Economy |

Border fees impede Lebanese commerce, traders say

By Junaid Salman in Beirut

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A vehicle arrives at the Nassib-Jaber border crossing between Jordan and Syria on October 15th, the day of its reopening, in Jordan's Mafraq governorate. [Khalil Mazraawi/AFP]

Though Lebanese exporters have long awaited the reopening of the Nassib-Jaber border crossing between Jordan and Syria, the Syrian regime's recent hike in transit fees has led to a delay in readopting the route.

The crossing served as a key route for Middle East trade before Jordan closed the post in 2015. With its reopening, on October 15th, Lebanese farmers will once again be able to transport agricultural and manufactured products to Arab and Gulf markets by land, which is cheaper than shipping them by sea.

The Association of Lebanese Industrialists said it welcomed the reopening of the crossing, calling it "a vital artery for Lebanon" and noting that the three-year closure had caused serious harm to industrial sector exports in particular.

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Lebanese farmers harvest olives at a field in the town of Batroumin north of Beirut on October 20th, 2017. With the reopening of the Nassib-Jaber crossing, Lebanese farmers will once again be able to transport agricultural and manufactured products to Arab and Gulf markets by land. [Joseph Eid/AFP] 

Shortly after the crossing was reopened, however, some obstacles to exporters have emerged, in the form of higher transit fees imposed by the Syrian regime.

"The opening of the Nassib-Jaber crossing has a very important economic impact on Lebanon," said Fadi Abboud, former chairman of the Association of Lebanese Industrialists.

It is critical to Lebanon's economy "because it is the only land outlet for Lebanon to the Arab world", he told Al-Mashareq, describing the decision to reopen it as the most important economic event for Lebanon in 2018.

"We need official attention from Lebanon and the formation of a committee to pursue the issue of fees with the Syrian side," he said.

Crossing facilitates tourism

The crossing is important not just for the movement of goods, but also as it facilitates regional tourism, Abboud said, noting that close to 160,000 Jordanian tourists visited Lebanon in 2010.

This figure dropped by 80% after the closure of the crossing, he said.

Many regional tourists prefer to take the land route into Lebanon because it is less costly, said Ziad Bakdash, vice president of the Association of Lebanese Industrialists.

Meanwhile, he told Al-Mashareq, Lebanese trucks are still waiting to resume work, as Syria raised the transit fees on trucks with a load capacity of 24 tonnes by $500 to $800, compared to the fees charged before the crossing was closed.

With the new fees, the cost of exporting to Saudi Arabia by land has risen to $3,000, he said -- more than the amount it costs to export by sea.

"If this increase in fees increases costs significantly, exporters will continue to export their products by sea," Bakdash said.

Land transit essential for some

Transportation by land is crucial for exporters because less time is needed to reach the Arabian Gulf via this route, Bakdash said.

The shorter transit time is important to farmers, he said, as some agricultural products cannot survive the two-week trip by sea.

He appealed to Lebanese officials to urge Syrian authorities to revert to the old fee structure, noting that the Arab Facilitation Agreement allows Lebanon to raise its transit fees on vehicles if Syria raises its fees.

In 2010, 25% of Lebanon’s total exports passed through the Nassib-Jaber crossing, Bank Audi chief economist and head of research Marwan Barakat told Al-Mashareq.

"[Even] if the fees charged by Syria on Lebanese trucks are raised, the crossing would still have its advantages with regard to exports passing through it," he said noting that land exports were almost non-existent during the crossing's closure.

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