Trade Ministry sets five-year plan [pg.16]

The Ministry of Industry, Trade and Labor on Thursday presented its five-year strategic plan designed to stimulate growth in industry, decrease social gaps, strengthen the periphery and improve public services. "The ministry has outlined a program that is line with projects that are prevalent issues in today's economy," said Beny Fesserman, deputy manager of planning, research and economy at the ministry. "The idea was to provide the tools to achieve the goals that have been set by the government - that we should have a fixed program regardless of who takes office at the ministry." The ministry has set its sights on achieving a gross domestic product per capita of 6 percent, or $30,000 per person, by 2015, building on last year's growth of 3.3% to $17,800. The government is looking to add 90,000 net positions in the labor market each year, of which 55,000 would result from a natural growth in industry and 35,000 from an increase work force participation to over 60%. It hopes to decrease the unemployment rate to 6% to 7% from around 9% currently. "These are very realistic ambitions," said Israel Institute for Economic Social Research chairman Roby Nathanson. "Especially when you consider that the economy is expected to grow by 4% this year, I believe we could achieve this and more." Nathanson noted, however, that it was necessary to bring in active policies to achieve these goals, and not just present the statistics and rely on market activity to fuel growth. Among his suggestions was an emphasis on vocational training to stimulate participation in the work force with the government playing a supervising role. The training itself, he said, should be carried out by the private sector. Raanan Dinor, director general of the ministry, said the government would stress training professionals to cut unemployment. This would be achieved through diversifying the financing of training, including through direct bursaries and loans provided by the government and the banks. The ministry also plans to boost participation in the work force in the periphery areas from 52% to 58% and in the central region from 61% to 64%, and would work to increase periphery jobs with a NIS 150m. annual budget. Under the five-year plan, unemployment in the periphery would drop from 12% to 7.5%, while in the central region the rate would decrease from 8% to 6%. It also hopes a salary differentiation of 30% between the periphery and the center to 15%. In addressing the needs of minority groups, the government would implement projects to encourage more sub-contracting work; the development of industrial areas; women working from home; the establishment of specialized investment funds; and the creation of business centers in small towns. Dinor also outlined various programs to lift the social standing amongst the ultra-orthodox community, including an emphasis on vocational training. The ministry also said it would establish subsidized day care centers and provide academic grants for the welfare population and strengthen enforcement of the minimum wage law. The plan to improve services to the public would include establishment of a consumer protection body, with an annual budget of NIS 10m.