The Syrian opposition’s capture of a main crossing point between Syria and Jordan could deal a major blow to Lebanese exports to Gulf states, experts warned Friday.
“If [the] Nassib crossing remains closed, agricultural exports will drop by 60-70 percent because Lebanese traders rely on this route mainly to export their goods,” Ibrahim Tarshishi, president of the association of Bekaa farmers, told The Daily Star.
Nassib is the only functioning crossing between Jordan and Syria and is vital for the transportation of goods from Lebanon and Syria to Jordan and Gulf countries.
Jordan said it had temporarily closed its border crossing with Syria following heavy clashes between insurgents and Syrian government forces near the Nassib crossing earlier Wednesday after rebel fighters encircled the area.
Moreover, a number of Lebanese truckers were kidnapped by militants in the same area Friday while their trucks were trapped in the free zone on the border.
Gunmen looted the trucks as well as the transit area.
Armed men were seen loading their vehicles with furniture, boxes of food and other items.
Tarshishi estimated a loss of $2 million in agriculture produce in the past three years as a result of the shutdown of the Nassib crossing.
He said that the Nassib crossing is the main and most affordable route of export for Lebanese products to Gulf countries.
He expressed fear that Jordan may have shut down the crossing point on purpose to prevent the entry of Lebanese goods. “Jordanian authorities ordered the remaining trucks on the borders to return back,” he said. “I just hope they did not do this on purpose to prevent Lebanese from exporting their goods to the Gulf.”
Around 300,000 tons of Lebanese exports travel through this route yearly, according to Tarshishi, who said that merchants do not have other alternative affordable routes to export their goods.
He added that the Jordanian government’s move to close the Nassib crossing is likely to prompt Gulf countries to replace Lebanon as an import country by buying their products from other sources.
“We should find other ways to export our products to the Gulf to avoid losing our export markets,” he said.
Ramiz Osseiran, head of the farmers’ association in the south, told The Daily Star that the latest move by the Jordanian government prompted merchants to agree to export their products by air to Jordan, at a cost of $1.50 per kilo.
“The price of exporting our products by air to Jordan is affordable but I am sure it will cost much more if we are to send our goods to Gulf countries using this shipping method,” he said.
Lebanese industrialists and farmers have long criticized the government for its reluctance to support exporters by providing them with an affordable means of shipping their goods.
“We have urged the government on many occasions to pay for the transportation of Lebanese goods by sea to Jordan and Egypt but nothing was done in this regard,” said Antoine Howayek, head of the Lebanese farmers’ association.
Likewise, Fadi Gemayel, president of the Association of Lebanese Industrialists, emphasized the need to rely on the sea route for the export of Lebanese goods in the midst of the current complicated situation along the border.
“It is important to find alternative routes of exports to Arab countries, since they constitute around 45 percent of the Lebanese export markets,” he said.
He added that finding alternative routes is a top priority for the government, especially as Lebanese industrialists are working hard to open new export markets in Africa, Europe and Russia.
Gemayel said that he had spoken earlier with Public Works and Transport Minister Ghazi Zeaiter, the Foreign Affairs Ministry and the Lebanese Embassy in Jordan in an effort to find a solution for the stranded trucks.
By Dana Halawi
Copyright © 2021, The Daily Star. All rights reserved.