Translated by Rasha Zantout
The Maronite League in Lebanon has always endeavoured to activate the relationship between resident and expatriate Lebanon, especially with the increased migration of Lebanese in the sixties of the nineteenth century, a thing which led to having more Lebanese living abroad than home. Faced with this fact, the Maronite League launched in December of 2012 a study for a project that would establish a free economic zone in Batroun, specialized in the field of technology, the basis of modern economy in the world. This field is estimated today at twenty trillion US Dollars and makes up thirty percent of US, EU, Chinese and Japanese economy. As for the Arab world, this sector is on the rise as stocks for tech products are skyrocketing among exporting industries.
Batroun’s free zone project has made its way to parliament, as the Maronite League is keen on making it a comprehensive project for Lebanese from all political sides. This free economic zone will specialize in attracting expatriate and foreign investments in specific sectors, such as information and communication technologies.
The project will be executed in collaboration with Batroun Parish, under the patronage of Bishop Mounir Kheirallah who has placed one of the Parish’s lands in Kfar Hay under the project’s disposal. Work is underway to locate other real estate in Batroun, since the zone will not be located in one specific geographical area. This project is expected to offer work opportunities for five thousand citizens in a region surrounded by the best universities in a safe and beautiful geographic location. The parish has offered all its real estate and moral capacities for the sake of providing work for the youth so that they stay in their land. The main priority of the church and the Maronite League is to entice the youth to stay in their homeland.
Head of the Economic Committee of the Maronite League, Laurent Aoun, confirms that the “economic zone will contribute to balanced growth and creating job opportunities and anchoring the Lebanese in their lands, as well as bringing back expatriate investments.” He noted that in light of a striking absence of a national strategy that links expatriates to Lebanon through fruitful economic projects, a plan had to be put forth to tie all expatriate powers, without exception, to the Lebanese economy.
“Developed countries race to attract qualified immigrants to push their economies forward, while Lebanon exports its educated youth worldwide without a well thought out plan. Hence, this project came to stop this brain drain.”
Aoun asserted that one of the main goals of the project is to enhance administrative decentralization and provide a good living for citizens who remain steadfast in their villages and towns outside the capital, Beirut, so that they are not forced to leave for the city or abroad. “Various international studies proved that luring investments into areas outside the capital eliminates the problem of distance from state administrations and the issues of time and bureaucracy.”
Aoun encouraged the establishment of more free economic zones to achieve balanced growth among all Lebanese regions.
What makes Batroun’s free economic zone special is its administration which will be in the hands of a general committee that enjoys financial and administrative independence based on variety rather than monopoly. This committee will place the licensing terms for intended investment projects. These administrative licenses are to be approved within a limited and short time by the committee instead of public administrations, institutions and municipalities. Further incentives will be provided, such as tax exemptions.
He highlighted that the suggested project law is similar to that of Tripoli’s free economic zone, which dates back to 2008, a thing which will save a lot of time and help overcome many obstacles due to precedence.
“The Maronite League has been trying for years to revitalize the relation between resident and expatriate Lebanon,” Aoun said, “from my position as head of the economic committee, I have worked through many studies and meetings with specialized components to bring forth mechanisms for a developmental link between expatriates and local economy for the sake of creating jobs and limiting immigration.”
He revealed that many expatriates expressed their enthusiasm and interest in the free economic zone. He namely mentioned a Lebanese expatriate telecommunication company that is willing to invest as soon as its transactions are in order. Real estate will also be rented out at encouraging rates for expatriate and foreign investors.
Aoun explained that there are 2800 free economic zones in the world. Ireland established the first modern zone in the mid fifties and has successfully transformed its economy into a lucrative one by creating job opportunities.
“The objective of the Maronite League for creating this free zone is establishing administrative decentralization, balanced growth, and keeping citizens in their lands.”
He added that his free zone will push the economy forward and invigorate Batroun.
Although the beginning is in Batroun, the League is looking into other regions for a similar project, such as Bekaa.
“The proposed law does not limit the economic zone to one location in Batroun, but will spread out into different areas.”
Aoun reassured those concerned that the investments will be environment friendly and will not include heavy or medium industries, as the focus will be on light weight industries, programming and assembling. He confirmed that every step will take place in coordination with the mayor and municipal members, taking into consideration their opinions and suggestions.