Antitrust Commissioner Dror Strum does well not to give up, even after Industry and Trade Ministry Director-General Amir Hayek's odd decision to reward cement monopoly Nesher. He has done that by stamping out competition in the cement industry, which had been competive for only two years.
It is a pity Strum did not manage to block the decision despite his partial involvement in the process.
This week, the ministry equated the price of imported cement to Nesher's high prices in 2000, before competition arrived, plus sundry linkages.
According to ministry figures, Nesher's profitability that year was 12.8%. Price supervision in recent years was to ensure the company 6-12% profitability.
Yesterday, the ministry official responsible for dumping policy, Reuven Pesach, refused to say what rate he guaranteed Nesher under the new arrangement. He did say it is slightly lower than the global average of 15%.
The decision requires importers to commit, in writing, not to sell cement at prices lower than 98% of Nesher's price. The antitrust commission thinks that with a little more creativity and a little less laziness, the ministry's dumping unit could have found an arrangement that would not have buried competition in Israel's cement sector.
Nesher claims that the moment importers were found to be selling at dumping prices, the state should have imposed an import levy, as is allowed by international law.
Ministry sources maintained that Pesach was asked by Industry and Trade Minister Dalia Itzik not to impose levies on Jordanian cement for political reasons. The ministry now proudly notes that the solution will allow Jordan to sell cement in Israel and get more money - just like Nesher.
Internal ministry opposition to the arrangement notes that even if there was room to equalize prices, Pesach should have set the price at the present price with a dumping addition, which would have amounted to NIS 255 per ton and not NIS 269 per ton.
The decision led the Antitrust Authority to lash out in an unprecedented attack, noting that the ministry is forcing a sector into a price arrangement, which, if it weren't government-imposed, would be considered an illegal cartel.
Nonetheless, the Antitrust Authority has no mandate to deal with dumping, so it is unclear how it will convince the ministry's upper echelons to change the decision.
If Israel wants a national cement industry, it must be defended, subject to guidelines of international law. But it isn't the state's duty to guarantee the company a particular profit margin, and certainly not the profit margin it had as a monopoly. That miserable decision will encourage Nesher to remain inefficient and will be a disincentive to competition.