The United Arab Emirates has promised investments and financial support for Lebanon to boost the country’s flagging economy, Prime Minister Saad Hariri said Tuesday, in yet another major achievement for the premier’s official visit to Abu Dhabi.
Hariri’s announcement, wrapping up an extended three-day visit to Abu Dhabi, came a day after the UAE decided to lift a years-old ban on its citizens traveling to Lebanon from Tuesday, in a move likely to encourage Emirati investment in Lebanon and increase the flow of UAE tourists to the cash-strapped country.
Speaking to Lebanese reporters in Abu Dhabi before returning to Beirut, Hariri said all of Lebanon and not just himself has the “support of the UAE, which wants Lebanon to be strong and the Lebanese to have a good living standard.”
“The Emiratis promised investments and financial assistance to Lebanon and we are working on this matter,” the prime minister said, according to a statement released by his media office.
Hariri had been in Abu Dhabi since Sunday heading a ministerial delegation for the UAE-Lebanon Investment Forum, which aimed to boost economic cooperation between the two countries and encourage Emirati investment in Lebanon, which faces mounting borrowing costs and pressure on its foreign currency reserves.
Hariri Monday held “positive” talks with Abu Dhabi’s Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammad bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, and other senior UAE officials.
He said afterward that he hoped for an Emirati cash injection for Lebanon’s Central Bank, whose foreign currency reserves, estimated at $38 billion, have been in decline because capital inflows into its banking system from Lebanese abroad have been slowing.
Hariri said he had held two meetings with UAE officials Tuesday to expedite the process of investment in Lebanon. “We explained to them what we plan to do during the next few years, about reforms and other matters related to the budget and electricity,” Hariri said. “We are also discussing how they can help us financially in these issues. The atmosphere is very positive, and we have to do some things to encourage them to come to Lebanon and invest. I hope that soon we will hear good news regarding investments and support for Lebanon and its economy.”
Asked by an MTV reporter whether the UAE financial support would be in the form of a cash deposit at the Central Bank to boost its foreign currency reserves, soft loans, or buying Eurobonds, Hariri was quoted as saying: “All options are open.”
He said negotiations were going on with the UAE over investments in Lebanon. “We are in the process of negotiation. Therefore, I ask that we remain in a positive atmosphere, especially that the most difficult step for the Emiratis was to lift the travel ban to Lebanon and they did it, in conjunction with our investment conference,” Hariri said, adding: “We are negotiating with them the investments they want to make in various sectors in addition to financial investments in some banks or in the Central Bank.”
The premier stressed the need to follow up on the “positive results” of his visit to Abu Dhabi. “All possibilities are available. We must focus on what the best investment for the UAE in Lebanon is. A follow-up cell was formed between us and the Emiratis to follow up on what was discussed at the conference and in my meeting with the crown prince,” he said.
Noting that the UAE support for Lebanon is greater today than ever before, Hariri said: “The UAE is also very interested in investing in oil and gas. But we as Lebanese should set realistically our expectations from this sector, establish the sovereign fund and take all necessary measures. It is very positive for Lebanon, but we should not expect that it will be the only salvation for the country. We have a lot of things to do, the first is to reform our system in order to spend as much as we need without waste.”
The Daily Star