Lebanon - Market OverviewLebanon - Market Overview
While small in scope, Lebanon offers unique market opportunities for U.S. firms in a region that is building out key industry sectors and strategic projects. U.S. products and services enjoy relatively excellent receptivity and although the market is price sensitive, when it comes to quality, Lebanese consumers enjoy name brands, exceptional quality, and after sales support. For these reasons, several U.S. corporations have decided to opened offices in Beirut. In April 2018, the Lebanese government presented a multi-billion dollar Capital Investment Plan (CIP) at the Government of France hosted "CEDRE" investment conference. Lebanon received over $11 billion in pledges from international donors for the first phase of the CIP (see Market Opportunities below for additional details).
The Lebanese Customs Administration reported that Lebanon’s total imports in 2018 reached $19.980 billion, of which $1.438 billion (7.2 percent) originated in the United States. In 2018, the United States ranked as Lebanon’s fourth largest trading partner behind China, Greece, and Italy. According to Lebanese Customs statistics, the major U.S. exports to Lebanon were mineral fuel and oil ($445 million), vehicles ($343 million), chemical industrial products ($202 million), machinery and electrical instruments ($130 million), prepared foodstuffs, vegetable products ($70 million), and beverages and tobacco ($58 million).
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) estimated that Lebanon's growth will be below its potential in the near term, hovering around 1-1.3 percent for 2019. Inflation rose to six percent in 2018, and the IMF forecasts will remain below five percent in 2019.
Lebanon is a free market and highly dollarized economy. The average exchange rate is pegged at 1,507.5 Lebanese Pounds (LBP) to one U.S Dollar. The country has no restrictions on the movement of capital, capital gains, remittances, dividends, or the inflow and outflow of funds. The Lebanese government’s intervention in foreign trade is minimal.
Lebanon faces major fiscal policy challenges, notably a high deficit and a high level of public debt which rose to 150.9 percent of GDP in 2018 (IMF estimate). Debt service dampens government investment in vital public services such as power generation, roads, bridges, dams, and waste management. The business climate will remain sensitive to domestic and regional political and security developments. In particular, the Syrian crisis has negatively impacted the Lebanese economy, straining further its weak infrastructure and poor service delivery, and cutting off one of the country's major markets and reduced trade through the principal transport corridor to the East and the Gulf.
The U.S. government has neither a bilateral investment treaty (BIT) with Lebanon, nor an agreement on the avoidance of double taxation. The U.S. government signed a Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA) with Lebanon in 2006, but the TIFA never came into force. Since 1999, Lebanon has had observer status at the World Trade Organization (WTO) but has yet to accede to the organization. In 2002, Lebanon signed an association agreement with the European Union that entered into force in 2006.
In January 2017, Lebanon announced its intention to join the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI), a global standard to promote transparency and good governance in the oil, gas, and mineral sectors. The government is currently working to meet EITI membership conditions and standards, which require active involvement of civil society organizations in industry oversight, as well as annual data on licenses, contracts, beneficial ownership, payments, revenues, and production.
There are several good reasons for U.S. companies to export to Lebanon. Lebanese consumers value U.S. products for their high quality, safety standards, and competitive price. English is widely spoken in the business community, and many Lebanese have first-hand knowledge of the United States through education or work experiences. Lebanon has a developed banking sector which is well-managed, well-capitalized, and regulated with strong links to the international financial system. Payments for business transactions are often made in U.S. dollars, and nearly all Lebanese banks have U.S. correspondent banking relationships that facilitate financial transactions between U.S. exporters and Lebanese importers.