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French Version

Beirut Port consolidates shipping process

A "one-stop shop" for exports, in which goods can be processed for shipment in a single location, opened yesterday at the Beirut port. Lebanese industrialists and businessmen have long complained about a byzantine system governing exports in which as many as 19 signatures needed to be collected from different departments before shipment.

"This is a very important day for industrialists," Fadi Abboud, president of the Lebanese Industrialists Association (LIA) told The Daily Star. "We've been lobbying for 33 years for this. It should streamline our exports."

The one-stop shop should allow businesses to clear and ship goods in an hour, as opposed to the current time of one day.

Finance Minister Jihad Azour said: "We consider this as a first step in a long process to integrate the port authority with customs. This should make customs one of the competitive advantages of Lebanon, not a burden."

Pressure has been built on the Lebanese government in recent weeks to facilitate alternate means of transport with the Syrian border closed.

Early last month, Lebanon agreed to eliminate all port dues for goods shipped by sea from the Beirut and Tripoli ports until the ongoing crisis at the Syrian border is resolved.

The one-stop shop will reduce costly overtime fees for products shipped outside official port hours from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Exporters once paid $100 per container in overtime fees and now will pay $50 per container, general director the Beirut Port Abdel-Hafez Qaisi said.

Customs officials will also now be working at the port 24 hours per day. The customs workers will file only a yearly declaration of shipments instead of a declaration for each container.

Qaisi said the tie-up on the Syrian border pushed the port to take steps it had been considering for years.

"The changes are designed for this crisis situation but they will last forever," Qaisi told The Daily Star.

Abboud said the Beirut Port was trying to follow the example of Dubai's thriving Jebel Ali Free Zone, which has minimal restrictions and no taxes.

"The momentum has started but we won't give up until our port is similar to Jebel Ali," Abboud said.

It's unclear how the one-stop shop will affect port revenues, which have been dropping due to the economic downturn after the assassination of former Premier Rafik Hariri.

Freight activity through May 2005 was down 16 percent compared with the same period last year. While statistics haven't yet been released, the border closure with Syria has resulted in a spike of activity at the port. Most of Lebanon's exports, however, still travel overland through Syria to the Gulf.

Beirut 01-08-2005
Will Rasmussen
The Daily Star

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