Saudi Arabia has banned a variety of imports from Lebanon, apparently because of concern that the products are coming from Israel.
The prohibited list--including chickens, eggs, cameras, shoes, calculators, radios and television sets--was disclosed here today by the Beirut Chamber of Commerce, which has tried in vain to prevent Lebanese merchants from buying the Israeli goods for reexport. Reexporting is a Lebanese trading tradition, dating back to the Phoenicians.
Lebanese officials express concern that other Persian Gulf countries trading with Lebanon might follow the Saudi example. The Beirut chamber has met with the government to discuss ways of getting the ban lifted.
It added to pressures on Lebanese negotiators in the troop-withdrawal talks with Israel, which has sought to broaden the negotiations into a forum for normalization of relations.
The ban further strains the economy of this occupied nation, already affected by the inundation of Israeli goods since the June invasion.
Ostensibly, the question at the talks is whether Lebanon will trade with Israel. In fact, a visitor to the border can see big trucks of Israeli bananas, rugs and other goods already coming into Lebanon.
The trucks often pull off the highway pavement a few hundred yards north of the Israeli customs post and transfer the products into containers saying "Made in Lebanon." They are loaded onto trucks with Lebanese license tags.
Israeli businessmen have wandered through retail outlets in Israeli-occupied southern Lebanon offering products, reportedly at cut rates, that are made in Israel or come through the port of Haifa at negligible customs rates of 2 to 3 percent.
Southern Lebanese businessmen have complained bitterly about what they describe as Israel's "economic assault." For farmers and laborers in that area, the illegal fruit imports--with prices that capture the market--have meant that many citrus and banana groves have gone unharvested this year, the ripe fruit dying on the vine.
But the action by Saudi Arabia poses a far greater threat to the economy of Lebanon, which is based primarily on trade. Saudi Arabia has been a principal market for Lebanese products and reexports. Although goods from Lebanon constitute only 2.2 percent of Saudi imports, they represented $380 million in trade for Lebanon in 1981.
There have been hints that Lebanese negotiators might be willing to allow Israeli imports for domestic use. But the strong concern of the Lebanese is in reassuring its Arab trading partners that the goods they receive will not be Israeli.