by Israeli consumers will rise.

“This is a betrayal of the dairy farms, of the Negev and the Galilee, of the Arava and of the towns around the Gaza Strip.

This is a strike on farmers and on manufacturing employees in the periphery. This is a strike on dairy consumers and a betrayal of Zionism,” the press release continued.

“But more than anything, it is proof of the cynicism behind the decision to take advantage of the cottage cheese protest in order to give preferential treatment to tycoons and importers at the expense of dairy farmers’ livelihoods.”

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu agreed last week to allow imports as part of the government’s adoption of the Kedmi Committee’s recommendations on the dairy industry.

Among a raft of changes, manufacturers and supermarket chains will be required to report quarterly profits, and the target price dairy farmers get for a liter of milk will be lowered by up to six agorot.

The Dairy Board petitioned the High Court of Justice on Wednesday for an interim order to prevent the directive from being implemented, and in a press statement accused the Kedmi Committee of acting as “a field court martial for the dairy industry.”

Attorney Shaul Peles, acting for the Dairy Board, wrote to the court that the board had received new information that was not included in a previous injunction bid.

The new information, he wrote, shows that the Kedmi Committee was built on “extremely faulty grounds.”

“It turns out that it acted contrary to its letter of appointment, without authority or exceeding its authority, and that the Agriculture Ministry – the government ministry trusted with this issue – was not a real partner in this process, had its stances go unheard, and was not part of formulating the recommendations,” Peles wrote.

The petition included a letter to Agriculture Minister Orit Noked from Dairy Board chairman and senior ministry official Dr.Taniv Rofe, and Or Tsuk Bar, also a senior ministry official.

The two complained in their letter that although Agriculture Ministry representatives were appointed to the Kedmi Committee, “in practice most of the deliberations took place without the presence of the ministry representatives.”

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