A vendor arranges tomatoes on his stand at the Mahne Yehuda market in Jerusalem. Rising food and fuel prices in Israel have brought public pressure on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to announce tax relief measures and the country's biggest trade union is considering a national strike (February 9,.
(photo credit: BAZ RATNER/REUTERS)
There will be no customs duty applied to imports of tomatoes between now and the advent of the Tishrei holidays, based on an automatic mechanism that removes the customs taxes during time periods before some holidays, but the Agriculture Ministry admitted it had hoped to avoid this.
Israel Hayom initially reported on Monday that sources in the ministry told the paper that the tax lift will be in effect from Monday until the eve of Rosh Hashana, and that the ministry does not expect the move to hurt domestic farmers who grow tomatoes.
But in a statement to The Jerusalem Post
, the ministry clarified that it had tried to forestall this situation, saying it serves both the interests of farmers and of consumers.
“Two months ago, the Minister of Agriculture [Uri Ariel] asked the Minister of Finance [Moshe Kahlon] to change the tariff reduction mechanism in the tomato industry, so that instead of opening the duty-free importation automatically, without consideration of the data on the ground and about what is happening today, the mechanism will be restrained and operated only in cases of need and according to market prices,” the statement said.
But, according to the ministry, “as the Minister of Finance refused the request, today the import of tomatoes without customs taxes began [automatically], in order to continue to meet public needs and to prevent a shortage [of tomatoes] in markets and marketing chains, and a sharp rise in prices, ahead of the holidays.”
Tomato customs taxes are expected to be at 91 agorot per kg. during the time when the lift will be in effect. The removal of customs might allow for a wider selection and lower prices on tomatoes, which can be expensive in Israel; in 2015, the wholesale price for 1 kg. of tomatoes rose to be as much as nearly NIS 12 per kg., according to Globes.
Some tomato farmers
are displeased by the move, fearing if it is easier for people to import tomatoes, it will hurt their business.
“The [flaming] kites and the terror won’t win against us and won’t disperse us from here, but this step of reducing the tariffs on tomatoes imported from Turkey definitely will,” Yigal Amar, a farmer from Moshav Amioz, told Israel Hayom
, referencing the attacks that have come from nearby Gaza Strip during the past few months.
“Is this the government’s holiday gift [to us]?,” Amar asked. “Is this their thanks for what we’re going through? The only thing protecting us [financially] now are the 91 agorot placed on every import, bit that will also disappear with the cancellation of the customs tax.”
While many of Israel’s imported tomatoes come from Turkey, which has strong trade ties but strained diplomatic relations with Israel, the ministry sources told Israel Hayom that the move applies to tomato imports from all countries.
In June, the Agriculture Ministry said in a press release that it would “take measures to lower consumer prices” of tomatoes if prices of locally-grown tomatoes continued to rise.
The release attributed the tomato shortage to hot weather, and said the ministry’s policy is to intervene in the market to reduce prices if tomatoes sell for more than NIS 6 per kg. for four consecutive days.
“The cost of living and the farmers’ profitability are our priorities. When we notice an increase in the prices of agricultural produce, we work in concert with the farmers’ representatives to lower the price,” Ariel said in the release.
At the time, the Agriculture Ministry did not indicate what kind of action it would take.
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