An ambassadorial roundtable on Lebanon hosted by the Arab British Chamber of Commerce on 9th October attracted widespread interest from UK investors seeking new opportunities. Guest of honour was His Excellency Mr Rami Mortada, the Ambassador of Lebanon in the UK.
The roundtable, held at the Chamber premises, enabled a constructive discussion on the emerging opportunities in Lebanon and the mechanisms it was developing to address in an effective way all the domestic, regional and global challenges of the present period.
The event was opened by Mr Bandar Reda, CEO and Secretary General of the ABCC, and chaired by the Rt Hon Baroness Symons, the ABCC Chairman. The discussion attracted great interest from British business and brought together representatives from various industries such as finance, diplomacy, education, strategy, research, security, transport, tourism and the media.
H E Mr Rami Mortada delivered a wide ranging briefing during which he outlined the new economic strategies that the government of Lebanon has embarked on in collaboration with its international partners. The Ambassador’s key message was that Lebanon was open for investment and was extending an invitation to the UK to enter into partnership to help it build a more productive and prosperous economy.
He stated that Lebanon was fully focused on developing a new business model that best suited the current situation. Everyone across the political spectrum believed there was a sense of urgency in the need to create a more production-based economy.
Lebanon was basing its future plans on its strong assets such as its banking sector, the ingenuity of its people and its entrepreneurial culture. The banking sector remained one of the most resilient in the region; it was noted for its strong compliance and was well regulated.
The Lebanese education system, and its universities in particular, had long enjoyed a high reputation. It was widely recognised by Lebanese policy makers that continued investment in education was important to develop the talents of the new generation and this offered potential for cooperation with the UK.
The large Lebanese expatriate community worldwide were an important asset and had a key role to play in strengthening the country’s economy. New legislation was designed to ensure that the business environment becomes more friendly to investors. These legislative measures will also include new regulations for such issues as procurement and e-commerce, the ambassador told the meeting.
Lebanon had started to deliver on the commitments agreed with international donors at the CEDRE conference held in Paris in 2018 which had seen the unveiling of a Capital Investment Plan (CIP).
The priority areas for investment envisaged under the CIP were energy, water, transport infrastructure and education.
The importance of implementing a new strategy to reform the electricity sector was stressed. Lebanon was determined to introduce the new electricity plan to relieve the pressures on the economy and public finances.
Vision was needed to develop the potential of trade and investment between the UK and Lebanon. The Ambassador urged UK investors to look to the opportunities that were available in the country especially the major sectors including ICT, agri-business, infrastructure, real estate and tourism.
British firms could help Lebanon with their expertise because they had the skills that the country needs. H E Mr Mortada commended the work of the UK-Lebanon Tech Hub in developing partnerships in the new expanding ICT sector.
Notable potential opportunities for UK investors exist in the evolving oil and gas sector with new blocks being awarded for exploration. UK firms able to provide offshore services could also look to the emerging opportunities in Lebanon.
H E Rami Mortada stressed that the country’s infrastructure required significant investment because of under investment in recent years.
Clean energy, water and wastewater management all needed upgrading as did the transport system, which included the road network, airports and seaports.
The Ambassador’s presentation stimulated a productive discussion during which numerous vital questions were raised.
Part of the new legislation pending would see the establishment of a one-stop shop for foreign investors, delegates at the event were informed.
In the meantime, prospective investors were invited to consult IDAL, the country’s investment promotion agency. The Embassy of Lebanon had recently appointed a new dedicated economic attaché which was a clear indication of the determination of Lebanon to engage actively with the British private sector.
The Ambassador warmly thanked the ABCC for giving him the opportunity to speak to British investors and commended the vital work that the Chamber was doing to promote Arab- UK commercial relations. Its work was becoming more important in shedding a light on the potential of doing business with the Arab economies.
Baroness Symons remarked that Lord Risby of Haverhill, the British Prime Minister’s Trade Envoy for Lebanon, would be interested to learn of the issues raised at the meeting. The recent creation of the post of Trade Envoy for Lebanon was a signal that the UK Government was serious about building closer business relations with the country. In this regard, it was pointed out that the UK and Lebanon had in September signed a trade continuity agreement to ensure preferential bilateral trade terms post-Brexit.
The roundtable concluded with the launch of Doing Business with Lebanon, a new publication from the ABCC produced in collaboration with the Embassy of Lebanon. The book was introduced by Mr Abdeslam El Idrissi, Deputy CEO and Secretary General, ABCC, and copies were distributed to all attendees.