Lebanon to host key Arab economic summit

By Nohad Topalian in Beirut

Lebanon will host the Arab Economic and Social Development Summit in Beirut in January 2019. [Nohad Topalian/Al-Mashareq]

Lebanon will host the Arab Economic and Social Development Summit in Beirut in January 2019. [Nohad Topalian/Al-Mashareq]

Lebanese officials and economists have welcomed the Arab League's decision to hold the next Arab Economic and Social Development Summit in Beirut on January 19th and 20th.

Hosting the summit, held at the head of state level to address issues of economic and social development among Arab League member states, will raise Lebanon's status in the region and boost its economy, they said.

A committee tasked with following up on preparations for the summit met at the Arab League's headquarters in Cairo on September 5th to set the agenda.

Included in the agenda is an Iraqi request for Arab companies specialised in reclamation, dam construction and hydraulic installations to participate in water projects.

Iraq also has requested support to rebuild areas liberated from the "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria" (ISIS), and to implement development projects that showcase joint Arab work.

The summit will discuss a draft investment agreement and a strategic vision to promote and activate joint work between tourism and culture sectors. It also will review a progress report on the Greater Arab Free Trade Area (GAFTA).

A strategic framework to eradicate multidimensional poverty is expected to be launched at the summit, along with other action plans and strategies that fall within the framework of the UN's Sustainable Development Goals 2030.

Restoring Lebanon’s role

"The convening of the Arab Development Summit in Beirut will restore Lebanon's role in the Arab arena," said Lebanese MP Elias Hankash, who serves on the parliamentary national economy, trade, industry and planning committee.

"The summit will restore the international community’s confidence in Lebanon," he told Al-Mashareq, and comes at a time when "we are going through difficult economic and social circumstances".

Hosting such a conference will give impetus to the national economy and encourage the return of Arab investment, he said, expressing his hope that the summit "will revive all economic and tourism sectors".

The upcoming summit is "a meeting between Arab leaders to devote the resources necessary for economic and social development", economist Jassim Ajaka told Al-Mashareq.

Lebanon's hosting of the summit affirms its economic standing at the regional level, he said.

Rebuilding Lebanon's economy

The political and security events Lebanon has faced over the past five decades have weakened its economy, but the investments Arab countries made between 2006 and 2011 attest to the opportunities its economy offers, Ajaka said.

"Lebanon is one of the world’s most important financial centres," he added, noting that it has a banking sector that rivals its Western counterparts.

Lebanese politicians must "highlight the economic feasibility of Cedre 1 projects and the mechanism of oversight over these projects, so that they may ultimately serve as factors to attract capital", he said.

International donors at the Cedre 1 conference on April 6th pledged $11 billion in concessional loans and grants to support Lebanon's investment plan, provided it forges ahead with a raft of reforms.

These include reducing the budget deficit, combating corruption and curbing waste in the public sector.

Lebanon's economy is teetering on the edge of a recession, said Violette Ghazal al-Balaa, editor-in-chief of Arab Economic News.

The economic slowdown is a result of the Syrian conflict and refugee crisis, she told Al-Mashareq, noting that Lebanon needs support from other countries.

Lebanon must take advantage of "every sign of outside interest in its internal situation", she said, to help it alleviate the pressure on its public finances.

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