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French Version

Export ‘statistics’ cause widespread confusion in Lebanon (Daily Star)

Customs Authority puts total at over $1 billion, Chamber of Commerce at $466.3 million, and Ministry of Industry at $357.8 million.

Official export figures are hampered by differing statistics, country of origin certificates and the illegal smuggling of products into Lebanon.

According to the statistics of the Customs Authority for 2002, Lebanese exports exceeded $1 billion, yet the figures produced by the Beirut Chamber of Commerce and the Ministry of Industry and Oil indicate $466.3 million and $357.8 million respectively.

The sharp differences raise serious questions about the methods applied to obtain export-related information. These discrepancies will also confuse researchers and trade organizations that count on statistics to study national economies.

Statistics on Lebanese exports are usually issued by three different sources: the Customs Authority, the Chamber of Commerce and the Ministry of Industry and Oil.

Anis Abi Farah, an adviser to the chamber, said in a report on local exports, issued Monday, that the methods applied by each source were not meant to draw different conclusions.

He added that customs officials calculate local exports that are made in Lebanon and products with a country of origin certificate, stressing that Lebanese exports far exceed those that have country of origin certificates. Many locally produced goods appear to be shipped out of Lebanon without obtaining country of origin certificates.

Some economists say Iraq received large quantities of Lebanese goods that did not carry country of origin certificates and Lebanese industrialists claim that they exported over $600 million of goods to Iraq last year, but the Ministry of Industry raised doubts about these figures. In his report, Abi Farah that many countries from the Arab world and Europe do not request country of origin certificates that are usually issued by the Chamber of Commerce.

According to Customs Authority statistics, many of the goods included in the list of exports are actually imported products that have been re-exported to other countries. Abi Farah added that the chamber tried in vain to convince the producers to obtain certificates from their offices in order to include them from the list of exports.

The chamber didn’t explain why some of the producers refused to obtain country of origin certificates, with the ministry saying they only grant certificates to industrial products.

Some business leaders fear that a large proportion of the goods that are shipped from the country may be originally from Syria and other states.

Syrian industrial and agricultural products are smuggled in large quantities to Lebanon despite the trade agreement between both countries that insists on combating this issue.

Smuggling has caused significant damage to local industry and most notably the agricultural sector, which some believe employs a significant segment of the population. Despite numerous appeals from industrialists and farmers, the government seemed unable or unwilling to clamp down on smuggling.

But in an attempt to limit this damage, the Investment Development Authority of Lebanon has agreed to finance the shipping of all Lebanese agricultural products to other countries, provided that these items are well packed and receive a country of origin certificate.

The true value of the Syrian goods smuggled to Lebanon is not known, but sources estimate them at over $500 million a year. The only way to verify if these goods are made in Lebanon is by obtaining a country of origin certificate.

The report urged the authorities to press the producers to obtain these certificates to verify the true value of the exports, adding that the chamber is the only qualified body to differentiate between Lebanese- and foreign-made goods.

Under the terms of the Euro-Med partnership agreement that was signed with Lebanon in June 2002, all locally made goods should obtain a country of origin certificate.
Despite the numerous incentives given to local industrialists, the trade deficit remains extremely high. Lebanon imports over $7 billion of goods while exporting less than $700 million.

Beirut,04 14 2003
Osama Habib
The Daily Star
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