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French Version

Young businessmen focus on improving prospects in tough environment (Daily Star)

Finance minister among special guests at 2-day meeting in beirut
Overcoming national, regional economic stagnation is challenge that must be met

A meeting of young businessmen in Beirut on Wednesday focused on finding ways of improving their investment prospects and overcoming national and regional economic difficulties.

On its first day, the two-day meeting attracted more than 100 businessmen at the Phoenicia Inter-Continental Hotel as well as local personalities, MPs, ministers, Arab ministers and representatives from the Arab League.

Finance Minister Fouad Siniora, representing Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, said young businessmen are facing problems in the current international economic recession, in the slow investment environment in several sectors, and from inefficient Arab economic cooperation on an official level.

Siniora said that not all sectors are stagnating as many, such as the tourism, real estate, industrial and services sectors, are experiencing a boom.

Beirut MP and former Economy Minister Basil Fuleihan said young businessmen should not depend on the government and the public sector to solve their problems and boost their economic standing. “The public sector in the Arab world proved it is incapable of helping private businessmen develop,” said Fuleihan. “Such a policy does not imply the government should not exercise its role, but stressed the fact that young businessmen must depend on themselves to work in the region.”

Fuleihan also said the lack of investment between Arab countries is another reason for regional economic stagnation. He said Arab governments’ attempts to establish a free trade zone in the region has failed.
“If the Arab countries sign an agreement to encourage investment, it does not mean that investment will increase, because we should have regional investments before signing agreements to promote it,” Fuleihan explained.

Nabatieh MP Yassin Jaber, also a former economy minister, said the number of young people is increasing worldwide, which implies the creation of new job opportunities. Jaber said such an increase should not “constitute a problem to nations, but on the contrary helps in its development.”

He added that in less than a decade it is expected the Arab world’s population will be around 450 million, a significant proportion of which will be young people.

Jaber singled out education as a major aspect for promoting a country’s economic growth. He said a small proportion of Arab youth is educated while a majority still lack practical skills and training. He added that “the problem increases when this young, educated generation emmigrate to countries in need of their skills.”

Jaber said many families come to him asking for help in employing their sons and daughters: “The majority of these young people are not educated ­ the reason why they cannot find a job easily,” he said, adding that “competent youths do not need help in finding a job.”

Nader Naqib, a young businessman working at the BMC marketing consultant company, told The Daily Star that he is interested in attending the young businessmen gathering to establish connections and build a network.

Naqib said the company he works for operates when the economy is in decline as it studies the market and offers recommendations needed by companies wishing to operate here. Naqib said that “each young person who invests in a new business or opens a new company could be called a businessman.”

He added that what is mostly needed in the business sector is for young people to invest independently of their parents. “The young generation should not inherit the business from their family but try to create new ideas,” he said.

Rafik Zantout, the general manager of Confex, the event’s organizing company for the second year running, said the younger generation plays a leading role in society and has the right to decide the country’s economic future. He said the meeting is not a workshop but a place where young businessmen can gather and discuss their views.

Mediterranean Airways general director Fadi Saab stressed the importance of Arab cooperation in boosting regional economic activity. “A network should be established between young Arab businessmen to promote future development and encourage mutual investment,” he said.

Siniora encouraged the young businessmen “to increase their efforts in entering the international market with high standards.” He said it is important for young businessmen to cross the borders reached by official or bilateral cooperation, “as you are the first to take advantage of a regional open market and cooperation.”

Siniora hoped the gathering of young businessmen would provide a chance for discussion. “You always complained about the absence of your cooperation in the political and economic decision-making process, but we hope that today I can hear your ideas and proposals,” he said.

Siniora praised Lebanese youth for their distinguished skills, particularly in the business sector. He hoped the country’s young people will cooperate with each other and follow the latest international developments to boost the sector.

Beirut 08-09-2003
Nada Raad
The Daily Star

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