The Daily Star
BEIRUT: Industry Minister Hussein Hajj Hasan Tuesday urged the implementation of policies to curb the import of certain products to Lebanon, warning that a number of local industries were at risk of closure if no action is taken.
Hajj Hasan was speaking at the 23rd edition of the Arab Economic Forum that was held at the Phoenicia Hotel in Beirut.
The high cost of production in Lebanon compared to that of Arab and Gulf countries, where industrialists benefit from subsidies, is hurting the competitiveness of Lebanese products, the minister said.
He added that Lebanon was faced with two choices: either support the industrial sector through subsidies or implement policies to curb the import of goods that are being manufactured in Lebanon.
Failure to take action would put 400,000 workers in productive sectors at risk of losing their jobs, he warned.
Hajj Hasan has announced on several previous occasions that he is planning to gradually impose customs duties on certain imported commodities in order to protect the Lebanese industrial sector.
The imported goods that might be subject to custom duties include products that are subsidized by their countries of origin.
Hajj Hasan warned of the negative impact of Lebanon’s rising trade deficit, which reached close to $17 billion in 2014 amid a decline in the country’s industrial exports.
The value of Lebanon’s industrial exports dropped by 6.9 percent to $3.15 billion in 2014, compared to $3.384 billion in 2013.
Economy Minister Alain Hakim, who participated alongside Hajj Hasan in the panel discussions, also warned that Lebanon’s economic indicators had declined significantly over the past few years.
He said the government needs to take a series of measures to support small- and medium-sized enterprises, which account for the bulk of employment opportunities.
Hakim added that his ministry had devised a plan framed around four axes to boost economic growth.
The first axis entails reforms to curb corruption in the public sector and boost productivity, while facilitating administrative procedures to draw foreign investments.
The second axis, according to the minister, involves finding new export markets for Lebanese products, while the third consists of measures aimed at fostering a knowledge-based economy.
The fourth axis comprises boosting infrastructure investments by strengthening the partnership between the public and private sector.
Delays in the implementation of this comprehensive plan would lead to a further deterioration in economic indicators, Hakim warned.
While the implementation of reforms is a necessity to ensure sustainable economic growth, Hakim warned that in the absence of political stability and security, Lebanon would not be able to capitalize on those reforms.