DOHA: Qatari investments in Lebanon are set to rise as a Qatari insurance firm makes its base in Lebanon, and Qatar Airways increases the number of its daily flights bringing in more tourists.
Speaking at the opening of the Made in Lebanon trade fair in Doha, Economy and Trade Minister Marwan Hamade said a Qatari insurance firm is due to open shortly in Lebanon, the first Arab firm to invest in Lebanon’s life insurance sector.
“This firm will help break the monopolies in the sector,” said Hamade, without naming the firm.
Qatar Airways has increased flights to Beirut this summer as of May to two per day.
“This means this summer tourism season will have a greater flow of tourists from the Gulf Cooperation Council,” said Hamade.
Hamade and his Qatari counterpart Sheikh Hamad bin Faisal al-Thani inaugurated Tuesday the first Lebanese trade fair to be held in Qatar, which sits on the world’s third largest gas reserves.
Lebanon has also sought to buy cheap Qatari gas in a bid to cut Lebanon’s steep fuel oil bill.
Hamade and Sheikh Hamad refused to say if any deal is in the pipeline.
“I discussed this matter with the Qatari energy minister and we are well aware that Qatar offers competitive gas prices,” said Hamade.
Sixty-two Lebanese firms, mainly jewelers, are taking part in the five-day event organized by Lebanon’s Consultations Internationales Juridique et Economique, and Qatar for Exhibition and Conferences.
Marwan said Lebanon’s annual two-way trade with Qatar is worth a meager $14 million, confined to Qatari exports of crude oil products and Lebanese exports of food stuff.
Shiekh Hamad said Qatari investors are eager to put their money into Lebanon, particularly the tourism and real estate sectors.
“Qataris own millions of dollars worth of property in Lebanon and the tourism sector is very promising there,” said Sheikh Hamad.
Qatar this week handed over to Lebanon a $200 million soft loan, part of the $4.3 billion financial pledge made at the “Paris II” donor meeting of last year aimed at helping Lebanon trim its debt servicing costs.
Lebanon’s Economy and Trade Minister said a number of Qatari businessmen he met during his visit expressed great interest in investing in Lebanon and he expected an upcoming Islamic banking law to attract more Qatari investors too.
Sheikh Hamad said the Qatari government would like to see greater cooperation between the Lebanese and Qatari private sectors through dealers or direct sales.
“Lebanon has one of the best investment climates in the Arab region,” said Sheikh Hamad.
Mirna Atta, the Lebanese organizer of the conference, said the low level of trade between Lebanon and Qatar is just another facet of weak inter-Arab trade, estimated at less than 10 percent of the Arab world’s trade.
Lebanese participants in the exhibition said they are seeking to enter Qatar as it is an emerging Arab country with a high per capita income.
“Currently we sell 40,000 square meters of tiles to Qatar a year, but we are aiming to increase our sales here to 100,000 square meters of tiles in three years’ time,” said Fadi Traboulsi, a representative for tile-maker Uniceramic.
“Qatar is undergoing political and economic expansion and it is a country rich with gas,” he added.