MKs are asked to improve, privatize inefficient ports

"By opening the ports to the market new ports could be built by companies that have experience building and managing them."

Haifa Port 224.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Haifa Port 224.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
The Knesset Economic Affairs Committee committed on Tuesday to improve Israel's ailing ports and reaffirmed the government's commitment to privatizing parts of them after stakeholders testified about many of the ports' problems. The Chamber of Shipping of Israel asked the committee to expand the Ashdod ports and fulfill a government promise to start privatizing the ports. The government committed several years ago to privatize 15 percent of the Ashdod and Haifa ports by 2010. "As far as we know, nothing has been done yet [about privatization]," said Reuven Zuck, president of the Chamber of Shipping of Israel. Zuck said that by opening the ports to the market, including companies outside Israel, new ports could be built by companies that have experience building and managing them. Last year, importers and exporters lost more than NIS 110 million due to port delays. In 2007, shipping containers had to wait 70 hours on average before there was room at the docks, up from 35 hours in 2006, according to information from the chamber. For wheat shipments, the wait was as long as seven days, according to documents from the chamber. "We have no practical alternative to the Israeli ports," said Zuck. "We need to develop the ports and the infrastructure, just like the roads and railways." The ports have been badly impacted by strikes over the last several years, so Zuck said any privatization had to take labor unions' demands into account so the issues could be faced in the future. The chamber lobbied the MKs of the committee on a number of other issues surrounding the ports as well. In addition to privatization, they spoke out against the government's transition to a new tariff system, which the chamber said won't help the Israeli economy. Likud MK Moshe Kahlon, the committee chair, said privatization and the tariff system at the ports will be reevaluated in the near future. "The last [tariff proposal] was a bad one," said Zuck. "It doesn't represent the needs of the market." Zuck said the new tariff proposal makes produce six times more expensive to import. Kahlon agreed with those who said there is a need for new ports to help unload the increasing number of shipments. He called the ports the "foundation stone" of the Israeli economy. Zuck said 99 percent of Israel's imports comes through the ports.