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Battle outlines issues to be tackled in order to attract US investment (Daily Star)

The government and the private sector should seriously address issues of corruption, transparency, cost of production and some commercial laws in order to attract American investment, US ambassador to Lebanon Vincent Battle said Wednesday.

The ambassador also assured Lebanese companies that they are welcome to participate in reconstruction efforts in Iraq. Speaking at a luncheon hosted in his honor by the Lebanese Industrialists Association (LIA), Battle stressed that investment opportunities are good in Lebanon but work is needed to make them attractive.

Battle, who recently made a 15-day tour of the US to promote investments in Lebanon, also had words of advice to local industrialists and investors. “The family-owned business in Lebanon should gradually turn public. This way more investors will be willing to put money in these companies,” the ambassador said.

Most companies and banks in the country are family-oriented, which impedes economic growth and discourages foreign firms from making any investments in these institutions. The ambassador said about 200 Lebanese-American businesspeople are expected to come here in September to attend a “Made in the USA” exhibition in Beirut.

Battle said that most Lebanese who have been living in the United States for a long time did not have enough information about Lebanon. “Many of these investors asked questions about investment laws, the stock exchange, and how ratings agencies like Moody’s and Standards & Poor’s view investments in Lebanon,” Battle said.

The ambassador added that many Lebanese-American businesspeople are afraid to make any investments here because they don’t know who to deal with. “Lebanese-American businesspeople are not at ease dealing with family-run businesses,” Battle said.

He added that visiting Lebanese-American businesspeople might not come here to invest but rather to find out more about the country. Battle said the fair in September will be followed by other events to strengthen the ties between Lebanese living in the US and Lebanon.

The ambassador also commented on the complaints of Lebanese industrialists and companies who lost millions of dollars worth of contracts after the fall of the Iraqi regime. “There are many Lebanese businessmen who are physically in Iraq and trying to win contracts,” he said.

Some Lebanese companies have claimed that they lost about $1 billion worth of contracts in Iraq after US forces ousted Saddam Hussein. The president of the LIA, Fadi Abboud, told Battle that Lebanese industrialists have suffered a great loss in Iraq. “We have built excellent business-to-business relations there over the years, and now we have to stand in line to qualify for small contracts,” Abboud complained. He added that Lebanese companies should search the internet for pages that list contracts in Iraq. “Once the UN Security Council adopts a new resolution on Iraq, all companies will be able to take part in the reconstruction of Iraq,” Battle said. He added that it is not easy at the moment to travel to Iraq for business purposes.

Asked when American airlines will resume direct flights to Beirut, Battle said that the US needs the proper environment to allow American carriers to fly to Lebanon. He added that if the Lebanese Parliament passed new legislation on airport security, this would increase the chances of direct flights from the US.

Civil Aviation officials have submitted a proposal to the government to improve security inspection at Beirut International Airport.

Concerning US investments in Lebanon, Battle said US companies have contracts with Solidere and the Council for Reconstruction and Development. He added that the lack of direct flights has had an impact on business opportunities in Lebanon but that stability in the region will encourage more American investment here.

He also pinned high hopes on the US-sponsored “road map” between the Palestinians and Israelis. Battle also paid tribute to Lebanese businesspeople who are willing to take chances in dangerous countries, citing Liberia and Nigeria as examples. He said that more efforts are needed by both the government and the private sector to attract US investment.

Minister of Industry Elias Skaff told Battle that many Lebanese goods are not entering the US because they do not meet the country of origin certificate rules. He urged the ambassador to help overcome this issue to help the entry of Lebanese goods to the United States.

Beirut 21-07-2003
Osama Habib
The Daily Star

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