BEIRUT (AP) — Saudi Arabia will ban Lebanese fruits and vegetables entering the kingdom or passing through it because those shipments have been increasingly used to smuggle drugs, the official news agency reported Friday.
The ban, ordered by the kingdom’s Interior Ministry, will begin Sunday April 25, according to the Saudi Press Agency.
Lebanon’s Foreign Ministry said it is aware of the decision. It said smuggling and shipping drugs “is damaging to the Lebanese economy, to the Lebanese farmers and to Lebanon’s reputation.” It called on Lebanese customs authorities to increase checks and inspections of shipments leaving the country.
The decision is a blow to Lebanon’s economy, in which agricultural exports are a major foreign currency earner for the cash-strapped Lebanese government. Lebanon is already reeling from the worst economic and financial crisis of its modern history. The local currency has lost 85% of its value to the dollar in recent months and businesses have shut down while banks imposed informal controls on transfers and withdrawals.
Arab countries are Lebanon’s main export markets for agricultural products, accounting for nearly 80% of over $190 million of 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 produce into the kingdom to smuggle the contraband destined for Saudi Arabia or neighboring countries. The ban will be in place until Lebanese authorities offer guarantees to stop “systematic smuggling aimed at the kingdom.”
The statement also said it will scrutinize other shipments from Lebanon.
Saudi Arabia, a major supporter of Lebanon, has been locked in a regional struggle with Iran, the main ally of the powerful Lebanese militant group Hezbollah. Tension between the two regional powerhouses have often spilled into a deadlock in decision-making in Lebanese politics. Saudi Arabia is among Gulf countries that imposed sanctions on Hezbollah.