Hajj Hasan seeks export routes bypassing Syria

Containers at Beirut Port wait to be exported.

BEIRUT: The Agriculture Ministry is pursuing efforts to facilitate maritime transport to compensate for delays in land cargo through Syria, where the security situation has deteriorated significantly in the last few weeks.

However, Agriculture Minister Hussein Hajj Hasan said efforts to promote maritime transport should be part of a long-term comprehensive plan to boost exports of produce, rather than a temporary exception based on the current situation in Syria.

“Both the Lebanese state and exporters have an interest in establishing stable maritime routes to boost our exports and lower costs. Such efforts are not the result of challenges facing land transport due to the security situation in Syria,” Hajj Hasan told a news conference Monday.

Nearly 80 percent of Lebanon’s agricultural exports go through Syria and the rest is shipped to Europe via Beirut Port.

The head of Lebanon’s Farmers Association, Antoine Howayek, has urged the government on several occasions to create a maritime route to export Lebanese produce to Gulf markets following the closure of the main border crossing between Lebanon and Syria to trucks over the weekend.

Last week, some 70 trucks carrying an estimated 7,000 tons of fruits, vegetables and eggs were not able to cross the border after Syrian authorities closed it.

The trucks were later allowed in.

Howayek suggested that the Cabinet should organize the renting or buying of ferries to transport trucks by sea to Jordan and Egypt at least twice a week, saying this remains the only means of securing the export of Lebanese produce in the current circumstances.

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

However, the agriculture minister stressed that discussions were aimed at facilitating maritime transport.

“The Lebanese state doesn’t need to establish maritime transport, which is already available. The meeting today is to eliminate obstacles,” Hassan said.

The minister met Monday with top officials from Beirut Port, customs, the Investment and Development Authority of Lebanon and the Land and Maritime Transportation directorate.

“We agreed to ask the economy as well as the public works and transportation ministries to make the necessary contacts with concerned countries to abolish or lower transit fees on Lebanese goods,” Hajj Hasan said.

A follow-up meeting will be held Tuesday at the Public Works and Transportation Ministry to determine which Lebanese ports can be used to export the goods, the cost per ton and which transport companies to use.

So far, an agreement has been reached to extend working hours at Dock 6 of Beirut port until 6 p.m., according to Hajj Hasan.

Last May, a delegation of around 150 Turkish businessmen and their Lebanese counterparts called for a maritime trade link between the countries.

Head of the Turkish delegation Golay Gul said the establishment of a maritime link between Mersin, Turkey’s largest seaport, and Beirut Port would enable both countries to boost bilateral trade, the National News Agency reported at the time.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on July 31, 2012, on page 5.




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