The Israeli diamond industry recorded its best year to date as exports of polished and rough diamonds in 2007 exceeded $12 billion, the Industry, Trade and Labor Ministry reported on Wednesday. "2007 was a challenging year globally. Despite that, 2007 was a record year, with exports of polished and rough diamonds exceeding $12b.," said Diamond Controller Shmuel Mordechai. Mordechai noted that the effort to export goods increased considerably, evident from the number of returns - more than 50 percent. Figures released by the Industry, Trade and Labor Ministry showed that exports of rough diamonds soared 25.5% in 2007 compared with 2006, as $3.4b. worth of goods were shipped out compared to $2.7b. in the previous year. Israel imported $5b. worth of rough diamonds in 2007, a 8% increase over the $4.7b. in 2006. During the same period, Israel's net polished diamond exports totaled $7b. in 2007- an increase of 7% compared to 2006. Of the total exports, 53% were shipped to the US while polished diamond imports rose 1.3% to $4.5b. in 2007 over the previous year. Exports to the US totaled $3.4b., followed by Hong Kong, the second leading destination, with $1.3b. worth of goods, or 19% of total polished diamond exports. Exports to Belgium totaled $562 million, followed by exports of $429m. to Switzerland and $109m. to India. Meanwhile, the Knesset on Monday formerly approved a levy reduction, which will allow Israeli diamond dealers to pay less tax on polished diamonds. The tax on polished imports has been cut from 2 pro-mille (0.2%) to 1.35 pro-mille (0.135%) and is being put into effect retroactively from the beginning of 2007. Separately, the Histadrut Labor Organization announced on Wednesday that it has reached a new pension agreement for its diamond industry workers. Under terms of the new agreement, the roughly 3,000 diamond workers in the Histadrut will now be granted a monthly pension of 20.5% of their salary, a significant increase above the current 17.5% level. "This agreement is a very significant one for the Histadrut and it has opened the door for the arrangement of similar agreements for all of the Histadrut's members," Ofer Eini, Histadrut chairman, said at the signing of the agreement. Matthew Krieger contributed reporting for this story.