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(photo credit: Defense Ministry )
Government ministers and Ashdod Port Company leaders agreed Wednesday that further action was needed to complete the reform and privatization of the country's ports.
"The reform at the ports brought a spirit of change to all of Israel's ports and heralded a new era of competition among the ports. But we are in fact in the middle of the process, and there is a long way yet until its completion," Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz told a meeting of Ashdod Port clients.
"I believe that this competition is an important step towards the development of Israel's economy," he added.
Mofaz said he supported "any step that would boost the Port of Ashdod's ability to work in a business[-oriented] and economically [viable] environment," and would examine proposals to cut user fees and adjust tariffs at the port. He also said bringing a railway line to the port was "vital," and suggested that a cargo transport company could be set up within Israel Railways.
Working in an "economically liberated" environment would allow the port to turn into a "platform for regional development," he said.
Finance Minister Avraham Hirchson praised the port's performance during the war, adding that "this is the way to advance the port and lead to its development, and ultimately I hope to arrive at the port's privatization."
Hirchson said he would happily promote the creation of a joint committee of the Treasury and the Ashdod Port Company towards a long-term strategy for the facility.
Ashdod Port Company chairperson Iris Stark called Mofaz's declaration on the user fees "positive."
"For almost two years the Ashdod Port Company has been conducting a struggle on the user fees. Already in 2007 user fees are liable to reach 37% of the company's income, against the international norm of 8% to 10%. Clearly this was not the intention of the reform's designers," she said, adding that the situation threatened the company's financial health.
Stark also said that the company would work towards meeting the requirement to issue up to 15% of its stock on the bourse within five years of the reform, which took effect in February 2005.
Company CEO Shuki Sagis said that next year the company would aim to cut delay times by 15% and reduce damages by 25%.