Cross-Border Trade with Syria: The Plot Thickens
While we are being entertained by the government sausage-making like formation, cross-border trade between Lebanon and Syria is taking it on the chin. The timing of Syria’s actions were unexplainable as I posted in this previous blog.
New developments today point to a news release by the Syrian Finance Minister, with shocking statements, attributing the slow down to a “normal during summer times”. Instead, the Minister extolled the fact that Lebanon’s exports to Syria ($85 million) surpassed for the first time Syrian imports to Lebanon ($60 million) during the first half of 2005. He obviously wasn’t counting the many more millions in Syrian goods that are smuggled from Syria into Lebanon and flood the market at below-market prices. And he didn't mention that between 1997-2004, Syrian exports to Lebanon dominated trade with Lebanon: 93% in 1997 to 63% in 2004.
Meanwhile, Lebanese trucks are still lining-up at the border, amidst eyewitness reports reported by this Al-Jazeera/AFP story:
"I have never seen anything like this in decades," said Hassun, a taxi driver who makes a living transporting passengers between the Lebanese and Syrian capitals.The same article reports of the actual state of Syrian-Lebanese trade:
"Usually it is easy to cross the Syrian border post at Jdeide but the past few weeks it has been infernal," said Hassun after spending 45 minutes stuck at a Syrian military roadblock near the border.
"They interrogated us, searched the car and the passengers and confiscated some consumer goods. The people are fed up," Hassun said.
In May, days after Syria completed its pullout from Lebanon, Miqati travelled to Damascus to discuss future ties, including pending economic agreements, and later said a border post would also be established to ease travel and trade.If this isn’t a crisis, I am not sure what is. This certainly calls for the re-evaluation of Syrian economic relations. Syria’s timing is very coy and a low blow to Lebanon while the country is in the midst of the most diligent and transparent government-making in its recent history.
But results from the visit have yet to be seen.
An agreement under which Syria was expected to supply Lebanon with natural gas has also been shelved.
It stipulated that Syria would sell Lebanon 1.5 million cubic metres (52.9 million cubic feet) of gas a day at three dollars per unit "or 40 percent cheaper than market prices", Lebanese Energy Minister Bassem Yammine said.
"But the Syrians have told us that this offer is no longer valid," after Lebanon said it wanted to renegotiate all its agreements with Damascus, Yammine said, adding that discussions were still underway.
As Michael Young succinctly puts it in his last editorial: “It is unlikely the current Syrian regime could ever address Lebanon as an equal; for the men in Damascus, there is little room for a bona fide partnership in the shadow of the demeaning Syrian practices of the past.”
Hopefully, Lebanon will be able to stand on its own feet soon and deal with Syria from a position of strength. All we want is fair trade and fair trade pactices. In the past, this was difficult to even ask for, but now that Lebanon has the autonomy to ask, will we get it?