BEIRUT: Lebanon has lost around $150 million in exports since the beginning of 2012, said the head of the state-run Export Development Council in comments published Wednesday.
Khaled Farshoukh warned of an imminent crisis to the industrial and agricultural sectors if the government fails to secure export routes bypassing Syria, where the security situation has been deteriorating since an uprising started in March 2011.
“[Lebanese exports will face] a disaster if border crossings with Syria become completely closed,” the National News Agency quoted Farshoukh as saying.
He reiterated that the government should take measures to secure additional maritime shipping routes, particularly to vital markets in the Gulf Cooperation Council states.
“The recently opened ferry route between Mersin [Turkey] and Tripoli is not enough because it only serves the Turkish and Iraqi markets. We need a route that serves the Gulf markets,” he said.
While head of the Investment Development Authority of Lebanon Nabil Itani told The Daily Star last week that the government was finalizing talks over the issue with various shipping agencies, a solution is yet to materialize. Itani admitted that shipping via sea is not a readily available option.
Agriculture Minister Hussein Hajj Hasan said Tuesday maritime transport should be part of a comprehensive plan to boost exports, rather than a temporary measure.
Farshoukh said industrial exports were particularly affected by the deteriorating situation in Syria.
“Forty percent of all our exports are transported through Syria. The figure stands at over $1.5 billion,” he said.
According to Farshoukh, the last few months saw the sharpest drop in exports. “The number of trucks crossing the borders fell from over 300 to just 50 [per day],” he said.
“On many days not a single truck is crossing the border,” he said.
Farshoukh added that most truck owners were hesitating to take shipments after many of them faced security incidents.
“Many trucks were seized and others were shot at,” he said.
Transportation prices have risen sharply, Farshoukh added, putting the increase at around 50 percent.
Moreover, most insurance companies have been refusing to issue policies on trucks and goods passing through Syria.
“Those who still accept have multiplied their fares more than 9 fold,” he said.
Economists have given contradictory reasons behind Lebanon’s alarming trade deficit, which increased 22.5 percent to $8.71 billion in the first half of 2012. While some of them have cited illicit smuggling of diesel to Syria, others said the soaring cost of imports and stagnating exports are behind the widening of the deficit.