Hariri Reassures CEDRE Implementation Despite Government Formation Delays

Published December 13th, 2018 - 07:00 GMT
Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri. (AFP)
Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri. (AFP)

Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri gave the keynote speech this morning at the opening of the Lebanese-UK Business and Investment Forum at Savoy Placein London. 

The other speakers at the session were the UK Minister of State for the Middle East and International Development Alistair Burt,caretaker Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil, the UK Trade commissioner for the Middle East Simon Penny and the Lebanese Ambassador to the UK Rami Mortada. Minister Burt announced a new £30m programme to deliver on the UK's CEDRE pledge. 

The opening was attended by caretaker Ministers Ghattas Khoury, Gebran Bassil, Raed Khoury andCesar Abi Khalil, Minister Burt, UK State Secretary for Trade Policy at the International Trade Department George Hollingbery, ambassador Mortada, the British ambassador to Lebanon Chris Rampling, the French envoy in charge of the follow-up of CEDRE Ambassador Pierre Duquesne, the Governor of the Central Bank Riad Salame, the President of the Council for Development and Reconstruction Nabil Jisr, the Head of Economic Organizations Mohammed Choukair, the President of the Economic and Social Council Charles Arbid, the Mayor of Beirut Jamal Itani and a large crowd of businessmen, economists and investors from both countries and representatives of international financial institutions. 

In his delivered word, Prime Minister Hariri said: "I am pleased to be here today, heading a high level Lebanese delegation from both the public and private sectors, to take part in the first Lebanon-UK business and investment forum. 

It is true that our meeting is taking place at a time when both our countries are navigating through various challenges. However, this should not stall our joint efforts to further the excellent and effective partnerships that we have forged over the years on the political, security and business fronts. I am confident that today's event will take our business and investment relations to levels that meet our ambitions and our potential. The signing of the engine agreement between Middle East Airlines and Rolls Royce later today attests to this potential. 

Admittedly, Lebanon's economy is under tremendous pressure, due partly to continued regional turmoil. Moreover, our economic and social challenges are compounded by the continued presence of one and a half million Syrians displaced for the eighth year in a row. 

At the CEDRE conference in Paris, the Lebanese government presented a comprehensive vision aimed at jumpstarting growth through revamping our physical infrastructure, restructuring the public sector, modernizing our legislation and procedures, enhancing governance and improving transparency, updating procurement laws and procedures, and unleashing the potential of our productive sectors. This vision is anchored in significant fiscal adjustment so as to ensure macroeconomic stability. 

This vision, the pillars of which will be discussed later today, was welcomed and supported by all countries and financial institutions present at the conference, including the United Kingdom. The private sector, Lebanese and international, has an important role to play in the execution of this vision. Today's forum is in line with the road map that we have envisaged to achieve this objective. 

After the convening of CEDRE, Lebanon successfully convened parliamentary elections, and embarked on the process of forming a national unity government while respecting Lebanon's delicate political balance. Admittedly, this is not an easy task and it explains why the process of government formation is taking more time than desired. Maintaining this delicate balance and forging political consensus is of utmost importance and the only way to ensure that the CEDRE agenda is on the right track. 

That said, the delay in government formation has not halted our progress on the implementation of the CEDRE projects and reforms. 
Indeed, since CEDRE, we have been revisiting certain sectors and projects to expedite planning and execution. We are also maintaining regular dialogue with the Multilateral Development banks, many of them are present with us today, to align the funding pledged at CEDRE with the projects of Lebanon's Capital Investment Program. We launched earlier this year three PPP projects in the transport and telecommunications sectors. Other mega projects are also currently under discussion. In this connection, I invite you to take a look at the multi-year plan presented at CEDRE to rehabilitate and modernize our physical infrastructure as it offers vast opportunities for British businesses, in the transport, water, waste water and energy sectors, including renewable energy. To put it in numbers, we envisage spending around USD 2 billion a year on infrastructure projects.

In addition, since CEDRE, we have finalized with the consultant Mkinsey a comprehensive productive sectors strategy identifying major investment opportunities in five key sectors namely industry, agriculture, tourism, financial services and the knowledge economy. The strategy will be unveiled after the formation of the new government. 

Moreover, the Lebanese Parliament ratified in September important legislations pertaining to judicial mediation, e-transactions, transparency in the oil and gas sector, whistleblower protection as well as a framework law for the solid waste sector. The remaining legislative reforms, as outlined in the CEDRE agenda, are currently under discussion in the joint parliamentary committees. Capital market reforms are ongoing, as you will also discuss later today with the governor of the Central Bank, and the preparations for the second licensing round for oil and gas exploration are steadily advancing. 

Undoubtedly, our region is witnessing a critical period. I believe that despite all the ongoing turmoil, the region is headed towards a period of stability, growth and prosperity, and we all need to be prepared for this phase in order to tap into the numerous investment and business opportunities that lie ahead. One way for both of us to move forward is for the private sector in both our countries to establish joint ventures and partnerships. The Lebanese private sector is well established in the countries of the region, especially those expected to witness major reconstruction efforts, such as Iraq and in due time Syria. Furthermore, the Tripoli Special Economic Zone in northern Lebanon presents the ideal platform for British manufacturers to produce and export to the region. The zone is strategically located, only 30 km away from the Syrian borders and adjacent to the second largest port in Lebanon.

It benefits from a state of the art infrastructure, a regulatory framework that is conducive to private sector investment, and generous fiscal and administrative incentives. The zone, coupled with other logistics facilities in the area, will also position Lebanon as a natural platform for the eventual reconstruction of Syria. 

I have no doubt that the future of Lebanon is bright. Indeed, my country is undergoing major economic and infrastructure rehabilitation.I invite you to be part of this process. To be part of the change that is awaiting Lebanon. To help us shape the new Lebanon we all aspire to, the Lebanon we want, the Lebanon of stability, prosperity, diversity and coexistence. Our dialogue does not end today. In fact, this forum and the subsequent follow up to it will mark the beginning of a new journey in the Lebanese British business and investment relations, one that builds on the solid partnership of the past and paves the way for increased cooperation and new ventures. 

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I look forward to welcoming you in Lebanon. All government institutions and myself will be available to handle any issue or concern you may have when considering an investment opportunity in Lebanon. The new government will be firmly committed to the CEDRE reforms, including fiscal reforms. We succeeded over the past months in ensuring strong political consensus in the country over key reform measures, and all stakeholders are determined to work together to make sure that their implementation takes place in a timely manner. 

I invite you to visit Lebanon and meet our talents, our creative minds, to feel the energy of our private sector and entrepreneurs, and to witness first-hand Lebanon's economic revival. Finally, I would like to extend my appreciation to Ambassadors Chris Rampling and Rami Mortada and their respective teams for their remarkable work over the past months to organize this event with large participation from Lebanon and the United Kingdom, as well as participation of senior representatives of international financial institutions and multilateral development banks

I want to tell you that, yes, we do not have a government but we are passing laws, we will work with CEDRE, with the reforms, we want to make it a success with the help of everyone. The President, the Speaker and everybody understands the process that we are in and understand the opportunity that we have from CEDRE and everybody is much invested in this process and thank you for being here and I would love to see you in Lebanon".

Ambassador Mortada was the first speaker. He said: "We have been asked on several occasions recently why have we chosen to hold this event and to maintain it at a time where uncertainties prevail. Our answer is that specifically one has to look for certainty and serenity, whatever happens on the numerous tracks you might have in mind here and there. This UK-Lebanese partnership has been put to test as has emerged open-ended. 

These business opportunities you are going to see today are great values and safe bets that will be there for us to grasp. But holding and maintaining this event would not have been possible without the determination of Prime Minister Hariri and his belief in the potential of the Lebanon-UK relations. His belief in a vision for Lebanon which includes an open and trustworthy outreach to the international business community, a vision for a Lebanon capitalizing on its ability to always produce a positive dynamic whenever difficulties and uncertainties accumulate. Uncertainties are obviously dominant everywhere and they have become a global reality and Lebanon is no exception to that. But Lebanon is also determined to engage and to do what is needed.

Thank you Prime Minister Hariri for honoring us with your presence, and thank you Minister Bassil for also honoring us with your presence. Finally I wish to thank all those who contributed to this event. What started as a Lebanese event became an unprecedented joint Lebanon-UK endeavor to reveal what we all believe is there. It will be the first of hopefully series of events in London to explore the full potential of the Lebanon-UK partnership. The embassy of Lebanon in London has already started preparations for a future similar event aiming this time at capitalizing on the potential in technology, ecosystem, financial services education and health services. On all this UK expertise can be transformative in Lebanon". 

Minister Burt, for his part, said:

"Last month I had the honour of speaking at Lebanon's National Day, where among other things we celebrated your 75th anniversary of independence. Prime Minister, the UK was among the first to recognise your country's independence three quarters of a century ago, and we remain a staunch supporter of Lebanon's sovereignty and territorial integrity. 

The relationship between our two countries has never been stronger. UK support to Lebanon is now worth around $200 million per year. We are proud of the work we have undertaken together, which, along with the continued efforts of the Lebanese people, and the support of your many friends in the international community, has helped Lebanon to remain a comparative beacon of calm in a troubled region.

Our growing security partnership has played its part. This includes our support for the Lebanese Armed Forces, which has helped to secure Lebanon's border with Syria for the first time in Lebanon's history.

Thanks in part to our security cooperation, Lebanon is still the only country - and the LAF the only army - to have successfully repelled an invasion by Daesh.We remain committed to an enduring security partnershipwith Lebanon, in the interests of its long term stability and security.

There is no question that the security situation in Lebanon has much improved in the last few years. And as security has improved, so too have the opportunities for tourism, as our official Foreign Office travel advice shows.

We have now lifted our advice against travel to some parts of the country, which means that British tourists are now free to visit sites such as the magnificent Roman ruins of Baalbeck, which I was fortunate enough to see for myself in June. I hope our revised travel advice will enable many more British visitors to experience the warmth of Lebanese hospitality as I have done.

The improved security situation also has clear implications for enhancing our mutual prosperity through boosting British tourism in Lebanon, as well as greater business investment, and we have already started to focus more closely on this area. Allow me to focus on the future opportunities.

First, we have just appointed the first Her Majesty's Trade Commissioner for the Middle East, Simon Penney, who made his first successful visit to Lebanon last month. Simon shares my view that there is significant scope and appetite for greater investment in Lebanon. 

It's a view reinforced by the $300 million trade deal being signed between Rolls Royce and MEA today. 

Lebanon represents a new frontier for investors in search of yield. Last April the Lebanese Government published its Capital Investment Programme which received great support from the international community at CEDRE [see-dah]. Power-generation, Public Transport, Water supply and other projects from the $22bn plus Programme all offer hefty potential returns for investors. 
I very much hope to see UK firms bidding for and winning contracts under this plan in the years ahead.

Lebanon needs to do important things before these investment promises can realised. It has to fulfil its commitments to economic reform, and for that to happen it needs to have a government in place quickly, and one which will be able to swiftly enact crucial confidence building measures on transparency, fiscal discipline and the ease of doing business. I welcome Prime Minister designate Hariri's efforts in this regard. 

I hope that the new administration will be one that is committed to strengthening Lebanese sovereignty and stability, in addition to implementing those important reforms to help boost Lebanon's economy.

Lebanon's economy has shown remarkable reliance through external crises, supported by the Central Bank and sophisticated banking sector as a pillar of stability throughout. 

And whenever I visit Lebanon, I am impressed by the wealth of talented and entrepreneurial businessmen and women whom I meet. Not to mention the mighty successful Lebanese diaspora. I don't need to tell you that Lebanon's entrepreneurs have a reputation of being some of the most dynamic and determined in the world. Lebanon's private sector has always been a resilient engine for growth in Lebanon through thick and thin. 

Lebanon has unique factors unlike any other. It benefits from a large and resilient remittance base, a large and profitable banking sector and a dynamic private sector that excels in Tourism, Architecture and Construction as well as Wholesale and Retail Trade, and increasingly in pharmaceuticals and Information and Communications Technology. Meanwhile the art, design and fashion scene is making an ever more impressive mark; putting Lebanon on the map for all the right reasons.

Now, to capitalise on these strong foundations, in order to address the external and internal economic challenges, the new government must set a roadmap and embark on implementation of the reform commitments set out at the CEDRE conference. 

I am pleased to announce today a new £30m programme to deliver on the UK's CEDRE pledge. This programme will provide technical assistance to support the Government's reform vision and will prepare infrastructure projects for investment. Sufficient momentum by the Lebanese Government on reforms will unlock grant funding for infrastructure, helping to attract additional private sector investment.

This programme, along with the $11bn of support pledged by the international community, will help unlock the investment potential in Lebanon's economy. 

As we look to strengthen our trade and investment ties with Lebanon, we are also determined to ensure the continuity of existing trade after the UK leaves the European Union. That means replicating the existing EU-Lebanon Association Agreement as well as ensuring a smooth transition to new bilateral trading arrangements.

This will mean that Lebanese companies can continue to import and export from the UK without disruption, and UK companies can continue to invest in Lebanon. We are working closely and productively with the Lebanese Government to achieve this goal.

To conclude, Lebanon is a byword for tolerance, resilience and democracy, and the UK is proud to be her partner. We want Lebanon to flourish long into the future and we will remain by her side, supporting her every step of the way.

With an ever improving security situation and with economic reforms being undertaken under a new government, there will be increasing opportunities for investment in Lebanon. A number of British firms are already seizing those opportunities.

For those of you in the audience who have yet to do so, I would invite you to give Lebanon your close consideration - and I offer you a personal tip: the wine is very good!" 

Trade commissioner Penny said: 

"Let me start by welcoming you, Prime Minister Hariri . It is a great honour that you have chosen the UK as the venue for this Forum. My name is Simon Penney and I am her Majesty's trade Commissioner for the Middle East. My role covers three area: growing bilateral trade between Lebanon and the UK, growing FDI between Lebanon and the UK and finally trade policy between our two countries. 

As Minister Burt says, the relationship between our two countries has never been stronger. And trade is at the heart of that relationship. Our trade and investment is stronger than ever and getting stronger still. Over the last year our total trade has reached nearly £600 million. 

British foreign direct investment in Lebanon leapt by 47% between 2015 and '16 alone. You can see that in the Beirut Container Terminal Consortium, a joint venture with Mersey Docks and Harbour (UK), which has helped make the Port of Beirut the busiest port in the Eastern Mediterranean. 

You can see it in the UK-Lebanon Tech hub, a joint initiative of the Central Bank of Lebanon and the UK government, which since its launch in 2015 has supported over 80 startups and helped create 2,000 jobs. 

These opportunities are continuing to flow in. Just last month the London Stock Exchange Group launched its new ELITE programme for Lebanese businesses, with the patronage of the Lebanese Capital Market Authority.

This programme has a solid track record of taking businesses through the dual listing process and helping them get investment. I look forward to seeing the first cohort of firms graduate. And today, we have a $300 million deal between Rolls Royce and Middle East Airlines. 

I believe these opportunities can continue to flow and our trade can continue to strengthen. But we all have to play our part to make sure that happens. 

As Minister Burt said, tough decisions still need to be made for the betterment of the economy and the people of Lebanon. For that to happen, it needs to have a government in place and I too welcome Prime Minister designate Hariri's efforts to make that a reality.The steps you, Prime Minister, are taking, are a testament to the importance you place on trade and on tackling the challenges Lebanon faces in attracting investment.If we build on those, and Lebanon fulfils its commitments to economic reform, I know that our firms will take notice. It will demonstrate that Lebanon is a country to invest in, and that in turn will be a pathway to jobs and trade.Another important step is to replicate the existing EU-Lebanon Association Agreement, to give British and Lebanese firms the certainty they need to continue investing and doing business with each other. 

As we in the UK look to our future outside of the European Union, I want to reassure all of you that we remain committed to the continuity of our trading relationship. Replicating the agreement will make that a reality.With all these steps in place, I believe trade between our two countries will go from strength to strength. As I said earlier, our trade and investment is stronger than ever before. But there are so many more opportunities for firms in both our countries to take.

Opportunities like oil. It is exciting to see Lebanon becoming an oil and gas producing country. The UK has great offshore expertise from North Sea oil and I am sure this opportunity will be very interesting to a number of businesses here today.

Opportunities like Public Private Partnerships in the infrastructure and energy sectors, especially through your Capital Investment Programme. We, as the pioneers of PPP, have a great deal of expertise to offer here.And many more opportunities besides. 

I had the pleasure of visiting Lebanon two weeks ago and took away three key observations: Lebanon is dynamic, Lebanon is ambitions and Lebanon is very much open for business and presents significant opportunities for UK firms.
So, I believe that the true potential of opportunities between Lebanon and the UK has not yet been tapped. Lebanon is a place of opportunity and immense potential. It offers great business opportunities in its own right, and it is a gateway for investment across the region. Business and government need to work ever more closely to secure those opportunities. I know many of our firms feel the same way. And I very much look forward to what the future holds for the trade relationship between our two countries with all that promises for prosperity, for security, and for stability". 

Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil, for his part, said: 

"Thank you for being so many this morning for the opening of the "Lebanon-UK business and investment Forum". Several elements linking strongly Lebanon to UK were determinantin holding this event and for me to take part of it, coming from Marrakech, the city that was the dearest to the heart of Sir Winston Churchill and lead to his greatest Mamounia paintings.

In this sense Lebanon can be the Mamounia place for thousands ofBritish to be inspired, good living and business:
1- Lebanon and UK partnership stands on a solid bedrock of common values based on multiculturalism, openness and democracy yielding to a commitment to entrepreneurship and business friendly spirit. 

2- Lebanon is a peace loving country which has always endured the proxy wars on its land, he was always aggressed by others but was never the aggressor, and he always respected UN resolutions and abides by UNSC 1701, thus striving for peace and stability.He always ensures freedoms and security for his own people and guests on the expenses of his economic and social interests. 

3- Lebanon has the highest human capital per capita and Lebanese are stories of success, whether residents or expats. The level of resilience they had shown, and the capacity to bare wars, hardships and the highest ever recorded number in human history of 200 refugees and displaced per square kilometer proves that they can defy any challenge and still succeed to provide positive energy that you can feel whenever you are in their surroundings. 

Lebanon has been for a long period of time a source of bad news, but we are here today, the prime minister and I, to carry for youa new positive message of hope and trust in our country. 

Since the election ofPresident Michel Aoun,and the formation of the current government lead by PM Hariri, the country has undertaken significant steps in addressing overdue dossiers starting from:

-reestablishing normalcy in the functioning of the institutionson the political, administrative, military, diplomatic and judiciary hence kick-starting a new dynamic in the work of the state,

-freeing our territories from the terrorist groups of Daesh and Nusra through our people and the Lebanese Armed Forces supported thankfully by the UK and other friends. 

-Awarding our first offshore oil and gas contract with a European consortium and laying the ground for the second licensing round to be held soon where we hope that British companies will take part in it. 

-Reinstating sound financial control and adopting a new budget, the first since 2005
-Holding overdue parliamentary elections based on a proportional law and allowing ourDiaspora to vote for the first time in Lebanese history.

This partnership between the president and the Prime Minister will certainly lead to the formation of the New Government despite all obstacles ushering to a new era for a prosperous Lebanon. 

Politics can divide us,but economy should unite us.Lebanon is to be beyond its stability, Lebanon should strive for its prosperity.
I here call on our friends, namely the British,to go beyond thanking us and praising us for our hospitality to the displaced Syrians, but rather engage with us in a win-win partnership aiming at the protection of the regional social fabric and diversity, hence favoring a safe, dignified, sustained and gradual return of the Syrians to their country away from any political agenda. Lebanon should stop being the recipient of the regional and Syrian crisis, Lebanon should be the platform for the reconstruction of Syria, Iraq and the Levant in due course, and you shall be our welcomed friends to use this platform.

This regional vision implies that we should inevitably accommodate our infrastructure accordingly:
1- Enlarging Beirut airport,and reestablishing those of Riyak Klayaat and Hamat. 
2- Expanding the commercial ports of Beirut, Tripoli and Saida and installing the touristic port of Jounieh. 
3- Constructing the railways between Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Jordan.
4- Creating the free zones on the Lebanese Syrian borders and the international roads accordingly.
5- Connecting Lebanon with Syria, Iraq, Jordan, Egypt and Turkey with an energy grid of oil, gas, electricity and water. 

All of the above is to be initiated in partnership with the private sector; both domestic and international,accounted for by our newly adopted PPP lawand partially covered by our Capital Investment Plan (CIP) of $11.5 Billion.
From our side, we will manage no effort to put the country on a path where it can reconnect with its deeply rooted legacy of entrepreneurship. We have a vision for the diversification of our productive and services sector, for stabilization, growth and employment.This vision was laid out during the Cedre conference and followed by a process of reforms and good governance and coupled with commitments for anticorruption measures and using the Mckinzey plan as a technical guidance. 

As Foreign Minister I have launched the economic diplomacy, under which falls this conference that will be a pilot for a series of similar ones in different capitals, and through which we are opening new markets all over the world,by signing new agreements and organizing visits and Lebanese Trade Shows for our products mainly the agro-alimentary ones.We have appointed recently, for the first time in our ministry, 20 economic attachés in 20 countries, one of them in London, who will have the task of promoting Lebanese products and encouraging mutual investments. 

As Minister for Emigrants, who considers our Diaspora as a national global wealth, I advise our British friends to look at Lebanon beyond its geographic dimension of 10,452 SKM, rather to its globalised dimension of the Lebanese successfulDiaspora spread across every continent, every country, every islandand every corner of the world. 

Accordingly, every business link with Lebanon and its 4 million residents will have a global outreach towards the 14 million expats. 

Lebanon is open for business.The Levant, the region and the world are open to you through Lebanon.
Dear British,as the Brexit process is on, and global Britain is taking its shape and repositioning itself accordingly, we want you to know that Lebanon is committed to a trade relationship which guarantees continuity and avoids disruption and provides a platform for further openness. Together we succeeded in a track record of joint action towards stability, and together today we want to succeed in producing prosperity. Together, we succeeded in a "crisis management mode", and together we want to succeed in a"crisis solving mode".Together we defeated terrorism, and together we will cherish diversity.Long live Britain, long live Lebanon". 

At the end of the session, a contract was signed between Middle East Airlines Chairman and Director General Mohammad el-Hout and Rolls-Royce Chairman Ian Davies, in the presence of Prime Minister Hariri and Minister Burt. According to the contract, Rolls-Royce will provide support for the engines powering the new MEA Airbus fleet. 

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