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Lebanese farmers seek export route after Syria border closed

Syrian workers plant corn seeds in Makseh, in the Bekaa valley, Thursday, May 24, 2012. (The Daily Star/Rakan al-Fakih)

BEIRUT: The head of Lebanon’s Farmers Association urged the government Monday to create a maritime route to export Lebanese produce to Gulf markets after the main border crossing between Lebanon and Syria was closed to trucks over the weekend.

“The Cabinet should make a decision in its first session to rent or buy ferries to transport trucks by sea to Jordan and Egypt,” Antoine Hwayek said in statement.

Hwayek added that the only possible way to secure the export of Lebanese produce under the current circumstances is to establish a maritime route, which he said should run at least twice a week.

Ships could dock in Egypt first and then later head to Jordan, he added. From there the produce could be distributed to Gulf markets.

The eastern border crossing with Syria, a regular route used by Lebanese exporters, was closed Sunday in front of several trucks carrying fruits and vegetables, security sources told The Daily Star Monday.

An-Nahar reported that 70 trucks carrying an estimated 7,000 tons of fruits, vegetables and eggs were not able to cross into Syria after Syrian border security closed the crossing.

The local daily added that the produce is worth some $10 million.

In his statement Monday, Hwayek slammed the “indifference” of officials with regard to the disaster facing the country’s agriculture sector.

“Concerned official are responsible for all the harm inflicted on the agriculture sector as a result of closing off the roads and not taking precautionary measures despite repeated calls months ago to prepare for such a possibility,” he said.

Hwayek also asked the government to task the Investment Development Authority of Lebanon to implement a plan to facilitate maritime transportation, saying the state should pay the costs and sign agreements with both Egypt and Jordan to ensure its success.

Nearly 80 percent of Lebanon’s agriculture export goes through Syria and the rest is shipped to Europe via Beirut Port.

Industrialists and farmers have warned successive governments of the prospects of border closure with Syria and complain that authorities have not already identified an alternative route for exporting goods in the event of such a situation.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on July 24, 2012, on page 5.

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