(photo credit: REUTERS)
Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon faced further pushback on major agricultural reform, even as he proceeded to lower import tariffs on meat.
Earlier this week, Kahlon announced a reform that would do away with agricultural boards and import tariffs in favor of direct subsidies to farmers, in line with OECD recommendations. Farmers requested time to offer an alternative plan.
On Tuesday night, Kahlon proposed a first step for the duration of the Passover season, which would reduce fish duties by 50 percent, raise the annual tax-free quotas on olive oil from 2,800 tons and on frozen vegetables from 10,000 tons, and increase other vegetable imports ahead of Passover. The move is open for public comment.
On Wednesday, he signed an order to gradually increase the quota for tax-free beef imports, from the current 3,500 tons. The quota will increase by 500 tons through the end of May, then another 1,000 through the end of the year, and another 500 still through 2017.
From the limit of 5,500 in 2017, it will grow to 5,700 in 2018.
But in the Knesset, 20 members, including Finance Committee Chairman Moshe Gafni (United Torah Judaism) and Economics Committee Chairman Eitan Cabel (Zionist Union), threw their support behind a bill that would strip Kahlon of his ability to lower such tariffs without parliamentary approval.
Zionist Union MK Eitan Broshi, who wrote the bill, said such moves needed serious debate.
“In many past instances it’s been proven that lowering tariffs does not affect the consumer’s pocket, but the pockets of the importers and the chain stores,” he said.
The bill is unlikely to pass, given Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s support for the reforms.
Kahlon said he was taking measures to ensure that the additional goods were brought into the country through new or smaller importers, and that the policies would focus on areas of the market that would help consumers.