Investors optimistic despite political climate

(The Daily Star/Hasan Shaaban)

BEIRUT: Interest in investing in Lebanon is growing in spite of the country’s political and security situation, according to the ANIMAinvestment network.

“We cannot stay inactive and wait for the security situation to be solved and for the policy to give a clear vision ... for us to be encouraged to invest,” said Emmanuel Noutary, ANIMA’s general delegate.

“It is in time of crisis when you have to strengthen your efforts to support the private sector, startups and SMEs,” he told The Daily Star.

He was speaking on the sidelines of the launch of ANIMA’s 2014-15 action plan, which was held at Monroe Hotel Thursday.

Dubbed “EuroMed Business opportunities,” the event was organized by Berytech, Beirut Creative Cluster and ANIMA, to connect potential business partners, encourage the discussion of collaboration opportunities and disseminate advice from experienced international investors.

ANIMA is an international cooperation platform for economic development in the Mediterranean. It encompasses 65 governmental agencies and business, innovation and finance networks, with the objective of boosting investment in the Mediterranean region. The majority of its funding comes from the management of European Commission projects.

More than 35 programs will be implemented in Lebanon thanks to European projects coordinated by ANIMA. Each one will have three interconnected objectives: to improve local economic development in Lebanon, to promote the country’s international reputation and to generate flows of investment.

Efforts to develop the local economy will focus on two projects.

The Economic Development through Inclusive and Local Development project aims to enhance the inclusive development of local economies through improved evaluation of investment. It is financed with 1.7 million euros from the European Union and will include around 40 initiatives that will focus on Lebanon, Palestine and Tunisia.

Another project, called LACTIMED, aims at boosting the dairy industry in the Bekaa Valley and Baalbek-Hermel regions through the creation of dairy clusters, in addition to strengthening the local and national dairy chain. It will also be funded by the EU, for 4.35 million euros, and will include 100 initiatives targeting the various stakeholders of dairy chains in Egypt, Lebanon, Tunisia, Italy and Greece.

“We are mainly interested in all Mediterranean countries,” Noutary said, adding that although ANIMA had not been very active in Lebanon in recent years, the group had come to appreciate the importance of developing new initiatives in the country, as well as in Jordan and Palestine.

Noutary highlighted ANIMA’s interest in investing in Lebanon’s digital, agriculture and food sectors.

“The strength of Lebanon lies in the capacities of entrepreneurs in the digital industry, where you have a lot of talents,” he said.

“Also, there is a high potential of internationalizing these startups because of the great Lebanese diaspora and the geographical location of Lebanon and its connection to the Gulf,” he added.

“Lebanese cooking is also renowned in all Europe and the Mediterranean region.”

Marcello Mori, deputy-head of the operation section at the Delegation of the European Union to Lebanon, expressed his confidence in the country’s future, saying that the EU was keen to ensure that the country’s private sector developed its potential to the full.

“The Lebanese private sector has a key role to play in the economic development,” he said.

Meanwhile, Rafif Berro, head of international relations team at the Economy and Trade Ministry, said that the ministry had formulated a five-year enterprise development incentive for SMEs, to be launched in June.

According to Berro, the plan “is an initiative for increasing the competitiveness of firms and setting up a regulatory framework for a proper e-commerce sector.”

Representing Economy and Trade Minister Alain Hakim, Berro said Lebanon needed to make better use of its human assets.

“Lebanon is characterized by its highly skilled entrepreneurs, but it should make better use of these resources,” she said.

Maroun Chammas, CEO of Berytech, said that in 2008 his company invested in around 15 companies, many of which have succeeded on the international level.

“We will also be starting our second fund this year for $30 million to invest in other startups,” he said.

Chammas praised the Central Bank’s Circular 331, which encouraged local banks to dedicate some of their budgets to investing in new tech startups.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on March 21, 2014, on page 5.




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