|Date: Oct 7, 2019|
|Source: The Daily Star|
|Hariri in Abu Dhabi to rally support for Lebanon|
|Hussein Dakroub| The Daily Star|
BEIRUT: Prime Minister Saad Hariri arrived in Abu Dhabi Sunday on the first leg of an Arab and foreign tour aiming to drum up Arab and international financial and investment support for Lebanon to help it overcome its economic crisis, officials said. During the two-day official visit to the United Arab Emirates, Hariri will meet with Abu Dhabi’s Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammad bin Zayed Al-Nahyan and a number of other Emirati officials, a statement from the prime minister’s media office said.
Hariri will also participate Monday in the UAE-Lebanon investment forum that aims to boost economic cooperation between the two countries. The forum is sponsored by the UAE Economy Ministry and the Abu Dhabi Chamber of Commerce, at the St. Regis Hotel, the released statement also added.
Hariri is expected to address the forum and talk about investment opportunities in Lebanon.
The prime minister was also expected to meet with representatives of British companies based in the UAE to discuss with them ways to enhance investment opportunities in Lebanon.
Hariri is heading a delegation of six ministers and Central Bank Gov. Riad Salameh, in addition to 50 other banking and economic figures.
UAE Ambassador to Lebanon Hamad al-Shamsi renewed his country’s support for Lebanon. “The UAE would like to support Lebanon in this difficult time,” Shamsi told LBCI channel. He said the UAE-Lebanon investment forum would usher in “a new phase of economic and investment relations” between the two countries.
“We care for Lebanon which was one of the founding states of the Arab League.” Shamsi said.
Former Future MP Ammar Houri, a political adviser to Hariri, told The Daily Star: “Prime Minister Hariri’s visit to Abu Dhabi is part of a tour that will also take him to Riyadh, Berlin, Paris and Moscow with the aim of rallying Arab and international financial and investment support for Lebanon to help it overcome the economic crisis.”
He highlighted the importance of Prime Minister Hariri’s Abu Dhabi visit, saying it was originally intended only to attend the investment forum, but it had been turned into “a state visit,” given his scheduled meeting with the crown prince. Former Minister Ghattas Khoury, a political aide to Hariri, said the premier’s visit to Abu Dhabi would help encourage the UAE to invest in Lebanon.
“Economic investment will be in all sectors,” Khoury, who is accompanying Hariri on his visit, told Al-Jadeed TV.
“We hope the visit will be successful at the political and economic levels,” he said.
Houri said Hariri would also visit Riyadh at the end of this month to attend a meeting of the Joint Lebanese-Saudi Committee.
Hariri last month spoke by phone with Saudi Finance Minister Mohammad al-Jadaan, discussing ways to support the Lebanese economy, which is burdened with over $85 billion in national debt.
According to Houri, Hariri was set to visit Paris again by mid-November for talks with senior French officials on the implementation of the CEDRE conference.
“Hariri’s visit to Paris in mid-November is expected to constitute the beginning for implementing the CEDRE decisions,” Houri said.
Last month, Hariri held talks in Paris with French President Emmanuel Macron and the two agreed to lay the groundwork for the launch of CEDRE projects, worth billions of dollars pledged by international donors to bolster Lebanon’s flagging economy.
After their talks at the Elysee Palace, Macron said France was “fully committed” to implementing the CEDRE conference’s decisions, while Hariri promised to expedite a string of structural, economic and fiscal reforms designed to further reduce the budget deficit, a major demand of international donors.
The CEDRE conference, which was hosted by France in April last year to rally financial support for Lebanon, pledged over $11 billion in grants and soft loans to finance key infrastructure projects that the Lebanese government outlined in its Capital Investment Program.
But the release of the promised funds has been contingent on Lebanon enacting key economic and financial reform measures recommended at the CEDRE conference.
Among other things, Lebanon has promised to slash the budget deficit, fight rampant corruption in the public administration, curb the waste of public funds, and reduce subsidies to the state-run Electricite du Liban, estimated at $2 billion annually.
The Cabinet has been holding special sessions dedicated to examining the draft 2020 state budget that would include essential reforms and sending it to Parliament for final ratification by the beginning of the regular fall legislative term, which this year begins on Oct. 22.
Hariri also said the Cabinet was working to implement reform measures quickly to meet deadlines set by international rating agencies.
Moody’s Investors Service last week maintained Lebanon’s Caa1 issuer rating but warned that a downgrade was possible in three months if Cabinet failed to take quick action to reduce the budget deficit.
The government’s resolve to speed up the implementation of economic reforms came against the backdrop of renewed street protests in Downtown Beirut Sunday for the second week over the country’s deteriorating economic and financial conditions.
Also, a dollar liquidity crunch in the market has raised concerns over the dire financial situation in the country, fueling fears of the Lebanese pound’s potential devaluation.