x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Goods meant for Egypt left to rot

Exporters from around the region say trade with Egypt has all but dried up leaving tonnes of fresh produce - like Lebanese apples - shriveling in warehouses.

Egyptians rush to buy produce from a Cairo street market as supplies of fresh fruits and vegetables are under pressure.
Egyptians rush to buy produce from a Cairo street market as supplies of fresh fruits and vegetables are under pressure.

About 8,000 tonnes of apples are shrivelling in Lebanese warehouses as the traders who bought the harvest can no longer ship it to Egypt.

The Lebanese Farmers Association said last week that apple exports to Egypt, the main importer of the Lebanese fruit, had been severely affected by the political crisis.

Exports to Egypt worth US$13 million (Dh47.7m) accounted for 74 per cent of Lebanon's apple crop last year. It would be difficult to find another market, the farm group said.

And the Lebanese are not alone. Turkey, the biggest regional exporter to Egypt, is also among the upheaval's victims.

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Trade with Egypt has almost dried up, Rizanur Meral, the president of the Turkish Confederation of Businessmen and Industrialists, told the Anatolia news agency.

For now, Turkish fruit and vegetable traders are diverting shipments from Egypt to more distant markets such as Dubai and Russia. "We have oranges, apples and carrots, but nobody is sending them to Egypt," said Aydin Apaydin, a trader in Mersin, Turkey's major southern port.

A long wait for trade to return to normal could damage the two Levant countries' economies, as both import more than they export.

"We are concerned that the [Turkish] lira could rapidly weaken," said Elisabeth Andrew, an economist at Nordea, a financial services group in the Nordic and Baltic region.

Zafar Caglayan, the Turkish trade minister, called a "crisis meeting" last week with industry executives.

Egypt's trade with the biggest Gulf economy has also been hit.

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John Sfakianakis, the chief economist at Banque Saudi Fransi, said each day of unrest had cut about 1 percentage point from Egyptian annual imports and exports

The effects on trade between the two countries would be severe if the Egyptian government transition were drawn out, Mr Sfakianakis said.

Re-establishing imports of agricultural products, especially food staples, is likely to be a priority for the transitional government. As many as 30 million Egyptians live below the poverty line and about 5 million are classified as living in extreme poverty.

Egypt's expanding population, estimated at more than 81 million, and its shrinking supplies of fresh water and agricultural land have turned the former bread basket of the eastern Mediterranean into the world's biggest wheat importer.

There are already reports of wheat shipments from the US being cancelled due to contractual uncertainties.

Another product that many Egyptians consider essential could also run short.

"There have been some problems getting to Egypt," said Khalil Ahmed, the managing director of Al Fakher Shisha, an international distributor of shisha tobacco based in Dubai. "Everything's stopped. Even the post office is not sending any documents or any containers."

Egypt is a lucrative market for tobacco, which faces declining sales in Europe and North America. Egypt's tobacco imports rose 44 per cent last year to $410.7m.

Meanwhile, the Egyptian central bank announced last night that banks would close today because of protests.

They are expected to open on Wednesday after tomorrow's observance of the Prophet's birthday.

 

tcarlisle@thenational.ae

ghunter@thenational.ae