Ramzi Ghosn: Proprietor, Massaya Winery
E: Our industry has been forced to seek out new and sustainable export markets and been moderately successful. How can other sectors within the manufacturing or agro-industry replicate this success?
To be successful you need a comparative advantage. In the local wine industry, our comparative advantage is the fact that we are Lebanese. With the help of our Lebanese identity we are already catering to all the expatriates worldwide who want to consume local products. The identity of Lebanese wine is very important for our industry. And this comparative advantage has to be well emphasized on. The product has to be of good quality and if it is then the business will automatically succeed. So to replicate this same accomplishment, industrialists should find the comparative advantage of a product and focus on exposing and marketing it to its full extent. We in the wine industry have succeeded in doing so and this is proven through our export statistics, which have been constantly growing for three years now. In 2004, we expect a 15% to 20% growth in exports, illustrating that our strategy is paying off.
Roger Dib: Director of Near East Consulting Group
E: Do you see new promising avenues for Lebanese industry to attract foreign partners and what areas of industrial ventures offer the best investment opportunities for favorable financing?
I definitely see opportunities for joint ventures with foreign partners. Actually, I am now in direct contact with around four European companies with which we are negotiating industrial and commercial joint ventures in the field of specialty retail. The reason why I say this is two folds essentially: the first one is that any Lebanese company with strong regional distribution networks can attract and be attractive to foreign partners who are not present in the Middle East. Any company that has a well-developed distribution network can easily think about attracting foreign partners. The second reason is that ever since the Euro has strengthened compared to the currencies of this region – which are more linked to the dollar than the euro – there has been a window of opportunity for our industries to export and hence for Europeans to use Lebanon as part of their delocalization effort. Delocalization has been happening in Europe for some time, but they have now been much more aggressive at it because of the cyclical strengths of the euro. So, this double hit for the European economies, whereby the need for delocalization and the expensive euro, is making countries like Lebanon interesting places to invest in certain kinds of industries, such as ones with high value-added. As for private financing, I believe the IT industry is the best suited for favorable financing because these are very small companies with lots of need for cash.
Fadi Abboud: President of the Lebanese Industrialists Association
E: Over the past years, the costs of manufacturing in Lebanon were held to be largely responsible for the stunted development of the sector. After many broken promises, mostly concerning the amelioration of the utilities and infrastructure, what are your hopes for 2005?
Our hope for 2005 is for the industrial sector in Lebanon to witness better days simply because all the governments since the end of the civil war have not really been friendly to the productive sectors in Lebanon, especially with regards to industry. To be honest, it was very difficult for us to come up with any positive results throughout the last 13 years. And with the energy crisis in 2004, it was much harder for us to record adequate returns. Even when we agreed with the government that reducing the price of energy could hurt their short-term finances, they still refused to raise custom duties on imports that directly compete with local products, which require intensive use of energy. Even this simple request was virtually impossible to get. We really feel that they don’t want to see the industry sector progress. One of the main reasons is because they want to turn Beirut into another Dubai, where there are lots of tourist attractions and huge shopping centers. However, with all the hurdles facing the sector, the high cost of production and an unfriendly government, we were still able to substantially increase our exports in 2004 and this shows that there is huge potential in the industrial sector. I hope that 2005 will be the year when the government realizes that we have all the means to create many new jobs and increase national productivity by granting us our demands.
Hani Haddad: Managing Director Spirit Advertising
E: In these days of closer EU relations, what must Lebanese industrialists do in terms of marketing, brand building and advertising to increase their competitive edge?
Industrialists and the entire Lebanese commercial sector in general are not actually aware of the importance of marketing and advertising of their brands and are more focused on the short-term costs rather than the long-term returns. Brand building is very important and requires investment and patience. But in Lebanon, unfortunately, very few advertise and consider building brands. In the actual world of global and international competition and with these days of closer EU relations, Lebanese industrialists should be up to the European standards at all levels. To achieve these standards, they have to understand and be convinced that building awareness and marketing their brands is more than essential for them to survive and should be considered as part of their long-
term investments. All expenditures related to communication and advertising should be part of their cost.
Patrick Renauld: EU Ambassador to Lebanon
E: The EU has implemented several programs to help assist the industrial sector in Lebanon with financial and technical support. Why is the EU so interested in having Lebanon’s industrial sector prosper and how does it see its potential in a country where the cost of production is much higher than the rest of the region?
The Lebanese market of 3.5 million consumers is not a market by itself when compared to the EU’s market of 500 million consumers. Nevertheless, ever since the EU expanded its borders, Lebanon has become our direct neighbor. And as a direct neighbor, we are interested in security brought by a stable and strong economy. In order to have a strong economy, we believe that the industry must play an important role. One of the biggest problems in Lebanon today is the fact of not having focused enough effort towards the development of the productive sector, thinking that the banking, service and tourism sectors would lead the way. This is not the case because you cannot develop your economy if you import nearly everything to feed your tourists and very curiously the Lebanese authorities have taken time to realize this.
It is true that the Lebanese industry faces certain difficulties at the moment, namely the high cost of production. But it also has its strengths, such as the brainpower capacity to be creative and overcome problems as well as the necessary financial resources. The future success of Lebanon’s industrial sector depends not only on producing high added value products, but also on the government’s willingness to set a long-term industrial policy and implement a modern judicial system that can assure the security of investments.