A Lebanese Abroad

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Thursday, July 07, 2005

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.
"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.
The same article reports of the actual state of Syrian-Lebanese trade:
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.
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"But the Syrians have told us that this offer is no longer valid," after Lebanon said it wanted to renegotiate all its agreements with Damascus, Yammine said, adding that discussions were still underway.
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.

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?

20 Comments:

Blogger Cedar-Guardian said...

Thinkingman,
The Syrian "blocus" is severely affecting our economy. Damascus will never accept to deal with Beirut on equal terms. This attitude is rooted in the past, when Syria always considered Lebanon as a part of its natural geography.
Now that the Syrian Military troops are out, the Syrian control is still there. We still hadn't heard any word on a Syrian embassy in Beirut and vice versa. No word on the Lebanese detainees in Syrian prisons. No official Syrian confirmation about the identity of Shabaa farms.
Here, you point the border problems; and i tell you the worst part of all this: The Activity of the port of Tripoli was decreased by 50% (after Syria's eviction), because the Lebanese trucks are not allowed to cross easily the Lebanese-Syrian borders towards Iraq.
Definitely, something must be done in order to really start the good relationships with Damascus that we are all aiming for!

8:45 AM  
Blogger Lebanese Meze said...

Don't the Syrian's rely on Lebanon to acquire good from Europe/US via Lebanon since trade with Syria is prohibited?

9:41 AM  
Blogger Cedar-Guardian said...

Opinion from bloggistan,
Syria has its own interfaces with Europe; yes, Ports of Lebanon (Beirut, Tripoli) and Israel (Haifa) are still the east-mediterranean leaders with regards to trading with Europe, however Syrian ports (Lattaquieh, Tartous) are becoming increasingly important; and they have the ability to overcome the rival ports -at least the Lebanese ones- on all levels!
The US/Europe trade with Lebanon is not smoother than that with Syria. Syria is definitely not Cuba!

10:37 AM  
Blogger M said...

While these blockings on the borders do negatively affect our economy, I think it's just a matter of time before the syrians open the border up again. This is just an attempt for "revenge". We have made the syrians extremely angry and they have no other way of letting out their anger. I think that as political stability returns to Lebanon and we finaly have a government, the syrians will be obliged to renormalize trade relations with us, as this blockage hurts the politicians there who benifit most from our trade.

5:01 AM  
Blogger Brian H said...

Well, depending on Syria is like continuing to eat week-old leftovers because that's what you're used to. Concentrate on expanding trade with people who actually want to do honest businesss transactions, and you'll be much further ahead.

12:01 AM  
Blogger ThinkingMan said...

"Forget about the security reasons invoked by the Syrians; this is clearly a political decision to penalize the Lebanese for their recent behavior," said economist Marwan Iskander.

Iskander said the situation at the border breaks with a 30-year-old period of progress in terms of economic agreements between the two countries.

http://www.lebaneselobby.org/News__index/news%202005/07%2009%2005%20Lebanese%20business%20leaders%20demand%20end%20to%20border%20row.htm

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