BEIRUT: Lebanese industrialists are seeking a deal with religious authorities and municipalities to provide cheap land for new factories amid rising costs for the industrial sector.
“We are nearing an agreement for an ‘ideal’ industrial city in Jezzine as well as in other Lebanese areas,” head of the Association of Lebanese Industrialists Nehmat Freim announced in a statement Wednesday.
Ziad Beckdache, the deputy head of the association, told The Daily Star that the Jezzine venture in south Lebanon, still in the initial planning phase, could take place on a land owned by the Maronite Church in the area.
The association, he said, has been in talks with the Maronite, Roman Catholic and Greek Orthodox churchs as well as the Sunni and Shiite religious Waqf to utilize land endowments for industrial parks in several areas in the north, south and Bekaa Valley.
“The plan is to utilize these pieces of land in return for minimal fees and build the infrastructure that industries need. This will allow for investments in the industrial sector creating jobs and boosting development in rural areas,” he said.
“There is no other way other than offering [land] for free, or very cheaply, to significantly boost the sector,” Beckdache added. “Private land is too highly priced to attract industrial investors.”
Michel Daher, a senior Lebanese industrialist known for being the founder of Master Chips and Poppins, has also been leading another initiative for a new industrial city in the town of Ferzol in the Bekaa Valley.
“Everything is going on plan by leaps and bounds and we expect the city to start receiving investments in a year,” he told The Daily Star.
The 4-million-square-meter land was donated by the Ferzol municipality and the venture has taken the steps needed for authorization by the Interior Ministry and other authorities.
Land plots will be rented for long periods reaching 50 years for as low as $.20 to $.25 per meter a year. The Investment Development Authority of Lebanon has also shown readiness to offer incentives for potential investors.
The Daily Star last month reported that high land and labor costs were the two major reasons behind Syrian industrialists’ hesitance to move businesses to Lebanon after the conflict wreaked havoc on Syrian industry.
Caretaker Industry Minister Vreij Sabounjian said his ministry’s focus was on using the free trade zones in Beirut and Tripoli to attract Syrians.
Daher also said he has been cooperating with the ministry in a bid to attract investors from Lebanon’s war-torn neighbor.
Demand from the Syrian market, particularly on fast moving consumer goods, has shored up the Lebanese industrial sector in the past two years.
“Everything from energy drinks to beer, pharmaceutical products and foodstuff is in demand after the Syrian industry,” Beckdache said, but cautioned that Syrian demand could not be considered sustainable on the long term.
According to the latest statistics released by the Industry Ministry this week, the value of industrial exports surged 13.5 percent to $1.45 billion in the first five months of the year.
Lebanon’s imports of industrial machinery reached $141 million, up 20 percent compared to last year and an indicator that industries are increasing production capacity.