Lebanon Businessnews News

Fruit exports to Gulf sink
Delayed visas for Syrian drivers slows transit activity, doubles costs
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Agricultural exports to Arab countries have dropped lately due to growing complications of land transit through troubled Syria, according to local agricultural producers. 

Syrian drivers, who handle the bulk of transit operations from Lebanon to the Gulf, are facing problems in getting visas to Saudi Arabia. 

“Since the Saudi embassy in Syria was closed, Syrian drivers shifted their visa applications to the embassy in Beirut”, according to Ibrahim Tarshishi, president of the Association of Bekaa Farmers. This led to a delay in the issuance of visas and thus obstructed transit activity.

During the first quarter of 2012, agricultural exports dropped by 14 percent y-o-y, reflecting a moderate impact of the turmoil in neighboring Syria. But, Tarshishi said, “exports of vegetables and fruits to the Gulf declined by around 80 percent since early May.” 

Transit trucks are bound to go through the KSA when delivering goods to Gulf countries. Agricultural producers and exporters called on the Saudi Embassy to facilitate visa procedures for Syrian drivers. 

The demand on Syrian drivers has grown since the unrest broke out, according to Tarshishi: “Lebanese are having trouble passing through Syria nowadays. We need around 50 refrigerated trucks daily, whereas no more than five trucks are available each day,” he said.

While exports through the Masnaa border were unchanged during the first quarter, exports through Arida, Aboudieh, and Kaa plunged by 20 percent, 50 percent, and 100 percent respectively. 

According to Tarshishi, the shortfall in drivers doubled the costs of transportation which went from $2,000 to $4,300. “This increase led to a decline in the profit margin and competitiveness.”

Exports to Arab countries include citrus fruits, bananas, and seasonal fruits like cherries, peach, and plum. These goods require refrigeration and cannot be stored for long. 

According to Tarshishi, substituting land by other routes is not always achievable: “Shipping through the sea could be an alternative, but the rise of land-shipping costs would surely be accompanied by a rise in sea-shipping. Not all countries are reachable by sea.” 

Reported by Rania Ghanem
Date Posted: Jun 08, 2012
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