BEIRUT: Lebanon’s trade deficit in January widened by 31.23 percent compared to the same month in 2013, as exports fell to their lowest levels since the 2006 war, the Customs Department said Thursday.
According to the figures released by the department, total exports in January 2014 stood at $244 million compared to $405 million in the same month of 2013, a drop of 39.753 percent.
Total imports also rose by 13.79 percent to $1.873 billion from $1.646 billion in January 2013.
New Industry Minister Hussein Hajj Hasan said he would do his best to increase exports and reduce the balance of trade deficit.
He also promised to review some of the “unfair” trade agreements with some countries.
He claimed that some countries were imposing strict requirements on the entry of Lebanese-made goods into their markets.
But observers doubt Hajj Hasan can do anything to improve exports in less than three months, the expected tenure of the current Cabinet.
Industrialists and farmers cite the security situation and the frequent closure of the Lebanese-Syrian border crossings as the main reasons behind the drop in total exports.
And although the government managed to open sea routes for exporters, industrialists and farmers have complained that the cost of shipping goods by sea was much higher than land transportation.
In 2013, Lebanon’s exports reached $3.936 billion while imports stood at $21.228 billion.
Lebanon imports most of its needs from Europe, the United States and Asia despite relentless efforts by all the successive industry and agriculture ministers to rein in the balance of trade deficit.
The figures also indicated that 74 percent of the total imports passed through Beirut Port, followed by 16 percent for airports and 6 percent for Tripoli Port.
The main countries exporting to Lebanon in the month of January 2014 were the United States, followed by China, Italy, France, Germany and Turkey.
Switzerland remained the largest recipient of Lebanese-made goods, followed by the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Syria and Iraq.
A breakdown of Customs and VAT collection showed that Beirut Port generated some $200 million, followed by Rafik Hariri InternationalAirport with $17 million.
Customs revenues in the month of January fell by 5 percent to reach LL179 billion while VAT proceeds in the same month fell by 2 percent to reach LL174 billion.
In 2013, Customs revenues reached LL2.259 trillion while VAT stood at LL2.120 trillion.
Customs and VAT revenues are the biggest generators of money for the Finance Ministry, followed by telecoms revenues and income tax.