Lebanon is a country of expatriates. Nine million of its 11 million inhabitants live abroad, in places as diverse as Terra del Fuego, Côte d’Ivoire, and Columbus, Ohio. The Lebanese Diaspora remains profoundly committed to its mother country, remitting money to family back home, investing, and visiting as tourists.
This shows up in the country’s national accounts; Lebanon holds extremely high reserves of foreign currency, has experienced good macroeconomic growth despite the worldwide slowdown, and has a high investment rate (although not as high as financial inflows would lead one to expect). Like it or not, Beirut is being transformed by ultra-modern high-rises and luxury stores. It is also a country located in a dangerous neighborhood, sandwiched between implacable enemies, and vulnerable to hostile acts by its neighbors. A perfect recipe for support from MIGA.
On February 23, 2010 MIGA, along with the World Bank and IFC, participated in a conference organized by the Lebanese Ministry of Economy and Trade. The conference was attended by around 150 Lebanese businessmen and women, and keynote speeches were delivered by the Minister, the World Bank Country Director Hedi Larbi, and me. The MIGA session on political risk and political risk insurance--PRI--was presented by Nabil Fawaz and elicited significant interest from the audience, who were interested in potential PRI cover both for investments in Lebanon and for Lebanese investments in other countries. It was clear from questions that they have first-hand knowledge of political risk as it affects their investments, particularly war and civil disturbance; the most recent hostile incursion of 2006 remains fresh in their minds. Following our discussions with the business community I am optimistic that Lebanese investors and banks will be turning to MIGA in the coming months as they put together their financing packages. And these investors, who show courage -- even temerity – in doing business in difficult environments, are fully deserving of our support.