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French Version

Investors watching political scene before investing in Lebanon - IDAL president

Itani says new unity government hasn't calmed jitters

Investors are adopting a wait-and-see approach before making a final commitment in Lebanon despite the relatively relaxed political atmosphere in the country, the head of the Investment Development Authority of Lebanon (IDAL) said on Thursday. "It seems that many of the investors who expressed interest in Lebanon are studying their moves very carefully implementing projects in Lebanon," Nabil Itani told The Daily Star.

Itani suggested that the IDAL, a government agency that promotes and facilitates investments in Lebanon, did not receive a concrete commitment to execute projects in the country.

"We don't have a new project in the pipeline now although all the investors we are talking to said they are interested in many sectors in the country," Itani said.

Last year, only $127 million worth of projects were executed by IDAL, a very low figure for a country that drew billions of dollars in investments in 2004 and 2005.

Lebanese politicians and economists had hopes that Arab Gulf investors would inject billions of dollars into the country following the election of President Michel Sleiman and the creation of a national unity government.

At present, IDAL is still processing projects that were approved years ago, with most of these projects being located in the Beirut Central District.

Among the long overdue projects expected to be re-launched this year is the $2 billion Phoenician Village, a giant real-estate development project to be erected near Martyrs Square.

The project was initially announced in 2006, however the war with Israel prevented Levant Holding from starting construction on time. The Phoenician Village would span across a total area of around 20,000 square meters.

The finished project would boast 250,000 square meters of floor space and would consist of two residential towers, two hotels, a commercial center, restaurants, a parking lot, as well as retail and recreational facilities.

"Investments are a long-term strategy. Many of the potential investors want to study carefully the economic sectors in Lebanon before deciding where to spend the money," Itani said.

Meanwhile, IDAL has launched several incentives to draw investments into Lebanon.

The agency offers full income tax exemption for a period of 10 years from the commencement of a given project. It also offers work permits of all business categories provided that the project benefiting from the package preserves the interests of the local labor force by employing at least two Lebanese nationals for each foreign employee, and registers them in the National Social Security Fund.

Itani, however, said property sales in Lebanon rose sharply since the beginning of this year.

The Finance Ministry reported that close to $2 billion in real estate was sold in the fist five months of this year.

But Itani stressed that buying property is not considered a foreign direct investment.

"To me, an investment is a project that creates lasting job opportunities in Lebanon."

Beirut 18-07-2008
The Daily Star

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