Officials from a number of Lebanese business organizations, including the Chamber of Commerce, Agriculture and Industry, the Beirut Traders’ Association and the Lebanese Industrialists’ Association met on November 16 with the newly elected prime minister, Rafik Hariri, and four members of his cabinet, to discuss a set of proposals they had formulated to achieve economic recovery.
The business executives left the meeting confident, but without receiving any promises from the Lebanese prime minister. “Premier Hariri has already implemented some of the economic solutions we have long called for,” said, Adnan Kassar, head of the Chamber of Commerce, Agriculture and Industry, as quoted by the Daily Star. Kassar clearly was referring to a new customs law, which is expected to be approved by Hariri’s cabinet a week later.
The four cabinet ministers who accompanied Hariri at the meeting were all former members of the business community, including Industry Minister George Frem, who soon is scheduled to introduce a plan which he has claimed will double Lebanese exports to $1.5 billion a year.
The demands that were presented to Hariri were divided up according to business sector. Among the requests being made by the commercial sector were a zero percent tariffs on raw materials and 5 percent tariffs on other imports, a lowering of electricity, water, telecom and petrol rates; a cut in employers’ social security contributions to 23 percent of salaries, lower interest rates; the floating of the Lebanese pound; a concerted effort to eradicating red tape and corruption; and the opening of the national economy to outside market forces.
The industrialists oppose the lowering of import tariffs on processed materials to 5 percent, because they fear such a move would threaten local production. However, they, too, would like to see a zero percent tariffs on raw materials. The industrialists also call for an end to social security payments, saying it should be replaced by another more efficient system.
Pierre Ashkar, head of the Hotel Owners’ Association, called on the government to increase the level of its promotion of Lebanon abroad, improve procedures and travel through ports and airports, to upgrade facilities at tourist sites; and to set up free trade zones
Members of the insurance sector a calling for a comprehensive insurance law, which will sort out a chaotic legal morass, in which different pieces of legislation even contradict one another. The also say that permit to sell and provide insurance policies should only be handed out to qualified professionals.
The agriculture sector called on the Lebanese government to help it find markets for surplus goods, to enforce lower production of those goods that cannot be marketed abroad, and to try and achieve agricultural parity with Syria
For the construction sector, to which Hariri—a former building contractor—is particularly close, the prime minister has promised new construction arbitration laws. The Lebanese Contractors’ Association has called for help in obtaining settlements on unpaid accounts, the adoption of a consistent tax policy, and the encouraging of banks to fund construction projects
The various organizations also issued a set of common demands. These included a call to introduce administrative, financial and socio-economic reforms; to sell public assets; to encouraging investment in the capital markets; to fight Lebanon’s chronic the brain drain; to open the market to outside forces; to fight corruption; to reduce the number of civil servants; to introduce new legislation concerning labor, accounting, trade, social security, income tax and loans; to boost investments in IT, and to prosecute copyright violations. — (Albawaba-MEBG)
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