BEIRUT (AP) – Saudi Arabia will ban Lebanese fruit and vegetables from entering or crossing the kingdom because those shipments have been increasingly used for drug smuggling, the official news agency reported Friday.
The ban, ordered by the kingdom’s interior ministry, will begin on Sunday April 25, according to the Saudi press agency.
The Lebanese Foreign Ministry said it was aware of the decision. He said drug smuggling and transport “is harmful to the Lebanese economy, to Lebanese farmers and to Lebanon’s reputation.” He called on the Lebanese customs authorities to increase controls and inspections of shipments leaving the country.
The decision is a major blow to the Lebanese economy, where agricultural exports are a major source of foreign exchange gain for the cash-strapped Lebanese government. Lebanon is already recovering from the worst economic and financial crisis in its modern history. The local currency has lost 85% of its value against the dollar in recent months and businesses have closed as banks have imposed informal controls on transfers and withdrawals.
Arab countries are Lebanon’s main export markets for agricultural products, accounting for nearly 80% of more than $ 190 million in total exports in 2019, where Saudi Arabia had more than 20% of the share, followed by Qatar.
The Saudi order said drug smuggling from Lebanon has increased, using shipments of Lebanese products into the kingdom to smuggle contraband destined for Saudi Arabia or neighboring countries. The ban will remain in place as long as the Lebanese authorities offer guarantees to stop “systematic smuggling to the kingdom”.
The statement also said it will look into other shipments from Lebanon.
Saudi Arabia, one of Lebanon’s main supporters, has been locked in a regional struggle with Iran, the main ally of the powerful Lebanese militant group Hezbollah. Tensions between the two regional powers have often resulted in a deadlock in the decision-making process in Lebanese politics. Saudi Arabia is among the Gulf countries that have imposed sanctions on Hezbollah.