BEIRUT: Lebanon’s trade deficit narrowed in the first 11 months of this year to $15.617 billion from $16.797 billion in the same period of last year, according to statistics released by the Customs Department Monday.
The drop in the trade deficit this year was attributed to a fall in overall imports, an indication that many merchants are reluctant to import goods in view of the political uncertainty and deep economic slowdown.
Although imports in the month of November alone were slightly higher than the same month of 2012, total imports reached $19.432 billion in the first 11 months of this year, compared to $21.280 billion over the same period of last year.
Total exports up to November this year fell to $3.815 billion from $4.483 billion in the same period of last year.
In the month of November of this year, total imports rose to $1.774 billion from $1.604 billion.
Caretaker Industry Minister Vreij Sabounjian expected exports in the 2014 to be better than this year despite the gloomy atmosphere in the country.
“I don’t think the drop in exports will be a trend. I am very positive for the year 2014 after talking to many businessmen. They are all quite hopeful. But in the back of their minds, they want to see stability in order to improve exports,” he told The Daily Star.
Sabounjian stressed that Lebanese industrialists should not give up hope in light of the absence of a government.
“We should not be complacent and say that we are satisfied with the results. Lebanese industrialists and traders should strive to improve their business because this is a very competitive world,” he argued.
Sabounjian declined to say whether he believed a Cabinet would be formed in the near future. “I hope we will have a Cabinet but nevertheless we should count on ourselves and seek to improve the business.”
Almost 90 percent of Lebanon’s imports come through Beirut Port, which has prospered over the last three years as the conflict in Syria halted activity at all Syrian ports.
The main imported items this year were minerals, machinery and mechanical appliances, transport equipment, foodstuffs and chemical products.
Italy remained the main source of imports to Lebanon, followed by France, Germany, China and the U.S.
Switzerland, meanwhile, remained the largest market for Lebanese-made goods, followed by Iraq, Saudi Arabia Syria and the United States.
Total revenues from Customs up to November reached $2.073 billion compared to $2.345 billion in the same period of last year, a $281 million drop.
Customs collected from Beirut Port reached some $1.830 billion, or most of the total Customs collected from all of the outlets.
In the month of November alone, customs revenues reached $190 million while VAT stood at $174 million.
Revenues from value added tax from both imported and exported items in the same reporting period reached $1.942 billion compared to $2.191 billion in the first 11 months of 2012, a drop of $249 million.
Customs and VAT are the main sources of revenues for the Treasury, followed by telecommunications and income tax.