Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Finance Minister Yair Lapid and Transportation and Road Safety Minister Yisrael Katz, this morning (Wednesday, 3 July 2013), held a press conference following the publication of the tenders for new seaports. The decision to issue the tenders for the two ports was made in the wake of the great interest by international elements. The tender still reserves the possibility of building a single port.
Prime Minister Netanyahu: "This is a great day for Israel, and a very happy and even exciting day for me. Ten years ago, when I was Finance Minister, I sought to revolutionize Israel's seaports. We started by dismantling the ports into two competing government companies. It took us years to take the second step, the privatization of the Eilat Port, and today we are taking the next step of building two new seaports for the State of Israel. This will greatly increase competition, lower the cost of living and lower costs for almost all products that we buy in the State of Israel. This will also make our exports much more attractive. This creates jobs, which is of incomparable economic and social importance; this is important because in the end, when you want to lower the cost of living, you want citizens to spend less for the same services and products and maybe even for better services and products. But for it to be less expensive, nothing influences the cost of living so strongly as the flow of products and raw materials and our export goods, that go out through Israel's seaports and therefore, this is a welcome and important change and we are committed to it.
I would like to put into perspective what the Government is doing. Our government is committed to continuing the growth, even in a difficult international economic situation. We have five very major growth engines: One is the gas – we are working to realize this. The second is China – increased exports to new markets. The third is bringing whole populations into the work force – this is the ultra-orthodox and Arabs, especially ultra-orthodox men and Arab women. The fourth is technology – technology is the State of Israel's great advantage, 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. We are committed to this. The fifth, and I would like to change the order. 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. 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. I am pleased that there is widespread foreign interest in the tenders that we are publishing today. Of course, we will consider their results, but this shows that there is great interest in Israel. I think that this is for two reasons: One, our consistent economic policy of a free, responsible and competitive economy. Two, is stability. Today, both of these have very major added value.
I would like to commend my fellow ministers, first of all Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz who, like me, is committed to these efforts not only in this field, but in others as well, to bring competition, and also Finance Minister Yair Lapid. We are coordinating closely. This is a government that is committed to reforms and we see this on a daily basis. I must say that the work with this team will surprise you. Ministers are looking for solutions and are working together and cooperating and I have enjoyed working with them and it seems that the results are very good."
In response to journalists' questions, Prime Minister Netanyahu said: "It is the right of the state and the government to make structural changes in the economy. This is our right and I would add that it is also our duty. We are doing this. I was not deterred in the past, neither as Prime Minister nor Finance Minister, from enacting structural reforms that opened the Israeli economy, it thrust us forward. We surpassed all other Mediterranean Sea countries that were ahead of us in GDP. Now we are aiming at slightly larger countries. This is one of the efforts. No one will stop us. We are prepared to talk to [people in the framework of the structural change that we are enacting but we will not be deterred. I am not prepared to accept this monopoly. It's over. I am telling my friends in the Histadrut [labor federation] 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. The State of Israel can only improve and lower the cost of products for all citizens through what we are doing at our seaports. We are opening them to international competition. We are bringing here additional traffic and we will see very quickly that it is possible for the State of Israel. This will develop us. This will put us on the world map. We will not stop it. I would like to assure you, nothing will deter us. We hope to do this the easy way, but I must tell you as clearly as I can: The era of the monopolies at Israel's seaports is over and will not return."
Transportation Minister Katz: "We will put an end to the reality in which regional and national monopolies at the ports control the Israeli economy. They not only cost us dearly, but they also stifle the development of Israel's maritime transport sector. The international interest in operating the ports that will be built is huge. Every political earthquake in neighboring countries underscores the State of Israel's advantage as an anchor of stability and turns us into an attractive target for international companies that specialize in operating ports around the world. Companies are seeking to compete for operating the new ports in the State of Israel and turning them into a hub through which goods will flow to and from Israel."
Finance Minister Lapid: "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. Today, we are reforming the ports, for which the country has waited 65 years. After the economic plan, which has been formulated and which is in the approval process, the main goal of which is to maintain jobs, this reform will create hundreds, if not thousands, of additional jobs in the periphery, which is of fateful importance. This is alongside the urgency of lowering the cost of living. We came to work and we are working."