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Trading & Distribution

By tradition, Lebanon has always been a dynamic retail centre. Because of its climate and of the open-minded Lebanese mentality, the country attracts tourists from the Arab countries and Gulf, as well as visitors from Europe. Lebanese expatriates also represent an important source of income for the country.

All of the world leading brands and products can be found in the shopping malls and supermarkets that have spread throughout Lebanon over the past few years. Recently, two important events have occurred, reviving the retail sector.

The first of these is the shopping festival that aims at attracting tourists during a month that would otherwise be of little commercial interest. To achieve this, an open-sky policy (no visa fee at arrival), and considerable discounts in hotels, restaurants and shops (usually 50%) are conceded. The festival takes place in February and it can be considered a success although Israeli strikes have, in the past, negatively affected the number of visitors at such an event. The second major change is that the government has decided on a significant custom tariff reduction on imported goods effective as of the beginning of 2001.

These concrete actions, together with the development of the Beirut Central District, are complying firstly with the expectations of the Lebanese to shop at lower prices than over the past years and secondly with the needs of a sector that is employing more than 10% of the labour force.

The retail sector has also given Lebanon its best e-commerce success stories. The quality of Lebanese pastries and wines is widely recognised, and these industries have capitalised on a sustained internal demand, and on the Lebanese Diaspora’s homesickness to enlarge their domestic market to a global one. It is worth mentioning that great efforts have been, and are still being made, to give Lebanon back the fame it requires.

The country has few natural resources, and a tradition of hospitality, but it lost its position of trade leader in the region during the civil war. It will be tough to recover it with places like Dubai entering the competition. The regional instability is also affecting Lebanon more than Gulf countries.

Nevertheless, the country is attracting more and more investors and if this tendency is confirmed, the whole economy will be back on track. There is still a long way to go, but the first step towards a recovered confidence is done…
Yann Rotil