BEIRUT: Outgoing Transportation Minister Mohammad Safadi said on Tuesday that he expected a flood of Gulf Arab investments in Lebanon. Speaking at the opening of the 13th Rebuild Lebanon exhibition at Beirut International Exhibition and Liesure center, Safadi said the prospects of high investments in the country were quite high due to the high oil returns in the Gulf.
The event, which was organized by International Fairs & Promotion (IFP), is seen as an attempt by the government and the private sector to demonstrate that Lebanon is still an attractive country for investment.
Safadi underscored the importance of the growing number of Arab tourists coming to visit Lebanon this summer.
"This fair is a blessed beginning that will help improve the economy and facilitate all the decisions passed by the international conferences that aim to help Lebanon economically," he told attendees.
Some of the attendees interviewed by The Daily Star said that foreign investment was expected to surpass $3 billion in 2008.
IFP manager Fadi Jreissati was upbeat about the launch of "Project Lebanon" 2008.
Despite the meager presence of Gulf exhibitors, Jreissati said: "I'm very optimistic; the world is showing signs of confidence in Lebanon because two weeks ago we were at the brink of civil war."
As for the real-estate market, Jreissati anticipated a rise in prices. "We are clearly under priced; the Lebanese population is increasing in number and the economic boom in the Gulf countries will result in billions of dollars being invested in Lebanon's market. This will result in a large rise in prices."
He added that the number of property sales in Lebanon was up by 32.1 percent in the first two months of the year.
The European presence at the exhibition, supported by the Paris Chamber of Commerce and Industry, was also visible.
Participants said that a free foreign-exchange market and a lack of restrictions on outward movement of capital made Lebanon attractive to foreign investors, with banking secrecy acting as a major driving force for capital inflow.
Construction projects include power stations, healthcare rehabilitation, residences, bridges, roads and agricultural machinery and technology. Over $1 billion in reconstruction funds were secured by the EU and Gulf countries just after the end of the 2006 summer war.
Most of the environmental technology exhibitors asked for the implementation of environmental laws concerning the Lebanese chemical and agricultural industries.
"Our investments mainly take place in Jordan and Syria because there is strict legislation governing the environmental protection by the authorities," said Elie Neaime, an executive at Clearsource company.
But the issue of security was of great concern to exhibitors, some of whom urged the Lebanese authorities to ensure the safety of company personnel.
Others complained of the acute shortage of qualified engineers and managers in Lebanon.
The organizers expect over 20,000 professional visitors to attend the five-day event.