The President of the Council of Ministers Saad Hariri said that the investment opportunities in Lebanon today do not exist in the rest of the world, especially in our region, adding that if we combine the Lebanese and Emirati private sectors we can accomplish wonders for Lebanon and the region. He said: "Lebanon can be a cornerstone for all Emirati companies that will invest in it, to participate later in the reconstruction in Syria or Iraq from Lebanon. We meet with the UAE to make Lebanon a major center for the reconstruction of the region."
Hariri pointed out that the Lebanese government presented at the CEDRE conference a comprehensive vision aimed at achieving stability, growth and job creation, through the rehabilitation of infrastructure, modernization of procedures and legislation and the advancement of productive sectors, calling on the Emirati investors to study these projects, which represent real investment opportunities, particularly through partnership between the public and private sectors.
He said that the relationship between Lebanon and the UAE is historic and deeply rooted and the UAE always played an active role in the Lebanese economy and contributed to supporting Lebanon at all political, social and development levels.
Hariri's remarks came during his participation this morning in the UAE-Lebanon Investment Forum, chairing Lebanon's delegation to the conference that is sponsored by the Emirati Ministry of Economy and Abu Dhabi's Chamber of Commerce at the St. Regis Hotel in Abu Dhabi.
Ministers Wael Abou Faour, Mohammad Choucair, Raya al-Hassan, Elias Abu Saab, Mansour Bteish and Adel Afiouni, former Minister Ghattas Khoury, Central Bank Governor Riad Salame, the Lebanese ambassador to the UAE Fouad Dandan and large number of Lebanese banking and economic figures, attended the forum.
Also present on the UAE side were the Minister of Economy Sultan bin Saeed Al Mansoori, the Minister of State for Future Food Security Mariam Bint Mohammed Saeed Al Mheiri, the Minister of Energy Suhail Al Mazrouei, the Governor of the Central Bank of the UAE Mubarak Rashed Al Mansoori, the Chairman of the UAE Banks Federation AbdulAziz Al-Ghurair, the UAE Ambassador to Lebanon Hamad Al Shamsi and a large number of businessmen, bankers and investors.
Hariri gave the following speech: "I am honored to be with you today in the United Arab Emirates to participate in the UAE-Lebanon Investment Forum. The relationship between Lebanon and the UAE is historic and deeply rooted. The UAE has always played an active role in the Lebanese economy and has contributed to supporting Lebanon on all political, social and development levels.
The UAE welcomed the Lebanese youth and provided them with job and creativity opportunities, and participation in the process of progress, growth and modernity of this great country. The UAE has also secured the remittances of the Lebanese expatriates to their homeland and contributed to its financial and social stability.
The UAE has always been supportive of Lebanon in international forums and shared with us during all circumstances the battles to maintain our security and political stability.
The UAE, its leadership, government and the Emirati people, have supported Lebanon in good and bad times. This will remain in the minds and hearts of all the Lebanese. Lebanon will never forget that the UAE stood by Lebanon during the reconstruction process after years of civil war, and in every crisis, whether to reconstruct what was destroyed by Israeli attacks, or to contribute generously to the international conferences to support the Lebanese economy. We are here today to strengthen our cooperation by creating key partnerships between the Lebanese and Emirati private sectors.
As you know, ladies and gentlemen, the Lebanese government presented at CEDRE Conference a comprehensive vision aimed at achieving stability, growth and job opportunities through the rehabilitation of the infrastructure, the modernization of procedures and legislations, and the promotion of productive sectors. This vision was welcomed and supported by friendly countries and international financial institutions that participated in the Conference.
There are many things that brings us together with the UAE. What unites us is that we have the will to develop ourselves. The problem is that we in Lebanon were late in developing ourselves. But for the first time last year, we set out a clear and explicit program and a roadmap for how to proceed in Lebanon.
The McKinsey study kept up with the CEDRE Conference, which was dedicated to reinvesting in all the Lebanese infrastructure and this would not be possible without the private sector. Hence, we are in the UAE to strengthen the partnership between the UAE and Lebanese private sectors. This must be reciprocal, and we Lebanese we should invest in the UAE, just as we hope that the Emiratis invest in Lebanon in the sectors of electricity, gas, telecommunications and all CEDRE projects. It is true that Lebanon is a small country, but it bears a lot, especially as it hosts 1.5 million displaced Syrians.
The investment opportunities in Lebanon today are not present in the rest of world, especially in our region. For example, we want the private sector to undertake all electricity, transportation, railway and port projects. For our part, we will complete all the reforms comprised in CEDRE, which are not imposed on us but necessary to change the way we work, and become like the UAE. People visiting Abu Dhabi and Dubai are proud of what they see in this country that has progressed in a very short time. We want to work together and be like the United Arab Emirates.
Lebanon is in a difficult position, but at the same time it has an opportunity. You know that there are many conflicts in our region, but this creates many opportunities. Today there is the reconstruction of Syria and Iraq. Lebanon can be a cornerstone for all Emirati companies that will invest in Lebanon in electricity, gas, roads, ports, airport, in cooperation with the Lebanese private sector, to participate later on in the reconstruction in Syria or Iraq from Lebanon. Thus, we meet with the UAE to make Lebanon a major center for the reconstruction of the region. The atmosphere in Lebanon is beautiful, and it is good to have a company in Lebanon.
We are proud of the Lebanese private sector dynamism, but when we are in the UAE, we find that the dynamism of the UAE private sector is also excellent. If we combine the Lebanese and Emirati private sectors, we can accomplish wonders for Lebanon and the region.
Thus, we rely on God first and then on you, so that this forum is not only successful concerning attendance and speech, but also to work together. There are opportunities that we must seize together, and reduce talk and work more because there is a lot of work, both in the UAE and in Lebanon."
For his part, the Minister of Economy Sultan bin Saeed Al Mansoori delivered the following speech: "It is a great honor to welcome you to your country, the UAE. Perhaps the presence of Prime Minister Saad Hariri in this conference is a milestone in the process of the bilateral and economic relations between our two brotherly countries. There is no doubt that the ties binding the UAE and the Lebanese Republic are fraternal and historical. Lebanon has always been a country that the UAE loves and the Emirati people love.
Over the past decades and years, Lebanon has provided the Arab region with some of the most prominent minds and talents in various fields of science, knowledge, literature, arts, management and economy and we believe that Lebanon, with its expertise and potential, is able to move forward and lead in various areas of development. We are keen to be partners in our countries' march towards progress and prosperity. We agree that this good and high-level presence of officials and businessmen from the two countries today is a clear indication that we are on the right track. We met last year during the first session of this pioneering investment forum, and came up with a set of understandings and recommendations for joint action in a range of important economic sectors. We are renewing the meeting today on a larger scale, with greater goals and with more optimistic aspirations for the future.
A quick reading of the indicators of trade and investment cooperation during the last period confirms in figures the continued growth in our partnership. Last year, we made excellent progress in non-oil trade between the two countries, totaling more than US $2.6 billion, a growth of 34% compared to 2017. From 2017 to 2018, UAE imports from Lebanon grew by 21%, while re-export activities from the UAE to Lebanon increased by more than 55%. According to figures of the first quarter of 2019, non-oil foreign trade between the two countries was around $700 million, achieving a 37% growth as compared to the same period in 2018. These figures indicate that trade exchange between the two countries is set to reach the threshold of $3 billion by the end of this year.
The UAE is considered the largest Arab trade partner for Lebanon and the seventh largest trading partner in the world. It also ranks first globally in receiving Lebanese exports, accounting for 14% of Lebanon's merchandise exports during 2018.
On the investment side, the UAE markets attracted direct Lebanese investments that exceeded $2.2 billion until the beginning of 2018 with an annual growth rate of more than 39%. These are distributed on vital sectors such as the financial sector, real estate, wholesale and retail trade, transformational industries, information and communication technology, education, logistics services and others.
The balance of UAE direct investments in Lebanon until 2016 amounted to more than $ 7.1 billion and these also included important sectors such as sea port operations, pharmaceutical industry, IT services, air transport, tourism, hospitality, real estate activities, banking, energy and petrochemical industries.
We are therefore facing a vibrant climate of economic cooperation, but nonetheless, we still have a wide range of opportunities and sectors in which we can strengthen our mutual investment activities. Therefore, we look forward to increase the number of projects and commercial activities between the UAE and Lebanon during the next phase. To achieve this, we need to continue dialogue and cooperation to ensure a greater role for investment companies and the private sector in both countries.
This is perhaps the main objective of this outstanding conference. During the panel discussions, we will discuss ways to expand investments and develop the investment environment in partnership between the public and private sectors. We will also focus on exploring opportunities in the areas of agriculture and food products, and will review the prospects of cooperation in the infrastructure, oil and gas, renewable energy, banking and financial sectors.
The UAE economy is one of the most diversified in the region. The contribution of non-oil sectors to the country's GDP exceeded 70%. Based on the vision and guidance of our wise leadership, the UAE has adopted a leading economic model based on flexibility, diversity and competitiveness, while giving a major role to innovation, research, development and advanced technology as key drivers for future development, and this is evident in the determinants of the 2021 UAE vision and 2071 Emirates Centennials on the long run.
Perhaps the outstanding achievement of the state in the field of space, the flight of the Emirati astronaut Hazza Al Mansouri to the International Space Station and monitoring the stages of flight preparations with advanced 100% UAE-made satellites, is a practical example of our firm determination to build an economy that keeps up with the future and achieves sustainable development for future generations.
The country's economy has managed to overcome many challenges, where the country's GDP grew by 1.7% in 2018, the non-oil output grew by 1.3%, attracting $10.4 billion in foreign direct investment and $15 billion in outbound investments during the same year.
Today, the UAE ranks first on the Arab level and in advanced ranks on the international level in many international indicators, most notable are the Global Competitiveness Index, the Ease of Doing Business Index, the Development and Entrepreneurship Index, the Global Innovation Index, the Trade Empowerment Index. The State has also launched several initiatives that stimulate business and investment, most notably, the Foreign Direct Investment Act that was passed last year that allows up to 100% foreign ownership of projects in 122 diversified economic activities, as well as providing wide advantages and guarantees for foreign investors.
Hence, we believe that our business partners in Lebanon will find in the UAE a fertile economic environment rich in opportunities and ingredients of success.
On the other hand, the economic sectors in Lebanon have proven their ability to generate important opportunities for partnership and cooperation and the UAE investment companies, with their pioneering expertise and successful projects show increasing interest in building productive and sustainable partnerships with the Lebanese private sector, and we look forward to working together to facilitate the task of the parties in this regard.
Today's world is in a phase of economic changes and challenges, and the impact of trade and political conflicts often affects the economic scene. But we believe that building vital partnerships, both bilaterally and on a broader level, will provide effective channels to overcome many of these challenges and advance trade and investment development.
We love to see Lebanon a rising economic power in the region. We hope that this prominent investment conference will be a milestone at the level of partnership between our two countries and our brotherly peoples.
Allow me to conclude with a statement I value: Lebanon is always in the heart".
Ahead of the conference, Premier Hariri met with Minister Mansoori in the presence of the Emirati Minister of Energy Suhail Al Mazroui.
Then an expanded meeting was held attended by Premier Hariri and Minister Mansoori, Ministers Wael Abou Faour and Mansour Bteish, former Minister Ghattas Khoury, and Ambassador Dandan, from the Emirati side: Ministers Al Mazroui and Al Mheiri, Ambassador Al Shamsi and Assistant Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation for International Development Affairs Sultan Al Shamsi.
Source: National News Agency