The government on Wednesday published tenders for companies to build two private ports, one in Haifa and one in Ashdod, to compete with the existing ports in those cities, accused of corruption, mismanagement and inefficiency.The reforms “will greatly increase competition, lower the cost of living and lower costs for almost all products that we buy in the State of Israel,” Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said.“This will also make our exports much more attractive. Nothing influences the cost of living as strongly as the flow of products and raw materials and our export goods that go out through Israel’s seaports.”Netanyahu issued a blunt warning to the Histadrut labor federation that efforts to upend reforms would not be tolerated.“No one will stop us,” he said. “I am not prepared to accept this monopoly.It’s over. I am telling my friends in the Histadrut and the large workers’ committees that it’s over. No longer will 2,000 people strangle the economy, paralyze the country and prevent us from advancing toward the future that awaits us.”By press time, the Histadrut had not issued an official response to the announcement.In May, the Transportation Ministry outlined ways to subvert a possible port strike, which, according to the Israel Manufacturers Association, would cost the business sector NIS 340 million in revenue, and cost the economy some NIS 200m., each week.More than 60 percent of the nation’s GDP is represented by the flow of goods in and out of the ports, making them a crucial gateway for the economy. A study on general Israeli transport estimated that wages were overblown by 34%.The ports’ average monthly wages are the highest of any state-owned enterprises; at Ashdod Port, where union chairman Alon Hasson stepped down in June over corruption allegations, they stood at NIS 32,407.“We will put an end to the reality in which regional and national monopolies at the ports control the Israeli economy,” Transportation Minister Israel Katz said on Wednesday. “They not only cost us dearly, but they also stifle the development of Israel’s maritime transport sector.”The Israel Shippers Council praised the move as “better late than never,” saying that building new docks would take five to seven years, even as the current ports lagged behind in necessary capacity.Finance Minister Yair Lapid noted that the ports were just one of several areas for which the government was pushing through reforms.“The most prominent thing about this government is that we’re here to work, from gas to the ‘going to work’ program and equality in sharing the burden,” he said.Netanyahu outlined reforms as one of five growth engines for the economy.“The first is reforms, reforms and more reforms in order to cut bureaucracy, increase competition, lower prices and lower the cost of living in Israel,” he said. “This is of incomparable economic and social importance and it starts, but does not end, at the ports. We began with Open Skies, and now we’re going to Open Seas and this is welcome news.”The government approved the Open Skies Agreement to increase airline competition in April, and stood down a brief El Al-led strike that followed.The other engines, he said, were Israel’s natural gas, opening up export markets such as China, integrating ultra-Orthodox men and Arab women into the labor force, and Israeli technology, “not only in terms of technological exports, but in terms of wiring the country with fiber optic cables in order to increase the accessibility of every Israeli boy and girl to the new world that is developing.
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