Lebanon's trade volume with Iraq could shoot up to more than $300 million in 2001 if the governments of both countries implement a protocol for re-supplying Lebanon with Iraqi oil after a 20-year hiatus, reported the Daily Star newspaper, quoting a Lebanese trade ministry official as saying.
"Lebanon could sign deals worth up to $300 million if the protocol signed in October last year is put into action very soon," he said.
The official, according to the paper, believes an oil deal next year will allow Iraq to regain its pre-Gulf War status as Lebanon's number one trade partner.
Before the 1991 conflict, Iraq consumed up to a third of Lebanese exports.
Lebanese contracts with Iraq doubled in 2000 to $100 million and they are expected to double again in 2001 once three Lebanese business fairs take place in Baghdad and three Iraqi trade exhibitions kick off in Beirut.
The first exhibition of Lebanese goods is scheduled for February.
At least 80 firms are expected to participate in the February fair, which may be attended by a number of Lebanese ministers.
These trade fairs will get an added boost once the authorities set dates for opening trade offices in Beirut and Baghdad, and Iraqi Airways resumes commercial flights to and from Beirut.
"These fairs will certainly increase the trade volume this year," said Ahmad Kabbara, head of the export department at the Lebanese Industrialists' Association. "But only the implementation of the protocol could see the annual trade volume reach as high as $400 million or $500 million," he said.
The oil protocol, concluded by the previous government of prime minister, Salim Hoss, signaled the beginning of plans for reactivating the pipeline between Iraq and north Lebanon. This pipeline, however, can only be reopened once it has been refurbished, said the paper -- Albawaba.com
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