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Exports rising as trade deficit widens - Industrialists pursue strategy of trying to counter lower purchasing power (Daily Star)

Lebanese exports in 2003 increased by 46 percent to $1.5 billion compared to the year before, and imports into Lebanon in 2003 rose by 11 percent to $7.2 billion, compared to the $6.4 billion in 2002, according to the higher customs council on Friday.

However, despite the increase in exports, the trade deficit in 2003 widened to $5.6 billion, compared with $5.4 billion in 2002, the customs said in its 2003 Lebanon International Trade Exchange report.

Lebanese exports, which began registering a 20 percent annual growth two years ago, reached $1.524 billion in 2003, compared with $1.045 billion in 2002.

Industrialists over the past few years have increased their exports to counter lower purchasing power in Lebanon, slow economic growth and stiff competition from cheap imports.

Imports into Lebanon increased last year due to an improvement in the government’s public finances after it secured $4.4 billion in financial pledges at the end of 2002, to extend the maturity of the public debt and fund development projects.

Imports had fallen by around 15 percent in 2002 compared with a year earlier due to economic stagnation.

Transit trade through Lebanon more than doubled to $185 million in 2003, compared with $91 million a year earlier. Lebanon received greater transit trade headed to Iraq in 2003, after the fall of the regime of Saddam Hussein in March last year opened the door for imports to cater to the needs of the consumer-hungry Iraqi market.

Re-export figures also increased by 60 percent to $105 million in 2003, compared with $63 million a year earlier.

The rapid increase in exports in 2003 was led by jewelry, which accounted for a third of all exports. Lebanese exports of jewelry rose by 116 percent to $464 million in 2003, compared with the $215 million of the previous year.

The second-biggest export item was machinery, which rose by 50 percent to $179 million in 2003, compared with $120 million a year earlier. The third-biggest export item was prepared foodstuffs, which rose in 2003 by 46 percent to $150 million, compared with $102 million a year earlier.

The biggest import item in 2003 was mineral products, which rose by 22 percent to $1.19 billion in 2003, compared with $974 million a year earlier. Mineral products mainly include oil, whose price increased in the run-up to the war on Iraq and continued to soar after the war had ended.

The second-biggest import item in 2003 was machinery, which rose by 1 percent to $873 million, compared with $863 million. The third-biggest import item was chemical products, which rose by 13 percent to $716 million in 2003, compared with $633 million a year earlier.

Lebanon’s number-one export market for the second consecutive year was Switzerland, which imported $379 million worth of goods in 2003 from Lebanon, mainly jewelry.

It was followed by the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, each of which imported $104 million worth of Lebanese goods in 2003.

Lebanon’s number-one import country in 2003 remained Italy, with $674 million worth of imports, followed by France and Germany. Despite the appreciation of the euro against the dollar in 2003 by over 20 percent, Europe continued to be the country’s number-one import market.

Government income from customs duties in 2003 remained flat at LL1.7 trillion ($1.13 billion) compared with a year earlier. Income from value-added tax slapped on imports reached LL893 billion ($593 million) in 2003.

Beirut 16-02-2004
Dania Saadi
The Daily Star



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