After a 2-1/2-year presidential vacuum, Lebanese business leaders expressed an unusual optimism after the election of Michel Aoun as Lebanon’s 13th head of state. “I am sure that the political consensus that we have witnessed today with the election of President Michel Aoun will have an immediate positive impact on the economy similar to that seen following the Doha Accord in 2008,” said Nicolas Chammas, head of the Beirut Traders Association.
Chammas said that growth rates following the Doha Accord in 2009 and 2010 ranged between 9 percent and 10 percent in Lebanon while the rest of the world was experiencing a serious economic crisis. “Today with the presidential elections we are expecting the same results because trust and confidence in the state will be restored,” he said.
The immediate impact, in Chammas’ opinion, will be seen mainly in the trade and tourism sectors because people will feel at ease to consume again. “Of course the purchasing power of people needs time to improve but at least we will be having a positive atmosphere that will encourage people to consume more,” he said.
Michel Aoun was elected as Lebanon’s 13th president after gaining a majority in the second round of voting Monday, putting an end to the country’s vacuum. The presidential vacuum in the past two years had a severe impact on Lebanon’s economy as the country’s GDP growth fell for the first time to records as low as 1 percent. Also, several businesses shut down while unemployment rate increased to over 35 percent.
Chammas said the presidential elections came at the very right time because the fourth quarter of the year usually represents around 40 percent of trade activity. “We will see great improvements in trade statistics during the fourth quarter of the year for the first time in five years,” he said.
Chammas added that he felt very optimistic especially that Aoun promised, in his speech and following the constitutional oath, to focus on the economy by drafting a long term economic strategy to help the various economic sectors. “The president spoke of a long term economic strategy that is missing in Lebanon in addition to dealing with the excess of Syrian labors in the Lebanese market,” he said.
Chammas also said he is optimistic that the government will be formed soon, adding that its priority should be to restore ties with Gulf countries.
Likewise, Mohammad Choucair, head of the Lebanese Chamber of Commerce, Industry and Agriculture, said the new government’s priority must focus on restoring ties with the Gulf states “because Lebanon cannot survive economically without the Gulf region.”
Choucair said that tourism revenues in 2010 reached $8.4 billion but they dropped to $3.5 billion in the past two years due to the absence of tourists coming from the Gulf. “We do have tourists from Egypt, Iraq and other countries but no one can fill the gap created by the absence of Gulf tourists,” he said. “I made several visits to Gulf countries in the past two weeks and they said they all miss coming to Lebanon but they need to feel secure about it.”
Industrialist Jacques Sarraf reiterated Chammas’ comments by saying that the presidential elections took place at the very right moment which will end the pressure on the Lebanese economy. “Representatives of the economic sectors have been asking for the election of a president for the past two years and it finally happened,” he said. “We will surely see an improvement in the economy soon.”
Sarraf said he is optimistic that the government will be formed soon because this step is in the interest of all parties and in the country’s benefit as well. “I am sure we will witness a consensus in the formation of the government similar to that seen in the presidential elections.”
For his part, Fadi Gemayel, head of the Lebanese Industrialists’ Association, said he hopes to witness the formation of a new government soon in a bid to speed up the process of economic revival and social stability.
Gemayel added that he is also optimistic about the president’s new economic strategy that will focus on the different economic sectors.
Adnan Kassar, chairman of the General Union of Arab Chambers of Commerce, Industry and Agriculture, said that the election of President Aoun will definitely have positive effects on the various economic sectors.
by Dana Halawi
Copyright © 2019, The Daily Star. All rights reserved.