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French Version

Region expects economic boom after oil-price hikes

Producers record surplus in budgets
Arab investors pressure governments to liberalize their economies

A leading Arab Gulf investor said on Wednesday that the region is expected to enjoy an economic boom over the next few years thanks to the surge in the prices of oil.

Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and other oil producing countries in the region recorded a surplus in their budgets for the first time in many years after the oil prices reached more than $50 per barrel.

"The revival of the U.S. economy this year after years of recession has apparently reflected positively on the economies of the region," said Faysal Abdullah al Khazam, the chairman of the Kuwaiti-based Gulf Investment House at the opening of a two day forum organized by Al-Iktissad Wal-Aamal magazine in Beirut.

He added that the U.S. has managed to overcome the negative effects of the Sept. 11 2002, attacks which to some extent negatively affected the world economy.

Other participants confirmed that Arab investors transferred some of their assets from the U.S. and Europe to some Arab countries, fearing that their investments may be seized by the authorities in these countries.

It is believed that a portion of the $1.2 trillion Arab assets in the U.S. and Europe found their way to Saudi Arabia and other Arab states following Sept. 11.

The U.S. authorities seized the assets of a number of Arab and Islamic banks on the grounds that these funds were used to finance terrorist activities in the West.

But Arab investors are pressing their governments to liberalize their economies, fight corruption and improve the judicial systems to encourage companies to repatriate their money from the West.

Khazam said Gulf investors are mainly interested in real-estate investments in the region.

He added that his company is looking into investment opportunities in Lebanon.

Prime Minister Omar Karami, who opened the conference, said Lebanon offers a lot of investment opportunities to Arab companies and businessmen.

He added that the government has adopted a number of fiscal and economic reforms to facilitate investments and achieve growth.

The premier said the International Monetary Fund has projected a 5 percent GDP growth at the end of 2004.

"I want to seize this occasion to say that our government is still committed to the Paris II donor conference which pledged economic reforms to reduce the public debt," Karami said.

He added that the number of tourists in Lebanon is expected to reach over 1.3 million at the end of 2004, thanks to the positive climate in the country.

Karami urged investors to ignore political bickering in the country because "this is part of the democratic process."

The organizers of the event said that Arab investments in Lebanon are worth $10 billion. Most of these investments are in property and government treasury bills.

Beirut 27-12-2004
Osama Habib
The Daily Star

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