Opening of Nassib-Jaber crossing will have an impact on Jordan, neighbouring countries

The reopening of the crossing is expected to restore Jordanian exports to Syria, Lebanon, Turkey, Europe and Russia.
Sunday 28/10/2018
Cars drive through the Nassib-Jaber crossing, on October 15. (Ahmad Abdo)
A boost to trade. Cars drive through the Nassib-Jaber crossing, on October 15. (Ahmad Abdo)

AMMAN - While Jordan is set to resume exports through the Nassib-Jaber crossing on its border with Syria, neighbouring Lebanon is yet to use the vital transit route that channelled tonnes of Lebanese merchandise to the Gulf region before its closure three years ago.

Traffic has picked up steadily, with more than 1,000 travellers in the first week, since the crossing was opened on October 15, the Jordanian Ministry of Transport said.

The move was warmly welcomed by Syria and Jordan, as well as regional countries such as Lebanon and Turkey, which suffered billions of dollars in lost income from trade with Europe and the Gulf region because of the crossing closure.

Mohammed Khair Daoud, chairman of the Syndicate of Jordanian Truck Owners, stated the reopening of the busiest crossing between Jordan and Syria is an excellent development that would have a positive effect on the economy of the two countries.

“There are more than 5,000 trucks ready to resume normal activity through the crossing and as of next week some 1,200 trucks will be rolling into Syria carrying badly needed goods,” Daoud said.

He said the crucial land transport sector sustained heavy losses after the border between Syria and Iraq was closed, noting that five Jordanian trucks had crossed Nassib-Jaber towards Lebanon kick-starting trade between Jordan, Syria and neighbouring countries.

Jaber border officials said Syrian trucks were permitted to move freight to Jordanian trucks for transportation to the Gulf area. Syrian truckers are denied entry to Gulf countries, which gives their Jordanian counterparts an advantage.

It is expected that more than 100 Jordanian trucks will be heading to the Gulf countries on daily basis.

The Jordanian Forwarders Association Owners Syndicate said 52 of 172 companies have started activities at the Nassib-Jaber border crossing after renewing their licences.

Before the Syrian war, Jordan exported more than 250,000 tonnes of fruit and vegetables annually to Syria and Europe through the Nassib-Jaber crossing.

Jordan’s exports to Syria declined to $7 million in 2011, compared to $238 million in 2010, the Jordanian Ministry of Industry and Trade said. The reopening of the crossing is expected to restore Jordanian exports to Syria, Lebanon, Turkey, Europe and Russia.

Jordan and Syria have a long history of bilateral trade supported by many agreements, including a 1975 accord allowing the exchange of agricultural and animal products, natural resources and industrial products and the signing of a free trade zone agreement in 2002.

Reports say the Jordanian-Syrian Free Zone at the crossing will be reopened by the end of this year. The zone provided more than 4,000 jobs for more workers from both countries and was the site for 35 factories and 100 auto shops.

The Syrian government retook the area in July during a Russia-backed offensive to drive rebels from their stronghold in south-western Syria.

The crossing is a crucial path for Lebanese products and services because it is considered the only passageway to traditional Lebanese markets.

“The situation is still the same as if the crossing did not open,” said Tony Tohme of the Chamber of Commerce, Industry and Agriculture in the Bekaa. “Only a single truck carrying apples was dispatched to Jordan.”

“Many of our truckers are Syrian nationals who cannot go to the Gulf, which means that we have to move the merchandise from one truck to another. Furthermore, Syrian authorities imposed new taxes on Lebanese trucks crossing their territory, which makes shipping the goods by sea less expensive,” Tohme said.

He said a tax as much as $1,200, depending on the weight of the merchandise, is being imposed on each truck.

“They call it the tax of the Syrian Army’s martyrs,” Tohme said. “The Lebanese authorities are negotiating with the Syrians to remove it; however, in past years we have reached good deals with shipping companies and many exporters now prefer to use sea routes to the Gulf.”

Jordan is among countries most affected by the Syrian crisis since it erupted in 2011.  The UN High Commissioner for Refugees said that, as of December 2017, there were 655,624 registered Syrian refugees in Jordan.

“We hope that now that the crossing is open and security has improved, refugees will go back to their country,” said journalist Ziad Momani, “but many Syrians have established businesses in Jordan and I doubt that they will close their ventures and return soon. However, more opportunities will appear with the opening of the crossing and it is all good for business.”