Lebanon has eliminated all export duties for shipments by sea until land trading routes through Syria re-open. Lebanese trucks have been stalled along the northern border with Syria for weeks, costing the country millions of dollars.


Some Lebanese believe the border hold-ups are punishment for Syria’s forced withdrawal from Lebanon this spring. Syria says long lines at border checkpoints are due to the government’s efforts to crack down on arms illegally entering the country.


The Federation of Agricultural Producers in Lebanon meanwhile blasted what they called the Lebanese government’s “indifference” towards the border dispute.


“We declare our indignation at the government’s reluctance to declare a state of emergency,” the group said.


The syndicate, which said over 250 trucks have been stranded carrying about US$2mn of perishable goods, is demanding that the government form an “operations room” to monitor the situation at the border and seek solutions.


A visit by Arab League secretary general Amr Moussa to Damascus failed to alleviate the situation, although Moussa promised Arab League mediation to work out a solution.


The Ministry of Economy and Trade agreed to eliminate all tariffs on exports from the country’s two main ports – Beirut, and Tripoli in the North – to encourage a way around the border row.


“All exports dues will be eliminated until the situation is solved and land transport goes back to normal,” Abdel-Hafeez Qaisi, general director of the Port of Beirut, has said. Qaisi said there should be no problem finding enough ships to meet a surge in export levels. He added that officials from the ports and from the Ministry of Trade and Transport will meet today to discuss asking other Arab states to give temporary discounts to Lebanese shipments. Traders have complained that exporting by sea won’t ease the problem enough in part because of expensive tolls at Egypt’s Suez Canal.


“We will be investigating which navigational lines can be used with minimal transport fees,” Qaisi said. Industrialists and farmers in Lebanon have been scrambling to find alternate trade routes as the border row with Syria simmers.


Lebanese national carrier Middle East Airlines last week announced a 50% discount on freight charges for agricultural and industrial exports. Traders warn that sea and air travel isn’t as efficient as land trade and can’t sustain the country’s export demands.


Lebanon’s total exports reached US$1.6bn in 2004, almost half of which go to the Gulf. Although some trucks have been able to get through, there are no signs that the situation is improving. Some reports claim that Syrian authorities completely closed eastern Lebanon’s Masnaa border crossing, even refusing entry for trucks with foreign license plates that had unloaded their shipments to quickly travel to other countries via Syria.


Industrialists in

  • Lebanon estimate that trade through Syria reaches US$50mn per month. Farmers in Lebanon warned that if not solved soon, the problem could cause other Arab states to buy produce from other countries and deal a long-term blow to Lebanese agriculture. Adnan Kassar, president of the Lebanese Trade Unions and Farm Syndicates, said: “Prices already went down by almost 50% as exporters cannot buy Lebanese agricultural products.”