BEIRUT: Dozens of Lebanese GCC-bound trucks were stranded between Syria and Jordan over the past week with another 200 held up on the Lebanese side of border crossings.
The Lebanese trucks were unable to cross the borders due to intense clashes in Syria, where a deadly conflict entered its third year Friday.
Lebanon’s Agriculture Ministry said Friday it was working toward “securing the return of the stranded trucks by sea or land routes, or helping them reach their destinations.”
The ministry added that it was cooperating with authorities in Syria and Jordan to facilitate the movement of the trucks.
Transportation Minister Ghazi Aridi said in a statement that the Lebanese government had sent an envoy to Amman to follow up with Jordanian and Syrian authorities and assist in securing the return of the trucks, which are carrying agricultural and industrial products.
He added that the escalating conflict in Syria meant the government should find alternative export routes.
Aridi said Lebanon was negotiating with shipping companies to allow for the transportation of GCC-bound trucks via sea to Jordan’s Aqaba.
The ministry is in final negotiations with several shipping companies to create a roll-on-roll-off ship route to Aqaba from Tripoli, Lebanon.
Lebanon started to seek new export routes for agricultural produce via maritime routes after the Syrian conflict began in March 2011. A shipment with 200 refrigerated containers last August marked the first step in this direction.
Different stakeholders initially supported the use of refrigerated containers as a more viable option to roll-on-roll-off, or Ro-Ro, ships – vessels designed to carry cargo trucks.
The use of Ro-Ro ships usually requires vessels to be fully loaded before departing to a given destination while the drivers travel to the destination ports using alternative transport.
The ferry route through Aqaba would allow trucks to continue on to Saudi Arabia, the UAE and other Gulf markets vital for agricultural exporters.
The Investment Development Authority of Lebanon recently downplayed the impact of the Syrian crisis on Lebanon, saying Lebanese agricultural exports rose by 14 percent in 2012.
The Farmers Association, however, believes the figure is too high.
Some economists say the Syrian conflict, which has wreaked havoc on that country’s agriculture sector, may have increased demand for Lebanese produce.