Beirut-The Lebanese decision to ban the import of Syrian agricultural produce would generate political and economic problems in light of the series of escalatory reactions by concerned parties.
The decision was taken by representatives of the Progressive Socialist Party at the Lebanese government – Agriculture Minister Akram Shehayyeb and Health Minister Wael Abou Faour.
Lebanese farmers welcomed the new step, although they said it came somehow late. However, merchants placed a question mark on the possibility of implementing such a decision in light of the continuous smuggling of illegal products at the border with Syria and in the absence of any state control. Merchants also feared that Syria would take negative measures in retaliation to such a decision.
Syria’s first reaction to the decision of Shehayyeb, who is currently on a visit to Moscow, came as a threat after Damascus said concerned authorities might take similar steps.
Shehayyeb had said any Syrian decision that harms the Lebanese interest would be treated similarly. The agriculture minister threatened Syria to stop facilitating the export of its products through Rafik Hariri International Airport.
Sources close to Lebanon’s Prime Minister Tammam Salam told Asharq Al-Awsat that the agriculture minister did his job to protect Lebanese products.
Ahead of attending the Cabinet session on Thursday, Abou Faour defended Shehayyeb’s decision to control the illegal smuggling of Syrian diary and agricultural products, and confirmed Shehayyeb’s decision had no political background whatsoever, but aimed at protecting the Lebanese market.
Abou Faour said 4,000 white cheese cans enter Lebanon every day from Syria, and therefore dairy farmers and producers are unhappy when Lebanese markets are filled with illegal Syrian products.
President of the Cooperative Association for Potato Growers in Akkar Omar Hayek welcomed the decision and said it was “excellent for Lebanese farmers.”
However, President of the Farmers’ Association in Lebanon said the direct outcome of Shehayyeb’s decision would be good in the first stage, however, in the long term, it might negatively affect the Lebanese economy, particularly if Syria decides to react.
The president of the association told Asharq Al-Awsat that last year, Lebanon exported to Syria around 35,000 tons of citrus fruits and bananas, whereas it imported around 95,000 tons of vegetables and fruits.
He said there is a plan in the upcoming days to open the crossing between Syria and Iraq, a step that would help the Lebanese farmers to sell their products.
“However, the Syrian authorities might choose to close this door in the face of Lebanon as a reaction to Shehayyeb’s decision.”