|Arab states vow to accelerate Lebanon's comeback
|Meeting passes series of recommendations aimed at revitalizing economy
Arab states pledged to help and support Lebanon's postwar reconstruction process and endorsed a series of measures that will boost and revive its economy, during a news conference in Beirut on Tuesday.
During an extraordinary ministerial meeting of the League's Economic and Social Council held at the Grand Serail, Arab finance ministers passed a series of recommendations to help the Lebanese commerce and trade, tourism, health and education sectors.
The measures included exempting Lebanese cargo trucks from paying transportation fees in Arab countries for two years; exempting Lebanese goods from customs fees for three years; and re-implementing the Lebanese agricultural calendar for three years.
Lebanon reportedly exports more than 50 percent of its products to Arab markets.
In the tourism field, the meeting agreed to promote Lebanese tourism by declaring the year 2007 a year of Arab tourism to Lebanon.
The Arab ministers also vowed to contribute in rebuilding and restoring destroyed schools and hospitals and supporting different health programs such as those dealing with the victims of the cluster bombs;
The meeting also pledged to grant Lebanon 5 percent of the budgets of different Arab organizations to execute special programs and activities in various fields that will be held during the years 2007 and 2008 for Lebanon to carry out similar projects.
The Arab representatives also recommended holding Arab conferences scheduled for 2007 in Beirut, including a conference for Arab businessmen and investors titled "Supporting and Helping Lebanon's reconstruction process and economy."
In addition to that, Arab funds pledged to take into consideration Lebanese requests to extend loans maturity.
But the conference fell short of pledging support for Lebanon's industrial sector, prompting Fadi Abboud, head of the Lebanese Industrialists Association, to storm out of the meeting in protest.
According to Abboud more than 90 factories were severely or partially destroyed during the recent war and Prime Minister Fouad Siniora told industrialists they will not be compensated unless special grants are received for this purpose.
Lebanon will prepare a detailed program for its reconstruction process and will present it before the Arab summit which will be held next March.
The meeting was attended by Siniora, Economy Minister Sami Haddad, and Arab League chief Amr Moussa, in addition to United Nations officials and Arab ambassadors to Beirut.
"This meeting is considered the practical launch of the reconstruction, rebuilding and assistance of Lebanon," Moussa said.
"We will not let Lebanon [continue to] be the scene of conflicts and wars, we will not let the great people of Lebanon fight on their own," he told Arab finance and economy ministers.
"We, the Arab states, have decided to help Lebanon with all our strength, capability and determination, and we will continue that important task," Moussa said.
"The stability and safety of Lebanon is a main part of the security and stability of the Arab world," he added.
Siniora appealed to Arab states to increase and accelerate their donations to Lebanon to help it recover from what he called "a series of devastating Israeli invasions" in the past 30 years.
He also thanked Arab states for their prompt support and financial assistance for his country following the Israeli offensive which caused over $3.5 billion in material damage.
"We count on your active participation in the Arab and international aid conference which will be held in January in Paris to help the Lebanese achieve their dream of a free and prosperous Arab country," he said.
The Paris donor conference aims to raise long-term financial assistance to help the country recover from Israel's blistering 34-day war and revive the ailing Lebanese economy.
"We also count on the role of [French] President Jacques Chirac to back Lebanon and to encourage countries to participate and contribute," Siniora said, adding that Chirac will head the conference.
During the Stockholm aid conference in August, donor nations pledged $940 million in emergency aid to help rebuild smashed infrastructure, shelter the homeless and remove unexploded ordnance.
Saudi Arabia and Kuwait have pledged grants of $500 million and $300 million, respectively, for Lebanon.
The two oil-rich Gulf countries also deposited $1 billion and $500 million respectively in Lebanon's Central Bank to ease pressure on the national currency during the war.
The cost of the latest Israeli offensive on Lebanese public finances was about $1.5 billion for 2006, which will raise public debt to $41 billion at the end of the year, according to Finance Minister Jihad Azour.
Azour said on Friday that Lebanon's growth rate which had been forecast to reach 6 percent this year would be negative because of the war, but that the situation should improve in 2007.
The Daily Star