TWO FOR THE MONEY

Lebanon 2017 | ECONOMY | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Nabil A. Itani, Chairman of the Investment Development Authority of Lebanon (IDAL), on increasing Lebanon's short-term investment flows, tapping into the diaspora, and bolstering the country's vibrant start-up community to bring long-term prosperity.

 Nabil A. Itani
BIOGRAPHY
Nabil A. Itani was born in 1953. He is an architect and since 2005 has acted as Chairman and General Manager of the Investment Development Authority of Lebanon (IDAL). He was recently part of the ministerial committee appointed to amend decrees pertaining to Investment Law No. 360. He has been a key decision maker and participant in a number of legislative committees of high standing in the architectural profession within Lebanon and throughout the region. He made significant contributions to establishing the by-laws, regulations, and structure of the Order of Engineers and Architects. He is also member of the Union of Arab Architects and the Union of International Architects.

What is Lebanon's capacity for increasing its short-term FDI flows?

Lebanon can offer a lot to investors, and our slogan for this year is “the pleasure of doing business.” Any investor can benefit from the business climate in Lebanon, human resources, lifestyle, quality of education, and all the fundamentals of an open market economy. It is true that the Lebanese economy has been affected by the Syrian conflict since 2011, but now, with the election of the new president and the formation of the government, we are expecting more political stability, which will contribute to the achievement of our ultimate goal, the enhancement of our business climate. Lebanon is on the right track and will be able to achieve larger growth in the years to come, especially with the launch of oil and gas extraction plans and the reconstruction of Syria.

Local, international, and Arab investors are key to the country; however, the diaspora also plays an important role. How is IDAL working for diaspora Lebanese to invest in their homeland?

Our target investors, the ones that have invested in Lebanon historically, are split into four main categories: local investors, the diaspora, Gulf Arabs, and multinational companies that provide goods and services or use Lebanon as a regional hub. However, due to the conflict in the region, of these main categories only two invested between 2011 and 2016: locals and the diaspora. Regarding the latter, we have been doing a lot recently; we participated at the LDE conferences held in New York, São Paulo, and South Africa. Organized by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, these were aimed at encouraging diaspora investors not only to invest in Lebanon, but also to be connected with the country through three main axes: by investing in Lebanon and creating partnerships with Lebanese companies; enhancing trade between Lebanon and their host countries; and by encouraging them to adopt Lebanon as an outsourcing hub, given our high-quality products, components, and services.

How is IDAL working to push for new markets?

We have launched a range of programs that subsidize exports in the industrial and agricultural sectors, such as the Agri Plus and Agromap Programs. We have also launched the MLeb (maritime Lebanese exports bridge) initiative in response to the closure of all our land borders due to the Syrian crisis. Although the aim of this initiative is to maintain our products' presence in the traditional markets, we wanted exporters to adapt to maritime transportation so they can go much farther and access new markets in the Americas, Europe, and Australia. IDAL also supports the promotion of the agrofood exports to regional and international markets by increasing the competitiveness of exporters, providing agrofood products with a wider exposure to foreign markets, and giving companies financial assistance to participate in international food fairs such as SIAL, Gulfood, Anuga, Fancy Food Show, and Horeca.

What is Lebanon's capacity for becoming a start-up hub in the region?

In 2017, IDAL launched a program as a business supporter to help start-ups get their operations off the ground in Lebanon. It will help them with the legal infrastructure, how to register their company, trademark, and idea, and how to secure the money for investment.

What are your main goals and priorities for the year ahead?

As a key government player in economic development and as the country's national investment promotion agency, IDAL's plan for 2017 will focus mainly on increasing employment opportunities in the outskirts of the capital, with an increasing focus on the areas with the highest incidence of overall and youth unemployment. To that end, IDAL will partner with public and private sector stakeholders as well as international organizations to identify concrete investment opportunities in selected regions and work on mobilizing financing to ensure implementation of these opportunities. Special focus will be placed on identifying projects in the agrofood and industrial sectors using new technologies to enhance productivity and competitiveness.