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French Version

Going global : taking Lebanese industry to a higher plane - Skaff calls for international focus (Daily Star)

'The top priority for finance includes an Investment Industrial Fund that enterprises can access directly’
Industry Minister Elias Skaff on Monday stressed that Lebanon needs to capitalize on its competitive advantages to compete in the global market, suggesting the enhancement of partnerships between the public and the private sectors as a means to serve this end.

Skaff made this statement at the Movenpick Hotel in Raouche during the fifth edition of the CEO Network, which was titled Positioning Lebanon’s Industrial Sector.

Organized by Data and Investment Consult-Lebanon, the conference included CEOs of Lebanon’s top companies, who gathered, along with the interior minister, to discuss issues affecting the growth of the industrial sector.

Skaff said many industrialists have lost faith in their strengths and capabilities to help the economy grow, because of the increase in economic difficulties.

The minister explained that although Lebanon is witnessing a sluggish economy, the cost of establishing a manufacturing business remains exorbitant despite the high rate of unemployment.“We are really not doing that badly,” the minister said. “If looked closely at what has been achieved so far, it is not a small feat at all.”

Skaff continued, explaining that the fundamental strengths of Lebanon lie in its industrial know-how as well as in its infrastructure, the free flow of capital, information, people, services and goods.“These attributes are unique and important, for they are essentially what sets Lebanon apart from other Middle Eastern countries,” Skaff said.

Skaff asked why these attributes have not attracted foreign direct investment and why Lebanon continues to struggle with the issue of competition.

He said the ministry has been involved in improving the situation of the industrial sector, in cooperation with the European Union.“Our main aim at the ministry is to be prepared to compete internationally,” Skaff said, adding that the ministry is working to find ways to improve the performance of manufacturing companies, particularly in competitive sectors. “We plan to improve the performance through network-building and access to advanced technology, improving the quality of products, enhancing management techniques and improving our knowledge of markets and information,” Skaff added.

All present agreed that it was time for Lebanese industrialists to take advantage of subsidized projects and benefit from new domestic and export niches.

The minister stressed that Lebanese industrialists should promote their enterprises and continue to innovate and increase productivity, especially by encouraging small and medium enterprises (SMEs) to grow, invest, develop skills, adopt proper practices and exploit opportunities abroad.“The key is to improve the business environment and enterprise policy,” Skaff said.

Skaff also said that there should be some sort of agreement between bankers and industrialists to make restructuring debt possible and working capital available without excessive demands for collateral and personal guarantees.“The top priority for finance includes an SME Investment Industrial Fund that enterprises can access directly,” Skaff said, “the aim of this fund is to attract external funds such as the World Bank.”

These are all secondary solutions which could help the Lebanese industrial sector. However, most industrialists complained about the current cost of production, especially electricity, and how it will be difficult, if not impossible, to compete on international markets. “We are negotiating with the Electricity Ministry to reduce the cost of electricity for industry by 50 percent,” Skaff said.

He explained that since industrialists do not use electricity between the hours of 11pm and 7am, it would be possible to reduce their electricity costs by 50 percent. “It is just a question of time before this is done,” Skaff added.

Skaff also said he was optimistic about the future of Lebanon. The aim is to become competitive enough to compete for markets in the Middle East, followed by Europe and eventually, the global market. “We want to enhance the industrial and financial sectors by energizing them,” Skaff said, explaining that increasing the volume of investment in Lebanon would lead to an increase in job opportunities and liquidity in the local market.

In order to attract foreign investment, it will be important to create a modern industrial park, which the ministry hopes to locate in an area with cheap land and modern infrastructure.

Beirut 01-08-2003
Tania Tavoukjian
The Daily Star

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