A HARD DAY’S WORK

Lebanon 2017 | INDUSTRY | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Dr. Hussein Elhajj Hassan, Minister of Industry, on how the government can intelligently help the industrial sector, boosting exports to the EU, and increasing the share of industry as a percentage of GDP.

Dr. Hussein Elhajj Hassan
BIOGRAPHY
Dr. Hussein Elhajj Hassan first ran for office in Lebanon’s 1996 general election and was elected MP of Bekaa’s Baalbek constituency. He was re-elected in the 2000, 2005, and 2009 polls. From 2000 to 2005, he led the parliamentary commission on Agriculture and Tourism. He was named Minister of Agriculture in November 2009 in Saad Hariri’s national unity government. He is part of the Loyalty to the Resistance, an opposition parliamentary bloc. He holds a PhD in molecular biophysical chemistry from the University of Orléans.

What have been the highlights of the 10-year strategy for the development of the industrial sector, and how is it evolving?

We are moving in the right direction. The government is sensitive about the question of the economy and industry. Everyone is talking about the problem and how we must solve it. We have several ways to go about this: the first is to subsidize the cost of production; the second is to adopt taxes to protect our industry; the third is to figure out how to reduce the cost of production by using gas, wind, or solar energy, or by using a new means of production in some industries; and the fourth is to enhance our exports, especially to the EU. We have had a large discussion with the EU during this period. We sent a letter about exports from Lebanon in six sectors. These include pharmaceutical, dairy, meal, textiles and clothes, spices and nuts, and the food industry. The ambiance between Europe and us is positive; we hope to soon reach a solid agreement and forge a strong partnership.

How is the process of developing industrial clusters and parks evolving?

We are also at a positive point in that project. We have USD10 million as a loan from the Italian government. The European Investment Bank also proffered a soft loan for a large amount. We have a discussion next week between our ministry and the European Investment Bank here in Lebanon about this. This amount being given by the Italian government gives this project a lot of credibility.

Which sectors are growing faster than others?

The food and cloth industries are growing the fastest. The cloth sector will be in an even better condition if the EU gives a positive response about the rules of origin. We also see improvement in the pharmaceutical industry, jewelry, IT, and electronics, software, and automatics and robotics.

What is the level of success of the maritime exports program, implemented as a result of the closure of the Syrian border?

Recently, we had a meeting with the Council of Ministers, the Prime Minister, and the Ministers of Industry, Agriculture, and Economy. The general directors and Idal were also there. We discussed this project and we have a new program in which we are prepared to subsidize the cost of transport to naturalize the negative effect of the Syrian war on the transport of goods from Lebanon to the Gulf, Iraq, and Jordan. The program is there, and our discussion focused on the expansion of this program.

What are your prospects for the sector in the mid term?

GDP must be increased to USD70 billion and industry must account for around USD15 billion of this. We have a duty to face our crisis by increasing our GDP and the percentage of industry in it. Our goals and priorities for the coming years are to improve and increase exports, start the new industrial zone, and reduce the cost of energy by introducing gas and new sources of energy. There are three industrial zones, and we will prepare about another five to six.