Prime Minister Ehud Olmert addressed the annual General Assembly of the Manufacturers’ Association on Thursday, 17 January 2008.

At the outset, the Prime Minister referred to the security situation in the southern part of the country, and complimented the operations of the IDF and the security forces, saying: “Two days ago, the IDF and the security forces carried out a bold operation in Gaza, as a result of which the terrorist organizations are firing barrages of Qassam missiles indiscriminately and without regard for women and children.  I know that the hearts of the people of the State of Israel are with the residents of Sderot and I say to you – we have no desire to harm the residents of the Gaza Strip, but we will not accept this reality; we will continue to fight the Jihad and the Hamas, and all those who join them, without compromise and without pity.”

After congratulating the president of the Manufacturer’s Association, Mr. Shraga Brosh, who was today re-elected to the position for a second term, the Prime Minister said: “The Israeli economy is currently in the best condition it has ever been.  I say to all the manufacturers concerned with the decrease in the value of the dollar – in November, we already decided on a series of steps, the purpose of which is to provide answers to their distress in the decline in the value of the dollar with regard to the profitability of exports.”

The Prime Minister reviewed the positive data for 2007 in the Israeli economy: “In 2007, the growth rate was 5.3%, the fourth consecutive year in which it was above 5%.  In the 60 years of this country’s existence, the population of Israel has increased ten-fold and the product per capita by six.  In other words, GDP has increased 60 times.  This is a combination unique to the State of Israel.  There is no other country in the world which absorbed such massive waves of immigration, and still succeeded in maintaining high growth rates.

We are seeing an ongoing surplus in the balance of payments, a surplus which indicates that we are going in the right direction for economic strength. The labor market is flourishing; in the third quarter of 2007, unemployment decreased to 7.3%, and according to the data, it made an additional decrease to a rate of 6.9% in October.  The unemployment rate in 2007 is expected to be the lowest in the past decade.  The decrease in unemployment was combined with an increase in the rate of participation in the labor force – in other words, the employment rate significantly increased.  Of course, the considerable decrease with regard to the national debt continues, from 102% in 2003 to 81.5% in 2007:

The Prime Minister referred to his vision for the coming years: “We strive to attain a growth rate of approximately 6%, a continued decrease in unemployment and equal distribution of the fruits of growth in a more balanced manner across Israeli society, with an emphasis on the weaker populations and the peripheral areas.”

The Prime Minister went on to say that the Government’s targets for the coming years are to increase the rate of those employed (between the ages of 26-64 to 71.7% – which will add approximately 90,000 people to the labor force).  Another Government target is the reduction of poverty by increasing the income of the lowest fifth of Israeli society by 10% over the rate of growth of product per capita.

The Prime Minister referred to the peace process with the Palestinian Authority, saying: “I will do everything in order to advance the negotiations and, in the coming year, to reach understandings which will produce a peace agreement between us and the Palestinian Authority.”