Cementing the future of Lebanon: Concern rises over smuggling of construction materials into Syria

Cementing the future of Lebanon: Concern rises over smuggling of construction materials into Syria
Published: 07 September 2006

Cement smuggling into Syria is discouraging a leading local producer from cutting prices in order to reduce the cost of rebuilding in Lebanon. The Swiss-based Holcim and Cimenterie National have agreed in principle to cut the price of one tonne of cement from US$75 to US$65 to reduce the cost of rebuilding Beirut’s southern suburbs and villages in the South that were heavily damaged by Israeli air strikes.


But Sibline, which is the third-largest cement producer in Lebanon, has been reluctant to agree to the government’s request to lower prices, saying it wants assurances that no cement will be smuggled into Syria.


"We don’t want to see our cement smuggled into Syria if we cut the prices. Already cement producers were suffering losses because of poor market conditions before the war," Nicholas Nahhas, the general manager of Sibline, told The Daily Star.


Nahhas said Syria had barred Sibline’s cement deliveries to Iraq because the president of the company is Walid Jumblatt, one of Damascus’ arch-enemies.


Nahhas pointed out that the price of one ton of cement in Syria is over US$130, while in Lebanon it is only US$75.


Other industrialists have urged the government to end cement smuggling to Syria, saying that the phenomenon increased considerably during the war.


"The government’s request to cut prices is tremendous and not profitable for our company," Nahhas said.


The Lebanese government has sought urgent financial support from the West and Arab countries to defray the expenses of rebuilding the country.


The donor states that met in Stockholm last week have already pledged more than US$940 million for Lebanon, while Saudi Arabia and Kuwait have committed another US$800 million.


The Council for Development and Reconstruction estimated the direct material cost of the war at US$3.6 billion, excluding indirect losses.