With the economic development community stuck at home, fDi is reaching out to professionals on the FDI frontline as they grapple with the biggest global challenge in recent history.
Lebanon implemented strict lockdown measures in mid-March 15, putting further pressure on the country’s already fragile institutions and weak economy.
Dr Mazen Soueid, the chairman of the Investment Development Authority of Lebanon (Idal), outlines how his team has adapted to the situation.
Q: How have your team’s day-to-day activities changed?
A: Normal life in Lebanon has come to a complete halt and all private and public efforts have been geared towards containing the pandemic.
Technology has helped us establish a virtual workplace, however. Communication among the team is regular and in spite of the unprecedented stress presented by the situation, we have been able to complete our daily tasks and do the groundwork for projects in the pipeline, whether promoting investments or supporting Lebanese exporters.
We’re also updating our Lebanon Updates website regularly, which is now focussed highlighting initiatives taken to combat the pandemic.
Q: What are your main priorities at the moment?
A: The Covid-19 crisis has come at a time when Lebanon was already suffering – economically, socially and politically – following the October 17 uprising.
While Idal continues to focus on attracting urgently-needed investments in key sectors, our main priority to boost the economy is supporting Lebanese exporters.
We’re also providing free online legal and tax advisory services to all SMEs and startups, and launching webinars with businesses that have already benefited from our incentives, to provide them with aftercare services to deal with the coronavirus crisis.
Additionally, we’re supporting amendments of fiscal and non-financial incentives granted to companies with a focus on companies producing essential goods, and partnering with incubators and accelerators to support innovation for Covid-19-related products.
Lebanon does not differentiate between local and foreign investors – the support provided to all investors is equal.
At present, Idal is providing free legal and tax advisory services to any investor based in Lebanon, and has already helped solve issues faced by some companies, including issues related to arbitrary closure of manufacturing premises.
The crisis has affected foreign investors differently, depending on which sector they operate in. While some sectors such as IT have been doing better, companies in more negatively affected sectors, such as tourism and hospitality, are waiting until the crisis subsides.
The virus is creating opportunities in the IT sector and related sub-sectors such as cloud computing, fintech and edtech.
Q: What’s the biggest challenge your location is facing?
A: The coronavirus crisis has put an unprecedented amount of pressure on an already weak health sector.
If anything positive comes out of this pandemic, it will be an effort to allocate enough funds to rehabilitate the health sector, which may open the door to various investment opportunities – such as pharmaceuticals, medical equipment and healthcare tech solutions – that help guarantee affordable and accessible healthcare to all citizens in the future.
Dr Mazen Soueid is the chairman at Lebanon’s Investment Development Authority (Idal).
You can find the full archive of the fDi’s Virus Diaries series at the following link. If you work in economic development or investment promotion and want to share your experience in dealing with the coronavirus, get in touch at fDi@ft.com.