[Source: NUSACC's U.S.-Arab Trade Outlook 2013]
“Lebanon, like the legendary phoenix, has emerged from the ashes and is steadily regaining its former vitality,” said H.E. Antoine Chedid, Lebanon’s Ambassador to the United States, during an April lunch that NUSACC hosted for the American Lebanese Chamber of Commerce. “With a combination of entrepreneurial spirit unique to the Lebanese and strong ties to the international community, especially the United States, Lebanon will continue to make great strides along the path to recovery.”
Lebanon is experiencing “exceptional economic growth,” according to Salim Zeenni, President of the American Lebanese Chamber of Commerce (ALCC). At a time when most regional economies shrank as a result of the global recession, Lebanon maintained a 7.2 percent GDP growth in 2010. Lebanon has experienced more than its fair share of political upheaval over the years, but it is still viewed as one of the most reliable safe havens for investment in the region. Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) amounted to more than $4.3 billion in 2009 and increased to $4.65 billion in 2010.
Merchandise imports from the United States were approximately $2 billion in 2010 and are expected to increase to approximately $2.6 billion in 2011. Service imports hovered around $1 billion in 2010, a number that is expected to be surpassed in 2011. According to the ALCC’s Zeenni, these imports will generate or sustain more than 30,000 U.S. jobs.
The United States emerged as Lebanon’s top exporter in 2009, and U.S. exports to Lebanon are twice as great as those from Lebanon’s next largest supplier – China. Excluding the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) nations of the Arabian Gulf, Lebanon is the MENA region’s highest per capita importer of U.S. goods and services. Lebanon, with a population of just over four million, is also the only country among America’s top eight export markets in the MENA region without significant oil or gas reserves.
Lebanon’s total trade volume reached $11.27 billion in the first half of 2010, compared to $10.1 billion in the same period in 2009, an increase of 12 percent. Despite the global downturn, inbound tourists increased by 64 percent in 2009, a reflection of greater political stability in Lebanon. That nation’s tourism and related construction sectors rose strongly in 2010 with summer peak tourism in July and August resulting in approximately two million visitors flocking to the “Paris of the Middle East.” Airlines were fully booked and hotels throughout Beirut experienced high occupancy.
According to Imad Hoballah, acting CEO of Lebanon’s Telecommunications Regulatory Authority, the country will need to invest at least $200 million very soon in broadband Internet infrastructure to meet corporate and consumer demand. A $40 million contract for the first-upgrade stage was extended in late 2010 to Alcatel-Lucent and to CET, a local engineering firm. Lebanon plans to sell off its two state-owned mobile phone service providers and restructure Electricité du Liban, probably after 2011.
In 2010, Lebanon held its first U.S.-Lebanon Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Forum at the Biel Center in Beirut. Supported by NUSACC and hosted by the U.S. Embassy in collaboration with the Union of Arab ICT Associations and the American Lebanese Chamber of Commerce, the event highlighted Lebanon’s ability to excel in the rapidly growing ICT community in the MENA region.
Lebanon will also build out its electrical grid infrastructure. The Government of Lebanon approved a $5 billion 2011 – 2014 plan to build modern electrical power plants and grid technology. Current output of 1,600 megawatts falls far short of the actual 2,400 megawatt demand, according to the Finance Ministry.
A March 2010 study by the U.S. Geological Survey indicates that the Levant Basin – bordering Lebanon, Israel, and Turkey – holds 1.7 billion barrels of recoverable petroleum and 122 trillion cubic feet of recoverable gas. Lebanon’s Energy Minister, H.E. Gebran Bassil, announced recently that licensing processes for some blocs could begin in 2012.
February 2011 finds Lebanon embroiled in yet another conflict – one that may potentially threaten the country’s economic revival.