04/27/2021, 12.52
LEBANON – SAUDI ARABIA
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Card Al-Rahi calls on Saudi Arabia not to stop Lebanese farm imports

Saudi Arabia banned imports following the discovery of amphetamines in a pomegranate shipment. More than 50 per cent of Lebanon’s agricultural production goes to Arab countries. Lebanon’s Mufti joins the prelate’s appeal. There are fears about its impact on the economy.

Beirut (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Saudi Arabia's ban on imports of Lebanese fruit and vegetables worries Card Al-Rahi, the Maronite patriarch,  who met with Lebanese President Michel Aoun yesterday to discuss this and other issues, primarily the political crisis linked to the failure to form a cabinet.

Saud Arabia imposed a ban last Friday, following the discovery by Saudi customs officials of five million Captagon (amphetamine) pills inside a pomegranate shipment, jeopardising Lebanon’s agricultural sector, which sells more than half of its production to Arab countries.

At the presidential palace in Baabda, Card Beshara Al-Rahi and Michel Aoun discussed the issue of poverty, which currently affects a large segment of Lebanon's population. Once the pillar of the country’s economy, the middle class is shrinking, more evidence of the ever-worsening economic crisis.

The Maronite primate spoke about the latest affair that could make matter worse, namely the Saudi ban on Lebanese imports.

Smuggling of goods and drug trafficking are “harming Lebanon’s image”, said Card Al-Rahi, and Lebanese farmers are “the great victims” of this new emergency sparked by poor border controls.

“Lebanon has become a transit point for drugs like the Captagon pills towards the Gulf, via Saudi Arabia, which slammed the door in our faces for this reason.”

The Christian leader pointed the finger at Lebanon’s security services, which are responsible for controlling this type of traffic.

Lebanon, he added, “cannot become a smuggling hub, and leave its eastern and northern borders [with Syria] so open.”

Farmers' Union president Antoine Hoyek blames the authorities who “should have reacted much more quickly” and provided Saudi Arabia with “all the necessary guarantees, to resume imports.”

About “55 per cent of our exports is likely to be affected by Riyadh's decision,” he explained. “Exports to Arab countries amount to US$ 92 million per year. If they were to stop, this would amount to a loss of 250,000 dollars a day”.

For Bekaa Farmers' Federation president Ibrahim Tarchichi, the pomegranate shipment seized in Saudi Arabia did not come from Lebanon, but from Syria because “it is not the right season in Lebanon and in any case we have never exported that fruit”.

The al-Arabiya TV news network reported that the drugs that arrived in Lebanon left the country without being inspected because the port of Beirut, still in chaos after the twin explosion in August 2020, is not equipped with scanners.

Given the serious repercussions of the Saudi decision, Patriarch Beshara Al-Rahi and Lebanon’s Grand Mufti Abdellatif Derian have asked Saudi Arabia not to freeze imports from Lebanon.

“We also expressed hope that the kingdom will take into account the situation of Lebanon and honest farmers,” said the prelate.

At the end of the meeting with a group of farmers, the Maronite primate also called on the Lebanese authorities to “preserve the friendship with Arab countries, in particular Saudi Arabia, which has always held positions and undertaken initiatives in support of Lebanon.”

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