The Association of Lebanese Industrialists (ALI), in cooperation with the Cedar Oxygen (Cedar O2) Fund, held this Wednesday a virtual press conference titled “Don’t Cut Off Industry’s Oxygen Supply”, to sound the alarm in favor of protecting the industrial sector which is wavering under the repeated lockdowns, and thus making the Lebanese economy and the citizens suffer in the process.

The conference held via Zoom was attended by caretaker Industry Minister Imad Hoballah, caretaker Economy Minister Raoul Nehme, Chairman of the Economy Parliamentary Committee Farid Boustany, Head of the Association of Lebanese Industrialists Fady Gemayel, Vice President of the Association of Lebanese Industrialists George Nasrawi, and Chairman of the Board of Directors of Cedar Oxygen Alexandre Harkous.

President of the Association of Lebanese Industrialists, Dr. Fady Gemayel, said “what is required is to provide all the components and conditions that bolster the resilience of the Lebanese industry and activate its role, given its significance as a national need. He appealed to the concerned officials, at all levels, to deal with this file with wisdom and expertise, and adopt a comprehensive vision that makes the right real and preserves the higher national interest. Stressing that the health of citizens is a red line, Gemayel said: “We are against blind generalization, which succeeds in one place and proves detrimental in another, as happened to the industry,” pinning high hopes on the success of Cedar Oxygen Fund, to supply the national industry with oxygen, in order for it to survive and continue to play its national role.

In turn, Vice President of the Association of Lebanese Industrialists, George Nasrawi, regretted the fact that lockdown decisions had not taken into account the opinions of experts in the different productive sectors, which dealt a massive blow to the economy and led to the loss of many essential commodities. He pointed out that the deteriorating living conditions have prompted the ALI to act out of a sense of responsibility and initiate proposals to the decision-makers to reconsider their closure decisions, and adopt measures for the gradual reopening of the industrial and productive sectors, in coordination with the Ministry of Industry and the Health Committee. Nasrawi shed light on the industrial sector’s role in introducing hard currencies into the country by means of export. “Due to the full lockdown, exports have declined and their values have significantly dropped. We have also started losing foreign markets in which we are exposed to fierce competition,” he explained.

Chairman of the Board of Directors of Cedar Oxygen, Alexandre Harkous, explained that “the Cedar O2 team has conducted an in-depth study that demonstrated in numbers how countries such as France, Germany, Italy and the United Kingdom have maintained their production levels, despite all Covid-related difficulties, preserving their GDP and their employment rates all by allowing industrialists to continue to work an produce during lockdowns. He stressed that his team had relied in the study on the UNIDO report dedicated to health safety guidelines for the industrial sector in Lebanon. Harkous urged officials to put their trust in the Association of Lebanese Industrialists “because the health of industrialists is a priority.” He finally stressed that “Cedar Oxygen is providing the necessary assistance, facilitation, and support to industrialists to make the most out of the Fund’s experience and external expertise.”

Caretaker Minister of Industry, Imad Hoballah, pointed to the importance of “adhering to the decisions of the Health Committee to get out of the major crisis we are currently going through, knowing that the coronavirus pandemic has posed a great challenge to several major countries.” Stressing that the protection of the Lebanese is a fundamental responsibility, Hoballah warned that rationing production capacity would take its toll on the economy and its chances of revival. He thus called for excluding factories from the lockdown restrictions, and imposing strict prevention and safety measures (listing those in detail) to uphold awareness over public safety. In response to a question, he called on the media to highlight that factories, by the nature of their work, are not an incubator environment for the spread of coronavirus. He also indicated, in response to another question, that there is an inclination, of late, to lift subsidies off products that may end up being granted to certain parties in an unwarranted manner, or may otherwise be smuggled, underlining the necessity of switching to ration cards.

Caretaker Minister of Economy, Raoul Nehme, in turn said “it is no secret that the economic situation is difficult and there is an urgent need to move to a productive economy,” regretting the Health Committee’s failure to listen to the requirements of the economy due to the citizens’ lack of commitment. “Export and production are important in bringing in financial returns, and preventing shortage in basic materials,” he corroborated, stressing that commitment can help reopen the country in a sound and safe manner, and prevent any negative repercussions caused by lack of collective responsibility. In response to a question about the rise in commodity prices during the lockdown period, he explained that the reason was the import of unsubsidized materials in light of the high dollar exchange rate.

For his part, Head of the Economy, Trade, Industry and Planning Committee, MP Farid Boustany, explained that his parliamentary committee “balances between the health priority, which is the safety of citizens, and social security — a keenness to prevent those who have not died from coronavirus from dying of poverty or hunger. He explained that, after intensive meetings with industrialists and representatives of all productive, economic and trade union sectors, recommendations were put forward to work to lessen the stringent closure measures by allowing partial opening, within the safety and health standards, and by following strict prevention protocols within factories, conducting periodic PCR testing, and adhering to the minimum number of workers and employees (not exceeding 25%). “We hope, as an economic committee, that this issue will be given the necessary attention, so we might escape falling into bankruptcy,” he said. In response to a question, Boustany underscored the importance of stopping cross-border smuggling.

The dialogue was moderated by Eliane Sahyoun, and attended by a number of media professionals and economic journalists representing the various Lebanese media outlets that participated in the conference.

Source: National News Agency