“Commercial Corridor” in Southern Syria … Three Countries are Waiting and the Regime is the Greatest Beneficiary
Lebanon, Jordan and the Syrian regime will benefit from large financial revenues and the revival of land trade with the opening of Nasib — Al-Ramtha border crossing between Syria and Jordan.
The talk about the return of the trade line with Jordan came after the truce agreement in southern Syria on 7 July. It was a Russian, American and Jordanian agreement that stipulates the establishment of a “de-escalation zones” in Daraa, Quneitra and al-Suwayda.
The agreement paves the way for the resumption of commercial traffic between Lebanon and Jordan through a “commercial corridor” that passes through the Syrian territory, after being suspended for three years due to the battles and the control of the Syrian opposition factions in the region. Mohammed al-Abdullah, the economic researcher at “Omran Center for Strategic Studies,” told Enab Baladi that the agreement will lead to a significant improvement in the Lebanese and Jordanian economy and to the entry of millions of dollars into the treasury of the Syrian regime in case it will manage the crossings.
Lebanon: The Commercial Corridor is Less Expensive
The talk about the “commercial corridor” has been a pressing requirement for Lebanese officials in their recurrent meetings with their Jordanian counterparts over the past two years due to the great damage the entire Lebanese economy has suffered since the closure of the corridor in 2015.
The closure of Lebanon’s only land port with the Arab markets, especially the Gulf, led to major losses. According to what Nabil Itani, the chairman and CEO of the Investment Development Authority of Lebanon (IDAL), told al-Sharq al-Awsat newspaper on 16 July, 70 % of the agricultural exports, 32 % of the food industry and 22 % of the total exports of the industries passed through it.
Following the closure of the corridor, Lebanon resorted to the exportation of its products through the sea, which costs a lot of money. The head of the Lebanese truckers syndicate, Shafiq al-Qasis, said to the newspaper that the cost of land transport per truck was $ 1,600 while sea transportation is double the cost. He pointed out that 3000 trucks were operating on land line from Lebanon to the Gulf markets through Syria.
Although the cost of land shipping will be lower, the Lebanese newspaper al-Jomhouria pointed out in one of its report that the cost of the transportation through the new line will rise significantly compared to 2014, because truck insurance companies are asking for higher payments as the region they are in is “precarious.”
It is not yet clear how the internal customs taxes, which will be imposed by the Syrian regime and the opposition factions on goods transferred between their areas of control in Daraa, will affect the commercial movement that they talk about.
The researcher Mohammed al-Abdullah assured to Enab Baladi that Lebanon is one of the most affected countries by the closure of the crossings and the cessation of the trade corridor, which was considered as the artery or lung of the Lebanese economy. He explained that the total Lebanese exports to the Gulf markets were 65 %, but with the closure of the corridor commercial exports fell by 50 %, while the Lebanese economy is estimated to lose $ 2.5 million per day.
Syria is Jordan’s Corridor to Eastern Europe
Jordan was not less affected then Lebanon since the trade corridor that passes through Syria is considered as the only outlet and transit bridge for Jordanian trucks heading to Lebanon, Turkey and the Balkans, which constitute a good proportion of Jordanian exports.
According to foreign trade data released by Jordan’s General Statistics Department, Jordanian exports to Syria have lost 83.7 % in the last five years. Exports decreased from 183 million dinars in 2011 to 29.8 million dinars in 2016, resulting in the loss of 153.2 million dinars.
Also exports amounted to 9.9 million dinars during the first third of this year, instead of 12.5 million dinars for the same period of the last year, resulting in a decrease by 20.8 %.
Al-Abdullah confirmed that the quantity of Jordanian vegetables exported through Syria was between 400 and 700 tons per day. The number of Jordanian trucks entering Syria daily was between 50 and 60 trucks.
After the closure of the crossing, Jordan started suffering from exports crisis. Exports started then to turn towards the Gulf States or from the port of Aqaba through the port of Tartus, which lead to high costs and a great loss. Ghassan Kharfan, the First Deputy Chairman of Jordan’s Chamber of Commerce confirmed this on April 2016 to “Anatolia” agency, and stated that the losses of the Kingdom are around two billion dollars, as a result of the closure of the border with Syria and Iraq.
The Dollar is the Regime’s Only Concern
Al-Abdullah confirmed that the Syrian regime will be the greatest beneficiary from the “Commercial Corridor” between Lebanon and Jordan because of its huge financial revenues from “customs and transit,” in addition to filling its foreign currency reserve, which is the only reason why it is interested in the crossing.
It has not been announced yet who will manage the border crossings between Syria and Jordan. Although al-Sharq al-Awsat newspaper quoted sources, which were described as knowledgeable, saying that neutral Syrian groups would be responsible for the border points, al-Abdullah pointed out that “the important question which needs to be raised is who will receive the revenue of the crossing which is estimated in millions?”
The researcher expected that the regime will manage the crossings, declaring that “any observer of the crossing issue for three years will find that Jordan refused the Syrian opposition management, despite the presence of a full and qualified staff. This refusal to deal with the interim government sprung from its willingness to deal with an existing state and government (in its view) despite the losses of the Jordanian economy. He pointed out that if Jordan had wanted to hand over the crossing to the factions it would have done that since years ago.
What are the Crossings between Syria and Jordan?
The Syrian territory is connected to Jordan through two crossing points. The first is called Nasib and is located between Jaber, a Jordanian village in Mafraq Governorate, and Nasib, a Syrian village in Daraa Governorate. The crossing point construction was launched in 1991. It is the busiest crossing in the Syrian borders and it connects Damascus and Oman.
The Syrian opposition factions took control of the crossing in April 2015, after the withdrawal of al-Assad fighters, prompting the Jordanian side to close it, especially for the thefts which took place there.
Despite the Syrian opposition’s formation of a civil committee aiming at following up and managing the crossing in addition to ensuring its organization and administration, the same way Bab al-Hawa crossing on the Turkish border is, this has been rejected by Jordan so far, despite the financial losses of the Jordanian economy.
The second crossing between the Syrian – Jordanian borders is Al-Ramtha, which is also called Daraa border crossing and considered as one of the oldest border crossings in Jordan.
The Syrian opposition factions control the crossing, which was designated for passenger traffic, while the owners of the trucks depend on Nasib crossing since Daraa crossing leads directly to the city, while Nasib leads to the international highway.