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Port of Beirut revenues up as Iraq trade boosts cargo levels - Figures increase by 1.27 percent over last year

Growing tension in the region and low economic growth this year did not dent activity at the Port of Beirut, which has managed to stay busy and attract cargo headed to post-war Iraq.

According to the port’s administration, the port’s revenues in the first ten months of this year were $60 million, up by 1.27 percent from the same period of last year.
It handled 247,675 twenty-foot equivalent units (TEU) of cargo, down 0.84 percent from the same period of last year.

“This year is definitely better than last year. Our firm achieved growth of 7-10 percent,” said Yacoub Qaissi, general manager of General Transport Services and vice-president of Lebanese Freight Forwarders.

The war on Iraq, which began in March, was short-lived and allowed Lebanon and many other countries in the region to recuperate their losses, particularly as the Iraqi private sector is starved of consumer goods.

“In September, over 7,000 cars headed to Iraq came through the Beirut Port,” said Elie Zakhour, head of the International Chamber of Shipping. “The decision to exempt all goods going to Iraq from paying customs duties until December this year has also helped attract more transit cargo,” he added.

Maritime officials say congestion at the Jordanian Port of Aqaba, the main entry point for goods headed to Iraq, has also helped the Beirut Port get traffic diverted away from Jordan.

Transporting goods to Iraq by land via Syria became cheaper after the Syrian government came up with a formula earlier this year for taxing transit cargo from Lebanon. The formula, which increases the tax on longer routes, means that Lebanese truck drivers no longer have to pay several fees as they cross the Syrian border. “Iraqi merchants are loaded with cash and they are starving for consumer goods after a decade of sanctions,” Zakhour said.

But maritime officials said activity next year would depend on the security situation in Iraq and whether transit trade through Beirut Port can pick up if and when a container terminal begins operation in the middle of next year. “It all depends on the situation in the region,” said Zakhour. “The container terminal is expected to be up and running by 2004, but that also depends on a political decision.”

The terminal, which would take delivery of giant gantry cranes next year, would help the port haul containers off vessels more quickly and possibly attract more transit cargo by land or transshipment cargo by sea. But the process of handing over the management of the terminal to the private sector has been fraught with trouble.

The Port of Beirut hired a consulting firm a year ago to draft a tender to pick an operator for the terminal, but port authorities have yet to open the tender amid talk of further delays. “The port has to sort out the fate of sub-contractors who stand to lose their jobs once the operator comes and this requires consensus among top leaders over compensation,” said Zakhour.

Beirut,12 01 2003
Dania Saadi
The Daily Star
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