People shop for vegetables at a souk in Beirut, Lebanon April 12, 2021. Picture taken April 12, 2021. REUTERS
Saudi Arabia will ban fruits and vegetables originating from Lebanon from entering or passing through the kingdom due to an increase in drug smuggling, Saudi state media reported on Friday.
The measure could increase economic pressure on Lebanon, already on the verge of financial collapse because of a shortage of foreign currency.
State news agency SPA quoted the Saudi authorities as saying Lebanon had failed to take practical measures to stop the smuggling. The ban will take effect from 9:00 a.m. local time on Sunday and last until Lebanese authorities provide "sufficient and reliable" guarantees they will take the necessary measures to stop systematic drug smuggling in Saudi Arabia.
Lebanon's foreign ministry said on Friday it had been informed by Saudi Arabia's embassy about the decision.
"The decision was transferred to top officials," Lebanon's caretaker Foreign Minister Charbel Wehbe said in a statement.
The ministry statement said the illegal practice of drug smuggling using export cargoes harmed the Lebanese economy and said it had urged the security authorities to work diligently to foil any attempts that ultimately harmed Lebanese farmers.
Lebanon's total imports to Saudi Arabia were worth 273.1 million riyals ($72.82 million) in the fourth quarter of 2020, official Saudi data showed.
Lebanon is in the throes of a deep financial crisis that is posing the biggest threat to its stability since the 1975-1990 civil war. The currency has lost around 90% of its value and dollars are scarce.
The crisis is being compounded by political deadlock, with politicians unable to form a government to unlock much-needed foreign aid.
Gulf states, including Saudi Arabia, have so far been loath to offer aid to ease Beirut's economic woes, keeping their distance while alarmed by the rising influence of Hezbollah, a powerful group backed by their arch-rival Iran.
*This story was edited by Ahram Online.