A FEW SIMPLE STEPS

Lebanon 2013 | ECONOMY | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Nabil A. Itani, Chairman & General Manager of the Investment Development Authority of Lebanon (IDAL), on Lebanon's FDI environment and attractive sectors.

Nabil A. Itani
BIOGRAPHY
Born in 1953, Nabil A. Itani is Chairman and General Manager of the Investment Development Authority of Lebanon (IDAL). His career spans over three decades of professional achievement, including significant contributions to the architectural profession and diligent service to his native Lebanon. An accomplished architect and architectural consultant, his professional experience is wide-ranging and far-reaching, encompassing the design and supervision of landmark projects in Lebanon and around the Arab world.

How would you assess the flow of FDI in 2013?

The main mandate of the Investment Development Authority of Lebanon (IDAL) is to encourage investment and attract foreign capital to Lebanon. In the last few years, the turmoil happening in the MENA region has had its toll on the image of the region as a viable destination for investment, and since Lebanon is well known as the region's business hub, we were indirectly affected. From an investor's point of view, regional opportunities and access are more important than local access, and it is the regional picture that matters the most. If the region is unstable, then investing in a country as a means to reach out to the wider market becomes precarious. Since 2011, the Middle East has been passing through challenges with the various revolutions in places like Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, and Syria. In 2012, the conflict in Syria began to escalate and it directly affected the economy in Lebanon. Syria is a neighboring country and our land exports and transit depend on it for us to reach our traditional markets. This resulted in an economic slowdown in some sectors; however, UNCTAD's World Investment Report 2013 and the Arab Investment and Export Guarantee Corporation recently released FDI figures for 2012 that highlighted that, despite the current political and security conditions, FDI inflows to Lebanon reached $3.79 billion. This is an 8.5% increase from 2011, making Lebanon one of the largest recipients of FDI in the region, ranking third after the UAE and Saudi Arabia.

Who is currently investing in Lebanon?

To understand who is investing in Lebanon, we need to look first at what makes the country an attractive business destination. The country relies on many competitive advantages, among which are its liberal market, strategic geographic location, cosmopolitan lifestyle, the availability of skilled labor, and the soundness of the banking sector, among others. These advantages contribute to attracting investment from three main categories: local investors and expatriates, Arab investors, and international investors. As it is quite well known, Lebanon has a wide diaspora, with many success stories across the globe. Recently, we have started witnessing the re-location of some of their businesses to Lebanon after they were affected in their host countries by the financial crisis and the political situation in some of the Arab countries they are in. The second category as mentioned includes Arab investors, especially from the Gulf area. Lebanon depends heavily on this category of investors. The third category represents international companies that choose Lebanon as a hub for their operations in the Middle East.

What figures are you expecting in terms of FDI?

Investments that pass through IDAL to benefit from financial incentives and our one-stop-shop services do not represent all of the investments in the country. This is because there are some eligibility criteria, such as the size of investment and number of jobs created, which are taken into consideration. Consequently, in terms of the overall size of investments, and according to the UNCTAD, we reached $3.79 billion in 2012, up 8.5% on the previous year. As such, we are among the few countries that registered an increase in FDI during 2012.

What are Lebanon's advantages as a destination for FDI?

There are four main advantages: accessibility to regional markets (consisting of 300 million consumers) enhanced by a great number of bilateral agreements; accessibility to human resources—qualified workers can be hired in Lebanon at a very competitive price compared to other areas in the region; accessibility to resources and raw materials—Lebanon is situated in an area that is rich in raw materials; and accessibility to finance—due to a very sophisticated banking and services sector that surpasses our boundaries as we have around 112 branches of Lebanese banks outside Lebanon, targeting the diaspora all over the world as well as Gulf and EU citizens. The deposits in the banking sector are three times the GDP of Lebanon. All of these pillars constitute a well regulated, investor-friendly environment.