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French Version

Lebanon retains 'plenty' of food stocks

Ministry of economy warns against unjustified price hikes

The Ministry of Economy and consumer groups said on Tuesday that the Lebanese market is flooded with food and wheat supplies, urging merchants not to hike prices under the pretext of the airport closure.

In a statement to the press, the Ministry of Economy and Trade said that Lebanon has six months of wheat and flour supplies that can easily meet the demands of the market.

It urged consumers not to panic or form long lines at supermarkets and bakeries.

The closure of Rafik Hariri International Airport and the main routes leading to Syria by both opponents and supporters of the government has caused some concern among Lebanese, especially those residing in West Beirut, which was the scene of heavy fighting three days ago.

Zuhair Berro, the head of Consumer Lebanon, told The Daily Star that all supermarkets and grocery stores are packed with food products.

"All of the merchants and importers we met in recent days have assured us that there is plenty of food in the warehouses," Berro said.

Beirut's port, which closed at the beginning of the fighting, resumed operations Monday evening though few ships docked at the wharfs.

"We receive most of our imports from Beirut's port and this eases the situation to a great degree," Berro said.

But Berro said that some merchants raised the prices of milk without any justification.

He added that the prices of some items in Lebanon are hiked far above international rates.

But merchants and exporters warned that the continued closure of Al-Masnaa Road, which leads to Syria, is affecting business in general.

They added that Syria is the main route to export Lebanese-made goods to the rest of the Arab world.

"There are negotiations with the pro-government supporters who blocked Al-Masnaa Road to open this passage tomorrow. But these supporters insist on opening the airport road first," one merchant said.

Berro expressed fear that the political deadlock in the country may inflame the situation and cause prices to surge.

He said Lebanon needs to have a new Cabinet and above all a new minister of economy.

"Economy Minister Sami Haddad is not fit to handle the affairs of his ministry. We need a minister who can take measures that would alleviate the pressure on the consumers," Berro said.

He urged the Ministry of Economy to be forceful in protecting the rights of the consumers such as monitoring the prices of basic commodities.

"Even France, which has one of the most liberal economies, has adopted measures to protect consumers," he said. "Why can't Haddad do the same?"

Meanwhile, the Economic Committee, which groups leading businessmen, merchants and bankers, said in statement that the economy will be the first casualty if the political deadlock continued. It called for the withdrawal of all armed groups, the election of a president and the formation of a national unity government.

Beirut 14-05-2008
The Daily Star

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