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Mon, Dec 22, 2003 - Page 12 News List

Iraq's reconstruction is a boon for Lebanese ports

AFP , TRIPOLI, LEBANON

Iraq's post-war reconstruction has been a real bonanza for Lebanese ports, which have seen activity nearly double, in a reminder of their former commercial glory.

The country's harbors on the eastern Mediterranean, mainly at the northern city of Tripoli, have become beehives since the April 9 fall of the Saddam Hussein regime to the US-led coalition now ruling the country.

The ports' activities have been on the rise since the beginning of the summer, with a 22 percent increase of activities at the Beirut port last month from a year earlier.

A record rise of 42 percent was recorded in October in the northern harbor of Tripoli, the closest to Baghdad, a port official told reporters.

Transit is the main activity at the Tripoli port. To face the growing demand, authorities have allocated about US$25 million to expand the harbor.

New cars, trucks, wood and fertilizer crowd the port of Tripoli from where the freight is mainly taken to Baghdad, about 1,000km across the arid Syrian plains and the Iraqi desert.

"Every month, some 5,000 cars are transported to Iraq," said the port official, who did not wish to be identified.

The Lebanese economy, which has been in crisis for years, is benefitting not only from the re-export activities, but from a rising demand for local industrial products, mostly cement.

"Last year, it used to take me less than one hour to drive to my native village of Baino ... Today, it takes me half an hour more because of the never-ending traffic of lorries carrying all sorts of products, mainly cars, toward the Syrian borders," Tripoli resident Ilham Salem told reporters.

Hundreds of cars are transported by land on double-platform lorries, owned by Lebanese, Syrian, Iraqi and Jordanian companies benefitting from a post-war tax break.

Cranes work non-stop, unloading ships and filling up lorries with.

"As far as any taxi driver can remember, this is the largest flow of lorries," recalls George Sayegh, who has long been shuttling along the Beirut-Aleppo roadway.

Port authorities said activities have been on the rise for the past three months and are due to continue their upward trend in the next few years due to the enormous needs of the Iraqi market.

Previously, activity at the Tripoli port rarely reached 500,000 tonnes. But it rose by 23.6 percent to 711,900 tonnes in the first 10 months of this year from 575,600 tonnes in the year-earlier period.

Demand has been on the rise for many products. For example, demand for wood doubled in November to 20,000 tonnes from the months before the US-led invasion of Iraq last spring.

Such a rush for quick earnings through re-export activities has also meant a shortage of many products on the Lebanese internal market.

"Clients are calling us liars, but it is a first: we cannot meet our own needs in wood to satisfy them," explained carpenter Dawud.

Lebanese cement is also heavily in demand because of difficulties suffered by cement factories in Iraq, mainly due to power shortages, said Bashir Ashou, owner a construction firm and one of the leading transportation companies in the country.

After a halt of 15 years, cement exports from Lebanon to Iraq progressively increased to reach 68,000 tonnes over six weeks for the country's two factories.

"This situation is unprecedented," said Ashou, who said Iraq is also resorting to Syria to meet a gigantic demand of 25 million tonnes of cement per year.

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