Lebanon’s trade deficit widened by 23 percent in 2011 as the value of fuel imports soared on higher oil prices and exports stagnated, according to a report issued by Byblos Bank’s  weekly newsletter.
The report showed that the trade deficit reached $17 billion by the end of the year up $3.2 billion from $14 billion in 2010. The total value of imports  reached $20.2 billion, increasing 12.2 percent from 2010 levels.
The chief reason behind the increase in the deficit was the soaring price of oil globally, the report said. It said the value of hydrocarbon imports soared 21.7 percent to reach $4.5 billion. The value of non-hydrocarbon imports increased 9.8 percent to reach $15.7 billion.
The total value of hydrocarbon imports becomes $5.75 billion, when $1.3 billion worth of fuel imported by the state-run electricity company Electricite Du Liban, imported under a special permission, is added to the figure.
The report said the higher deficit did not reflect a significant increase in the volume of imports. It said the volume of imports reached 15 million tons in 2011, increasing only marginally by 0.3 percent from 2010 levels. Despite the increase in their value, the volume of fuel imports decreased 6.8 percent to reach 5.6 million tons.
The rise in the value of non-hydrocarbon imports was largely explained by a $982 million increase in precious stones and metals imports. The report reflected an increase in gold prices, as the import volume of these products rose 4 percent year-on-year.
Despite their value increasing marginally, the volume of exports fell 12.6 percent to 2.7 million tons, the report said. The report added that exports to Arab countries were hit by the turmoil in Egypt and Syria. Exports to Egypt dropped 66 percent, while exports to Syria saw a much less acute 3-percent drop. Imports averaged $1.7 billion and exports averaged $355 million per month, reflecting an average monthly trade deficit of $1.3 billion.
The United States topped the list with the total value of imports reaching $2 billion, accounting for 10 percent of all imports, followed by Italy with $1.9 billion, China with $1.6 billion, France with $1.5 billion and Germany with $1.1 billion. Imports from Italy and France rose respectively 34 and 26 percent compared to last year. Imports from Germany and China decreased respectively 9 and 1 percent.
Switzerland was Lebanon’s biggest export market with $515 million of products, accounting for 12 percent of all exports, followed by the UAE with $322 million (8 percent) and Saudi Arabia with $308 million (7 percent). Turkey imported goods worth $276 million (6 percent) while Syria imported $215 million (5 percent). Exports to Iraq totaled $198 million (4.6 percent).
Lebanon’s exports to Saudi Arabia rose 25 percent at the same time that exports to Turkey soared 20 percent in 2011. Exports to Switzerland also increased 2 percent. Exports to Iraq dropped 26 percent as exports to United Arab Emirates declined 23 percent.
Jewelry topped Lebanon’s exports with total value reaching at $1.5 billion, accounting for 35 percent of the 2011 exports. Metals and appliances accounted for $525 million (12.3 percent) and $519 million (12.2 percent) respectively. Chemical products and foodstuff exports accounted for $384 million (9 percent) and $380 million (9 percent) respectively.
The value of re-exports increased significantly in 2011 to reach $568 million, compared to just $153 million in 2010.