Lebanon has officially launched a maritime bridge to Gulf states to ship Lebanese-made goods with the help of the Investment Development Authority of Lebanon, IDAL chairman Nabil Itani said Friday. Itani called on maritime export companies to apply to the Lebanese Exports Maritime Bridge program, which subsidizes Lebanese exports to Arab and Gulf countries for a period of seven months.
Lebanese exporters found themselves in a dilemma after the closure of all land routes to other Arab states due to the raging war in Syria.
Most of the Lebanese goods were exported through Syria before the war broke out in this country less than five years ago.
He also invited producers of agricultural and industrial goods to register for the program, which provides subsidies ranging between $1,750 and $2,250 per truck of exported produce from Beirut to either Aqaba in Jordan or Duba in Saudi Arabia.
Those enrolled in the government’s Agri Plus program, which was launched in 2013 to provide Lebanese farmers with training to improve the quality of production and packaging and assist them in marketing their goods abroad, would directly benefit from the shipping subsidies without the need for any application, he explained.
Itani said both producers and exporters who are not part of the program should submit their applications to state institution via the website investinlebanon.gov.lb.
IDAL had started receiving applications in August from Lebanese exporters following the government’s recent approval of a $14 million loan to subsidize the maritime export of agricultural produce and industrial goods.
Lebanon’s exports have suffered tremendously since the April closure of the Nassib border crossing, which was the last functioning gateway from Syria to Jordan.
The crossing, which was vital for the transportation of goods from Lebanon to major markets in Gulf countries, was taken over by Syrian rebels groups who looted transport trucks and briefly held more than a dozen Lebanese drivers captive.
Lebanon’s agriculture and industrial sectors witnessed a tremendous drop in revenues as a result. Agricultural exports dropped 35 percent while the total volume of land exports went down by 87 percent.
In contrast, maritime exports increased by 87 percent in the second half of 2015.
The Lebanese Exports Maritime Bridge program aims at compensating Lebanese farmers and industrialists for the additional costs incurred in the transportation of loaded trucks using maritime shipping.
IDAL had automatically listed farmers, who are already enrolled in its Agri Plus program, to benefit from the shipping subsidies.
The Agri Plus program was launched in 2013 to provide farmers with the adequate training required to improve the quality of production and packaging, in addition to assisting them in marketing Lebanese goods regionally and internationally.
Likewise, industrialists who apply to IDAL will also be benefiting from shipping subsidies.
Former Tourism Minister Fadi Abboud told The Daily Star earlier that the state’s approval of this new initiative would restore Lebanon’s access to its export markets, given that the subsidies will cover nearly 50 percent of the maritime shipping cost incurred by industrialists.
However, Abboud cast doubt on whether the subsidy plan would boost the competitiveness of Lebanese manufactured goods.
“The government’s decision will restore Lebanon’s access to export markets. However, whether the program is enough to boost the competitiveness of Lebanese products remains a question,” he said.
Veteran industrialist Jacques Sarraf said the Association of Lebanese Industrialists was discussing with the Industry Ministry and IDAL subsidies for the shipping of goods to Iraq, which accounts for close to 25 percent of the export of goods manufactured in Lebanon.
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