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French Version

Heavy investment in Beirut real estate defies tensions

Buyers bet on property boom

Lebanese and Arab companies are investing billions of dollars in the real estate sector in Beirut and other areas, reflecting greater confidence in the country despite the assassination of former Premier Rafik Hariri in February 2005.

Participants in a major construction and contracting exhibition all agreed that Lebanon was a good place to make investments although the country was relatively small in size.

Held under the patronage of Premier Fouad Siniora, the 12th edition of Project Lebanon was inaugurated by Mohammad al-Sadafi Tuesday at Biel. It is expected to attract over 20,000 visitors this year.

Certified by the UFI (Global Association of the Exhibition Industry), Project Lebanon has become the annual rendezvous for hundreds of local, regional and International firms to meet and do business with thousands of industry professionals from Lebanon and the region.

"Seventy percent of the participants are Lebanese," explained Camille Geha, the Resident manager of IFP Lebanon. "The other 30 percent are from all over the world. There are country pavilions from Germany, Belgium, Cyprus, Italy and Turkey." There are also exhibitors from the UAE, Greece, Poland, Holland, Luxembourg, India, Bangladesh, Kuwait, Jordan and Egypt. Lebanon is hosting a record participation of its own at Project Lebanon 2006, with hundreds of Lebanese manufacturers and traders presenting new technologies and the latest in building products and equipment.

The fair this year is one of the most impressive to date. "The obvious importance of the fair is in line with all the building projects that are currently happening in Lebanon" said Geha. "$1 billion worth of projects are being executed in Beirut alone - projects such as hotels, shopping malls, infrastructure. In the whole of Lebanon $5 billion worth of projects are being executed now. Furthermore the council of development has announced that over the next 10 years $11 billion has been assigned to future projects."

"Last year was catastrophic because of the situation" said De-Concrete, one of the exhibitors. "The fair is usually good for business though. Lebanon is a small country but this is a huge exhibition which has a very good reputation in construction circles. The construction business is definitely better now after last year."

Another exhibitor agreed, adding that he believed the construction business was still being affected. "Lots of Arabs from the Gulf are coming to Lebanon and having villas built. So there are projects on the one hand but then on the other hand there's also a reluctance to invest because of the political situation. Which is a pity."

"Last year we had to delay the project by three months" said Geha. "This year participation is much higher - about 20 percent higher - and we gained a lot of exhibitors on a last-minute basis after the announcement that many projects had been signed three months ago."

"You only have to drive through Downtown and look at the sheer amount of cranes. You can see how much growth there is in construction. In fact that's why we chose the crane to be the logo for Project Lebanon 2006," he added.

However, there is still much to be developed, with high hopes for Lebanon's coast.

"A law was recently voted to fix all the problems with illegal construction on the seafront," said Geha. "During the war people constructed properties on the beach without proper licenses. Now the law enables them to pay taxes in order for them to continue living there. People were afraid for a long time but we hope this will encourage a lot of seafront development."

With over 220 kilometers of coastline there is a lot of scope for this and Lebanon can certainly expect a lot of projects to be launched.

Evidence suggests that the construction industry will continue to flourish. "There is a major future in construction" said Geha. "People need to drive in Beirut and I think this needs work on bridges, roads and infrastructure in general. The big boom will continue in construction."

Beirut 13-06-2006
Daniella Matar
The Daily Star

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