BEIRUT: Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil Wednesday called on Lebanon’s ambassadors to take a more active role in promoting the country’s economic interests abroad, as the European Union ambassador implored the government to speed up reforms necessary for accession to the WTO.
“Please, Lebanon, get yourself into the WTO,” Ambassador Angelina Eichhorst told the audience at the Beirut International Franchise Forum & Exhibition.
“Please work on this. You have been starting this process many years ago and it has been stalled completely since 2009,” she said.
“I am saying this to you not out of our own interest. ... I know that for us trading with you and for you trading with others helps you in economic growth and job creation and that is what is needed.”
Eichorst was speaking at the second day, which focused on the role of diplomatic missions in promoting their countries’ economic interests, of BIFEX, an international franchising forum.
Lebanon’s foreign minister spoke of the need for increased efforts from the country’s diplomats in the economic realm.
“Lebanese diplomats should not be ashamed of acting as brokers for their countries because this is the most honorable job one can ever have,” the minister said in his keynote speech at . “They should be able to play the role of mediators between Lebanese investors outside their country and private companies inside their homeland.”
Bassil said that there should be nothing preventing diplomats from exerting such economic influence.
“Lebanese diplomats only lack the will and central guidance,” he said, “which can be provided by devising a unified and unifying foreign policy.”
The foreign minister also called on the government, including his own ministry, to enact reforms to enhance the country’s economic diplomacy.
“It is very important to send periodical economic reports between the central administration and delegations abroad while generalizing these reports on the relevant authorities and economic institutions,” he said.
“This means that the responsibility of the Foreign Ministry is to send such reports to Lebanese expatriates and to tell them what is going on around the world. It is also the responsibility of any head of delegation in any place in the world to send economic reports from which Lebanon could benefit.”
Bassil said that Lebanese diplomats should be kept informed about the country’s economy in order to approach investors in host countries.
“Diplomats must provide delegations with the necessary information on the opportunities to invest in Lebanon,” he added.
He highlighted the importance of the contributions of the Lebanese diaspora to the Lebanese economy.
“The size of the Lebanese diaspora worldwide is large and immense. The revenues of migrants are estimated at $50 billion per year. Their remittances account for $8 billion annually, which is equivalent to 20 percent of the GDP,” he said.
“This makes the Lebanese diaspora worldwide a key player in economic diplomacy in terms of investments and consumption.”
French Ambassador Patrice Paoli said that economic exchanges between France and Lebanon amounted to 1.24 billion euros in 2012 and 1.3 billion euros in 2013.
He added that there were 5,000 French small and medium enterprises operating in Lebanon.
“ France is looking to develop these businesses even further,” he said.
Meanwhile, Egyptian Ambassador Ashraf Hamdi said commercial trade between Egypt and Lebanon in 2010 amounted to $1 billion.
“There was a slight regression in the past two years because of the political situation in both countries,” he said, stressing that there were many more opportunities yet to be discovered.
He suggested that Lebanon market its health and education products, which have a very positive reputation in the region.