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French Version

New Lebanese Economy Minister upbeat on future

'we can do a lot during this time'
Qassar pledges international contacts to maintain financial stability

"I refuse the word 'collapse'.
I hate to say the country is collapsing because Lebanon will never

Such were the opening remarks of the new Economy Minister Adnan Qassar during a press conference at the Beirut Chamber of Commerce held on Thursday.

Qassar, the former president of the chamber of commerce and a prominent business leader, assured the members of the chamber that he is taking his job very seriously, despite that fact that the new cabinet has less than seven months before the parliamentary elections in Lebanon.

"Seven months is not a short period because we can do a lot during this time," Qassar said, adding that he will emphasize the importance of a strong economy in the policy statement of the government.

Qassar said that he will utilize his wide international contacts to help Lebanon maintain its economic stability.

Lebanon is under tremendous pressure from the United States and France because of the government's refusal to comply with UN Resolution 1559, which calls on all Syrian forces to pull out from Lebanon and to disarm all Lebanese and non-Lebanese militias.

Some analysts fear that the US and France may apply economic sanctions on Lebanon and Syria in the future, although most bankers rule out this option.

Qassar has formidable challenges ahead.

One of the biggest challenges was to maintain the relative economic growth that was achieved earlier this year thanks to the surge in the number of tourists and steady flow of foreign investments.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) projected a five percent GDP growth at the end of 2005.

However, the international pressure on Lebanon, coupled with the high public debt, may complicate the task of Qassar and his team.

Qassar is expected to continue the work of his predecessor Marwan Hamade, who was paving the way for Lebanon's enrollment to the World Trade Organization.

He must also take swift action against copyright violators before the United States decides to remove the tax exemption benefits on Lebanese exports to the US, as had been threatened last week.

But many leading bankers and businessmen expressed confidence in the ability of Qassar to deliver.

Joseph Torbey, president of the Association of Banks in Leb-anon, said that Qassar will represent the interests of the business community in government.

"The next seven months are very crucial and the government must provide the proper investment climate in the country," Torbey said.

Apart from Qassar, the government of Prime Minister Omar Karami also includes other distinguished bankers and economists. Maurice Sehnawi, chairman of Lebanese bank Societe Generale, is Energy Minister and economist Elias Saba was appointed as Finance Minister.

Beirut 02-11-2004
Osama Habib
The Daily Star

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