Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz has given the green light to a series of recommendations aimed at reforming regulations on the personal import of vehicles into Israel.
The new regulations aim to increase competition and reduce prices as well as ensure higher safety standards. The Association of Americans and Canadians in Israel says it's too early to tell how the move will affect new immigrants.
The recommendations approved Tuesday were made by a public committee appointed by the ministry and chaired by retired judge Kay Blanche, to examine the variety of aspects involved in personal import.
The decision will allow the personal import of all cars that are currently marketed in Israel as well as those that aren't, provided they meet European standards. Until now, drivers were only allowed to import those vehicles that were represented by the manufacturers' authorized agent.
Another recommendation Katz approved was to allow every individual to import two vehicles only every two years instead of every year, as is currently the case.
Katz also adopted the recommendation to limit those allowed to drive the imported vehicle to the purchaser and his or her immediate family.
The decision is meant to reduce the illegal transfer of vehicles, which is now common. Katz said that for the limitation to be effectively enforced, an agreement must struck with the insurance companies.
In a move aimed to battle rampant import-document forgery, Katz decided that if any of the accompanying documents are found to be forgeries, the imported cars will not be released from Customs and the offenders will be reported to the police.
In August, the Transportation Ministry uncovered dozens of personally imported vehicles accompanied by documents that were suspected forgeries. These included service certificates of auto importers and garages, international guarantees of auto manufacturers, drivers' licenses, and documents that detailed the recall history of the cars.
Despite the committee's recommendations to limit private import to new vehicles only, Katz decided to continue the current situation, whereby people can import used vehicles that are up to two years old.
He did, however, adopt the committee's recommendations to thoroughly examine every car that is imported privately at licensing bureaus, an examination similar to that required for vehicles that have been involved in severe road accidents.
A Transportation Ministry engineer must conduct an initial examination prior to the car leaving Customs and that from now on, no temporary registrations will be given, only permanent ones, following the examination.
The minister instructed his office to take steps to make the personal import of vehicles more streamlined and efficient by reducing waiting times and speeding up the registration process as much as possible.
Additionally, legislation will be passed to regulate the recalls of vehicles imported privately. Until now, privately imported vehicles have not been included in recalls. Under the plan, the Transportation Ministry will provide official dealers with the details of personally imported cars, who will schedule them for recall repairs if necessary.
Josie Arbel, director of absorption services at AACI, said it is still to soon to tell what effects the new regulations will have on those people who wish to bring their cars to Israel when they make aliya.
"I know it won't do anything to help those people who want to bring over their beloved 10-year-old minivan," said Arbel.
Arbel said that his group as well as other immigrant absorption organizations have tended to discourage people from personally importing cars. She said the paperwork and bureaucracy are too time-consuming to be worth it and that there are restrictions to specific models.
"It sounds like these new regulations may actually make things better in that regard," she said.
Mordechai Zucker, a former car dealer and an import consultant, was less optimistic. According to him, the government was doing everything it could to discourage personal import by new immigrants.
"At this stage, it's only worth it if you are bringing over a really expensive car or one that is in short supply here in Israel. The cutoff price is around $25-30,000. If the car costs less, then the VAT reduction just isn't worth the expenses for shipping and auxiliary fees," said Zucker.
Daniel Reishstein of KEF International, a shipping company that specializes in aliya shipping from the United States and Canada, said that they no longer offered full vehicle import services.
"We can still do the shipping side and organize everything at the point of origin, but we recommend that the clients clear the vehicle through Customs themselves. For us, it's more trouble than it's worth," he said.
Reishstein said that the changes to regulations over the last two years had made it nearly impossible to figure out what was required.
"We had a car stuck in the port for months because the certificate of approval issued by the Ministry of Transportation was no longer valid and we had to do the whole process all over again," he said.
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