For the fifth year in a row, 2000 has been defined as a stagnating period in Israel's food industry, with just 1% growth, according to Gezy Kaplan, Chairman of the Food Division of the Manufacturers Association of Israel. Kaplan, speaking on 27 December, said that since the outbreak of hostilities three months ago, "there has been a 13% decline in food sales to the domestic institutional sector, such as hotels and restaurants, and a 50% drop in sales of food to the Palestinian Authority." Prior to the outbreak of hostilities, Israeli food sales to the Palestinian Authority amounted to nearly US$10m per month, whereas in the past three months sales totalled half that amount.

Kaplan noted that the gap between food imports and exports "is growing steadily, as it has been in the past six years. Food imports were valued at US$139m in 1995 but were worth US$397m in 2000."

The Chairman of the Food Division commented on what he termed "a discriminatory clause" in the trade agreement which Israel signed with the EU, which presented a number of difficulties for Israel to compete on equal terms with other countries, and on levies which the Israeli government imposes on imported raw materials for the food industry. Kaplan said that the total sales of Israel's food industry, to both the local and overseas markets, will rise in 2000 by 3% to nearly US$9bn, and that the number of workers in the food manufacturing sector is expected to remain steady at 53,4000, as in 1999.

By Aaron Priel, just-food.com correspondent