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Atlas of Lebanon

Part 3 - An Unbalanced Econoy: the Growth of Inequality

A Dynamic Yet Unbalanced Trade

Bruno Dewailly

Texte intégral

1Lebanon is a country oriented toward commerce, including through its diaspora. However, it is marked by a highly negative balance of trade, even if the deficit has been decreasing over the past 15 years. The war in Syria has jeopardized this commercial dynamism.

The hypertrophy of the Beirut hub

2On a national scale, the most striking feature linked to foreign trade is the extreme predominance of Beirut compared to other points of access to the Lebanese territory. As of now, 85% of the imported and exported goods pass through the port or airport of the Lebanese capital. Before 2014, the trade routes were more diversified, more than 30% of the export volume leaving through Syria. But because of the war, the percentage of exports passing through the Syrian border decreased from 20% to 10% between 2010 and 2013, while imports have nearly stopped. The concentration of trade flows in Beirut contributes to congestion in the capital region. The regional ports of Tripoli, Saida and Sour attract little traffic and remain marginalized logistics hubs, which a balanced planning policy could help develop.

Figure III-14: Imports and exports by points of access from 2011 to 2015

Figure III-14: Imports and exports by points of access from 2011 to 2015

A strong dependence on the imports of tradable commodities

3Lebanon produces few tradable commodities. Since the independence, the Lebanese balance of trade has consistently been negative, reaching excessive levels in some occasions. Since 2012, the total value of exports has decreased by 25% (from 4.7 to 3.5 billion US$), while the value of imports has stagnated since 2011. This is partly explained by the growth of the internal market due to the inflow of refugees. Overall, the exports are not much diversified and their added value is limited. Jewelry accounts for the most exported goods (23%) and a significant part of the imported ones (6%). This sector relies mostly on an old and renowned expertise and on diasporic networks for access to raw materials, including in West Africa via the main global trading hubs (Antwerp, Dubai, Geneva, Mumbai, Bangkok). Machine tools and electrical equipment stand as other significant exported commodities (14%). These exports are strongly linked to the production of thermoelectric generators (23%), various electrical materials (23%), parts and machine tools (22%), and household appliances (12%). Lebanon also exports repackaged commodities (vehicles, spare parts) and recycled materials (metals and plastics). As for imports, minerals and refined commodities account for almost 30% of the total amount and food products for 16%, which reveals a strong dependency on food imports. As its industrial sector remains little developed, Lebanon massively imports machine tools (for the construction industry), chemicals (pharmacy), vehicles, household appliances and metals.

Figure III-15: Imports and exports by type of commodities from 2011 to 2015 (average value)

Figure III-15: Imports and exports by type of commodities from 2011 to 2015 (average value)

The geography of Lebanese trade

4The portion of commodities imported from China, mostly consumer goods, keeps increasing (11%). In 2013, this country became Lebanon’s main supplier, among others of refined oil products and automobiles, ahead of Italy, France, the United States and Germany. The Middle East constitutes the primary outlet for Lebanese products and the second source of supply. In 2013, 50% of the commodities were exported to this region (22% to Syria, 17% to Saudi Arabia, 14% to the UAE) and 18% imported from it (4.5% from Turkey, 3.4% from Egypt, 2.4% from Saudi Arabia). The African continent also appears to be a prominent trade location for Lebanese products. Notably, the presence of the diaspora facilitates the distribution of the goods in the region, especially in West Africa. Europe is Lebanon’s third outlet. However, the trade relationships are distinctly asymmetrical. In 2013, goods worth 1 billion US$ were exported to the former while commodities worth 11 billion US$ were imported from it. Primary recipients of commodities exported from Lebanon, Switzerland and South Africa are two specific clients. In 2013, Switzerland imported 450 million US$ worth of jewelry, precious metals and gemstones (43% corresponding to jewels, 35% to gold, 19% to diamonds). Since 2010, South Africa has been yearly and almost exclusively buying between 340 and 680 million US$ worth of gold.

Figure III-16: Lebanese imports and exports by country (2011–2015)

Figure III-16: Lebanese imports and exports by country (2011–2015)

Table des illustrations

Titre Figure III-14: Imports and exports by points of access from 2011 to 2015
URL http://books.openedition.org/ifpo/docannexe/image/13240/img-1.png
Fichier image/png, 111k
Titre Figure III-15: Imports and exports by type of commodities from 2011 to 2015 (average value)
URL http://books.openedition.org/ifpo/docannexe/image/13240/img-2.png
Fichier image/png, 70k
Titre Figure III-16: Lebanese imports and exports by country (2011–2015)
URL http://books.openedition.org/ifpo/docannexe/image/13240/img-3.png
Fichier image/png, 120k

© Presses de l’Ifpo, 2019

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