The water sector is a priority, with plans to build 13 dams and the Awali-Beirut water conveyance scheme. [Economy and Trade Minister Mohamed] Safadi has been soliciting interest from foreign partners to support the latter project, which is essential to keep Beirut’s taps flowing.
Another key initiative is to develop economic free zones, which would tie in with Lebanon’s anticipated accession to the World Trade Organisation in 2010. “We plan to have four free zones,” says Safadi. “Two have been approved: one in Tripoli, with a port covering 1 million square metres, and one in Bekaa. We also want a Beirut-Tripoli rail link that caters for both passengers and cargo.”
Politics may yet intrude on these plans. The free zones would not be bound by national labour laws, which may prove highly unpopular with the March 8 opposition bloc.
Investors may be more perturbed by reports that Riad Salameh could be ousted as governor of Banque du Liban, the central bank, which has been the touchstone of financial confidence in Beirut since the mid-1990s. His mandate expires in mid-2010 and some in the opposition, particularly the supporters of leading Christian politician Michel Aoun, are believed to want to replace him.
Of course, if you are expecting to find a quote from the Opposition on these issues, don’t hold your breath. There is no support within the article of these allegations.