Fo­rum aims to bol­ster U.K. Le­banon busi­ness

Con­fer­ence in Lon­don to be at­tended by hun­dreds of in­vestors, busi­ness­peo­ple

The Daily Star (Lebanon) - - FRONT PAGE - By Joseph Haboush

BEIRUT: Prepa­ra­tions are un­der­way to en­sure the suc­cess of the Le­banon-U.K. Busi­ness and In­vest­ment Fo­rum, which will be held in Lon­don on Dec. 12, the Bri­tish am­bas­sador to Le­banon and a rep­re­sen­ta­tive of Prime Minister-des­ig­nate Saad Hariri said Fri­day.

Speak­ing at a news con­fer­ence, both U.K. en­voy Chris Ram­pling and Hariri’s ad­viser Nadim Munla briefed re­porters about the im­por­tance of the one-day con­fer­ence that will be at­tended by hun­dreds of Le­banese and Bri­tish busi­ness­peo­ple and in­vestors.

Munla brushed off fears that Brexit may dis­suade Bri­tish in­vestors from un­der­tak­ing any busi­ness projects in Le­banon.

“Af­ter Brexit, we be­lieve that there are more op­por­tu­ni­ties for us to ex­change ties,” Munla said.

The fo­rum, the first of its kind, will see Bri­tish min­is­ters and Le­banese of­fi­cials come to­gether and show­case the mar­ket op­por­tu­ni­ties Le­banon has to of­fer.

Minister of State for the Mid­dle East at the For­eign and Com­mon­wealth Of­fice Alis­tair Burt and Minister of State for Trade Pol­icy Ge­orge Holling­bery are two of the many Bri­tish of­fi­cials that will be in at­ten­dance at the event.

“We strongly sup­port this fo­rum … and there will be se­nior Bri­tish in­volve­ment,” Ram­pling said.

Munla said that the fo­rum was orig­i­nally set to be held at a venue for 150 par­tic­i­pants, “but af­ter the high in­ter­est, it was changed to an­other venue that can ac­com­mo­date 400 par­tic­i­pants.”

The ad­viser added that the fo­rum will pro­vide a plat­form for Le­banon to dis­play its vi­sion for the in­fra­struc­ture Cap­i­tal In­vest­ment Pro­gram, pub­lic-pri­vate part­ner­ship projects, and in­vest­ment in the oil and gas sec­tor.

At the CEDRE con­fer­ence in Paris last April, the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity pledged $11 bil­lion in grants and soft loans.

Ram­pling said the De­cem­ber fo­rum is a “more de­tailed” fol­lowup on CEDRE.

World Bank of­fi­cials have re­peat­edly sug­gested that Le­banon may be de­prived of the soft loans pledged to the coun­try if the gov­ern­ment fails to use the al­lo­cated funds.

For Le­banon, Munla said, “of course there is fear that some of the aid will go else­where,” but he added that “no for­eign in­sti­tu­tion or gov­ern­ment … has voiced this … and the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity is be­hind CEDRE.”

Ques­tions are be­ing asked over how ef­fec­tive next week’s fo­rum can be, in view of nu­mer­ous past con­fer­ences that have failed to re­sult in any­thing con­crete.

Munla, how­ever, cited pre­vi­ous an­nounce­ments that Beirut’s only func­tion­ing air­port will be ex­panded, a Dbayeh-Okaibeh High­way will be built and Le­banon will get a new “data cen­ter or iCloud” as all of in­ter­est to in­vestors and com­pa­nies.

“We said that it would be at least 18 months be­fore projects [of CEDRE] are started … and the Cab­i­net dead­lock has not helped, but we are still work­ing on how the funds will all be di­vided,” Munla said.

“On the side­lines of the meet­ing, there will be a spe­cial ses­sion with the gover­nor of the Cen­tral Bank to re­as­sure in­vestors, in ad­di­tion to the sign­ing of a con­tract be­tween Roll­sRoyce and Mid­dle East Air­lines,” the ad­viser added.

Cen­tral Bank Gov. Riad Salameh, is sched­uled to meet with Bri­tish in­vestors to al­lay fears about their Le­banese Eurobonds dur­ing fo­rum next week.

Non-Le­banese in­vestors hold around $9 bil­lion in the Le­banese sovereign Eurobonds, rep­re­sent­ing 11 per­cent of out­stand­ing bonds.

The price of the Eurobonds has fallen in the sec­ondary mar­kets in the past few months due to po­lit­i­cal paral­y­sis in the coun­try and the fail­ure to form a Cab­i­net quickly.

Ram­pling, left, and Munla. “There will be se­nior Bri­tish in­volve­ment” in the event next week, Ram­pling said.

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