Syrian Agriculture Minister Assad Mustafa said Monday, February 19, that accusations by some Lebanese farmers that Syria is closing its market to their products and flooding the Lebanese market with cheap smuggled imports are "unfair".
"Talikng about a flooding of the Lebanese market is unfair, ... we sell Lebanon what Lebanon needs", he said.
In what nearly became a dispute with its dominant Syrian neighbor, Lebanon witnessed last month an unprecedented peasants' revolt, when farmers blocked the roads to stop truckloads of Syrian produce entering the country, accusing Syria of flooding their market with cheap imports.
Elias Atallah, a member of a Lebanese farmers' union, said "Lebanon produces twice as many bananas as it consumes, but Syria doesn't buy a single one". "Worse, it imports them from Guatemala or Somalia then floods the Lebanese market with them," he added.
Etallah also said that "Syrians now control more than 70 percent of the wholesale market and nearly half the retail market", also charging them of giving "priority to produce from Syria and impose their own prices".
Mustafa did not address the issue of contraband from Syria, but responded to the Lebanese farmers' accusations by saying "Syria imports bananas and imposes a custom duty of 105 percent on them. Only Lebanon is exempted".
"The problem Syria and Lebanon have does not originate in Lebanon or Syria. The problem is that both countries need to find foreign markets" for their bananas and citrus fruits, he said. — (AFP, Damascus)
© Agence France Presse 2001
© 2001 Mena Report (www.menareport.com )