Officials wait for an explanation from the Saudi government for the chaos at the Al Ghuwaifat border crossing.
Lorries held for week at UAE-Saudi border
ABU DHABI // The ordeal of thousands of lorry drivers stranded at the UAE-Saudi border - some for as many as five days - continued yesterday as UAE officials pressed for an explanation. The lorries have been stuck in a line stretching for 25km on the road leading to the Al Ghuwaifat crossing. Many drivers have been waiting for nearly a week and are running out of food and supplies and relying on the Red Crescent Authority (RCA) which was delivering food assistance. Cross-border trade is being badly hit by the delays, impacting on the economy and causing serious problems for UAE haulage companies and local firms. Mohammed Khalifa al Muhairi, the director of the Federal Customs Authority (FCA), said yesterday that he would meet his Saudi counterpart in Riyadh on Monday to discuss the issue, with hopes of a quick resolution. A GCC official said yesterday the body was expecting a response from the Saudi government detailing the causes of delay as early as today. But Saudi media reports said the massive back-up resulted from the implementation of a new fingerprinting system introduced this month. The system, according to the reports, was designed to counter smugglers amid claims that levels of drugs and alcohol crossing the border had increased. Delays on the Saudi-Bahraini and the northern borders with Syria have also been reported. Mr al Muhairi said that lorry drivers had always faced delays at the Saudi border, but that the problem had been exacerbated since last week. "We want to understand the situation from [the Saudi] side; that's why I am flying to Riyadh," he said. Some of the vehicles stuck in the jam for days are loaded with fresh produce. The RCA was delivering food assistance to truck drivers stuck at the Ghuweifat crossing at the UAE-Saudi borders, a senior RCA official said. Mohammed Ibrahim Al Hamadi, the deputy RCA secretary general for local affairs, said the RCA had provided a package of assistance including food and drinking water to ease suffering of truck drivers who are waiting to complete formalities to cross into Saudi Arabia WAM reported. ''Efforts were coordinated with the RCA offices in the Garbiya and Sila to extend humanitarian assistance to the drivers stranded at the Ghuweifat border checkpoint. ''The RCA aims to stop deterioration of the humanitarian and health conditions of those drivers amid the scorching heat which could take its toll on them. Mohammed Jasim Al Mazrouei, the director of RCA in Garbiya, said snacks, drinking water and juices were given away to the drivers whose trucks stretched for 32km from the border centre. The RCA, he added, would continue to offer assistance to those drivers amid rising temperatures amounting to 45C and the absence of basic services such as restaurants and toilets. The UAE is a trade hub for the GCC nations with thousands of lorries, loaded daily with industrial and consumer products, travelling to other Gulf states. Mr al Muhairi denied news reports published yesterday that the UAE has asked the GCC to mediate an end to the border delay. "There is no mediation request, it's a bilateral issue," he said. "We will talk to the customs authorities and if there was another party involved, then the concerned authorities in the UAE will contact them." It is understood, however, that the FCA had contacted the GCC secretariat to explain the border problem. The GCC, in turn, sent a letter on Wednesday asking the Saudi customs authorities to clarify what caused the delay, said Muhammad al Haif, director of Customs Union at the GCC secretariat in Riyadh. He expected a response from Saudi officials by today or tomorrow. Saudi Arabia's weekend starts on Thursday. Mr al Haif echoed Mr al Muhairi's suggestions that a number of Saudi authorities could be blamed. "There is pressure at the border and accumulating lorries, but the problem is not with the customs; there are many other parties involved, such as health and immigration authorities," Mr al Haif said. "I've spoken to Saudi customs officials, and they said that they were given no new instructions and no further [procedures] were introduced," he said. He added that Saudi customs officials said yesterday that they had increased the number of officers at the border crossing. Mr al Haif denied speculation that the problem was related to the UAE's decision to withdraw from the GCC's planned monetary union after four members voted last month to place its headquarters in Riyadh. "Whoever thinks like that has a narrow insight, because the customs union and the monetary union are two separate tracks," said Mr al Haif. "The officials of the two countries are better than this. There are people who manipulate such situations." The FCA recently paid Dh1.3 billion (US$354m) that the UAE owed GCC states for collecting duties on goods imported through the Emirates between 2003 and 2006. Saudi Arabia's share of the revenues totalled Dh537.6m, reflecting its status as the UAE's leading GCC trading partner. The UAE is by far the largest exporter to Saudi Arabia among the Gulf nations, with exports valued at 8.4 billion Saudi riyals (Dh8.2bn) in 2007, according to the Saudi Arabian Monetary Agency. The value of UAE exports to Saudi Arabia has doubled since 2003. James Reeve, a senior economist with Samba Financial Group, the largest banking group in Saudi Arabia, said the severe delays would affect both buyers and sellers. "This will hurt merchants, the big trading families in the UAE and Saudi consumers," he said. "Although intra-GCC trade is not particularly significant in terms of goods produced in those countries, it is significant in terms of re-export trade and the UAE is an important trading hub." email@example.com * Additional reporting by Wael Mahdi from Riyadh and with WAM