Is Walmart Coming to Israel? Netanyahu Says the Door Is Open

Updated on
  • Top Netanyahu aide says Israel willing to relax regulation
  • Simhon says Israel weighing tax cuts, following U.S.’s suit

Photographer: Luke Sharett/Bloomberg

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wants to use the power of his office to help bring the world’s largest retailer to Israel.

That was Netanyahu’s message to John Furner, a senior Walmart Inc. executive, at a meeting at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, according to Netanyahu’s economic adviser, Avi Simhon. They discussed the idea of Walmart’s opening a retail branch and investing in Israeli technologies, said Simhon, without giving further details.

“We made it clear we are ready to ease regulatory burdens wherever possible to make the market more accessible to them,” said Simhon, who was present at the meeting last month. “The door to Netanyahu’s office is open.”

A Walmart spokesperson declined to comment on the substance of the discussion. The entry of the low-cost retailer and grocer could mesh with the Israeli government’s efforts to lower the cost of living.

Shares of Shufersal Ltd., Israel’s biggest supermarket chain, fell 3.2 percent, the most since March, to 23.85 shekels at 4:40 p.m. in Tel Aviv. Rami Levy, second after Shufersal, dropped 2.6 percent to 198 shekels.


Retail Resistance

While Israel has attracted billions of dollars in R&D investments from multinationals such as Intel Inc., Apple Inc., and Google Inc., it has struggled to lure retailers to a small economy that can’t become a regional hub because of difficult relations with neighbors. But as Israel’s fast-growing population grows richer and consumes more, retailers such as Amazon Inc. are willing to build a presence there.

The prime minister also met in Davos with CEOs of major Japanese and South Korean companies, including Mitsubishi Corp. Israel relies too heavily on foreign investment from the U.S. and China, and Netanyahu is eager to diversify investment sources, Simhon said.

“The prime minister decided to put the emphasis on those two key Asian economies during our meetings there,” Simhon said. “Our message to these companies was that we’re open for business, the prime minister’s office is here for them to make their path smoother and easier.”

Following the passage of tax cuts in the U.S. late last year, the prime minister said Israel needs to consider whether it, too, needs to reform its tax code. Simhon has been assigned to lead the effort to overhaul Israel’s tax system and is preparing to submit an interim report to Netanyahu within weeks.

“What’s become clear after the Trump tax cut is that we can’t sit back and watch,” he said. “We need to make some drastic changes here, too, to make sure we stay attractive to overseas investors,” he said, declining to elaborate.

— With assistance by Matthew Boyle

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