The country enjoys a free-market economy, although US ratings agency Moody’s recently downgraded its B1 standing from stable to negative. In 2001, the Investment Development Authority of Lebanon (IDAL) was established to encourage investment in the country, offering tax breaks and a series of exemptions to companies upon both set-up and operation. Foreign investment is not restricted and the economy’s main areas of strength include banking and tourism. The average time taken to start a business in the country is nine days, according to IDAL.

 

In recent years, the National Investment Law of 2001 has been upgraded, making trading conditions for small and medium-sized enterprises more appealing. Lebanon’s economy has been struggling in the past couple of years, with gross domestic product growth of just 1.5 per cent. The conflicting in neighbouring Syria is hurting the economy, denting investor sentiment. In the longer term, oil and gas discoveries give reason for optimism, however. Lebanon’s economy is only the 91st freest in the world, according to the 2013 Index of Economic Freedom from US think tank The Heritage Foundation.

The country currently operates one main free zone, the Logistics Free Zone, which is run by the Port of Beirut (POB). Established in 1995, the zone offers 100 per cent foreign ownership and customs exemptions. The port covers 1.2 million square metres, of which 11,200 sq m comprises the free zone. In 2007, POB opened the logistics free zone area to accommodate companies that operate in transport, transit, export, logistics and international trade.

Tripoli port, in the north of the country, stretches over 320,000 sq m, with a further 420,000 sq m allocated for a future zone, including a container berth and a free economic zone.

In 2012, IDAL launched a specialised economic zone pilot project in Tripoli. This zone comprises 55 warehouses and 46 yards, catering to import, export and re-export. Lebanon is also planning two new free zones in the north, at Selaata and Qlaiaat, although information about progress is scarce.

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