At a time when free markets are losing favor in the eyes of GOP voters in the US, Israeli Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon (Kulanu) has decided to open up the fresh meat market to competition from abroad. As part of this move, the quota for duty-free fresh meat imports will be doubled.
Needless to say, the move was not received well by Israeli farmers. On Friday, they demonstrated outside the Kfar Yehoshua train station, where the first commercial service on the Jezreel Valley railway line was being inaugurated. Armed with their tractors and pickup trucks, the cattle growers accused Kahlon of plotting to destroy Israel’s 460 cattle farms. They received support from MK Eitan Broshi (Zionist Camp), chairman of the agricultural lobby in the Knesset.
The Finance Ministry began exposing the local fresh meat market to foreign competition about two years ago, under Minister Yair Lapid (Yesh Atid) who now shares the opposition benches with Broshi. Indeed, this year there were a number of fresh meat brands available on the local market at roughly 25% less than the average price. The low price drove high consumer interest and supplies ran out before the end of the year.
According to the Agriculture Ministry, opening up the Israeli market to supplies from the EU countries is intended to replace the frozen meat market with higher-quality fresh meat, a move similar to the Agriculture Ministry’s eliminating the frozen poultry market, which used to encompass the bulk of Israel’s poultry market, replacing it with fresh poultry.
The new move will extend these lower prices to the coming years. The Finance Ministry has been conducting talks with the major local players in the industry, and an agreement has been reached on government subsidies to grass-fed, free range cattle growers and on spreading the import outline so that the market will become completely open by 2020.
The plan is for the quotas for fresh meat from abroad to be raised in 2020 to 17,500 tons, while duty will be reduced to 12%. In addition, local farmers will be permitted to import up to 10% of the market in fresh meat, to encourage local production and safeguard employment.
Israel’s Chief Rabbinate supervises the slaughtering of kosher meat being imported to Israel. Currently, the importation of non-kosher meat to Israel is forbidden. The Import Department of the Chief Rabbinate conducts tests and authorizes slaughterhouses and teams of inspectors.