Lebanese economic growth zero if not negative, acknowledges Finance Minister Khalil

Lebanese Finance Minister Ali Hassan Khalil, right, and Prime Minister Saad Hariri, centre, during a cabinet meeting in Beirut. (Reuters)
Updated 18 September 2019

Lebanese economic growth zero if not negative, acknowledges Finance Minister Khalil

  • Finance Minister Ali Hassan Khalil said Lebanon will very soon start measures to issue about $2 billion of foreign currency bonds
  • One of the world’s most heavily indebted states, Lebanon is aiming to drive through long-postponed reforms to put the public finances on a sustainable path

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s economic growth is zero if not negative, leading to pressure on the central bank’s foreign currency reserves, Finance Minister Ali Hassan Khalil said on Wednesday.
Khalil also said Lebanon will “very soon” start measures to issue about $2 billion of foreign currency bonds.
In response to questions about difficulties some Lebanese have faced in obtaining dollars, Khalil said that “there was not much liquidity in people’s hands” but that this had “no impact” and that banks were maintaining the pegged exchange rate.
Khalil was giving details at a news conference of the 2020 draft state budget, which is aimed at reducing the deficit. The new budget would include no new taxes or fees, he said.
“The level of growth went back to zero, if not negative, and therefore this matter led to an increase in the pressure on (the central bank) reserve in foreign currencies, (and) the accumulation of the deficit in the treasury,” Khalil said.
The cost of debt servicing had also moved higher with increased interest rates, he said.
One of the world’s most heavily indebted states, Lebanon is aiming to drive through long-postponed reforms to put the public finances on a sustainable path.
The impetus has grown due to a stagnant economy and a slowdown in inflows of hard currency from Lebanese abroad, which has long been a key source of financing for the state and its current account deficit.
The Lebanese pound has been pegged at its current level against the US dollar for more than two decades and the government has vowed it will be kept there.
Some Lebanese importers say they have found it harder or more expensive to acquire dollars in recent weeks.
“The economic situation is tough but we are not a collapsing country at the financial level ... and we still have the ability to meet needs,” Khalil said. “Yes, there is not much liquidity in foreign currencies in people’s hands in the market, but the dollar exchange rate is still maintained in the banks.
“What we are feeling is that small cash in people’s hands is not available, outside the framework of (bank) transactions ... but we want to say that this has no impact,” he added.


UK summons Iran envoy as Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe faces return to jail

Updated 36 min 8 sec ago

UK summons Iran envoy as Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe faces return to jail

  • Husband Richard Ratcliffe: Iran has ordered Nazanin to report to court for a new trial on Monday and then back to jail
  • Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab: Britain has made it clear to Iran “that is entirely unjustified and totally unacceptable and must not happen”

LONDON: Britain on Friday warned Iran against throwing detained woman Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe back in jail, after hauling in Tehran’s envoy for a dressing-down over her emotive case.
The Foreign Office summoned Ambassador Hamid Baeidinejad on Thursday to hear renewed demands from a senior official for an end to the British-Iranian captive’s “arbitrary detention.”
Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab told BBC radio Zaghari-Ratcliffe was in a “horrific position,” after her husband said Iran has ordered her to report to court for a new trial on Monday and then back to jail.
Britain has made it clear to Iran “that is entirely unjustified and totally unacceptable and must not happen,” Raab said.
Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who will turn 42 on Boxing Day, has been on temporary release from Tehran’s Evin prison and under house arrest since earlier this year because of the coronavirus pandemic.
She has spent more than four years in jail, or under house arrest, since being detained in the Iranian capital in April 2016 while visiting relatives with her young daughter.
Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who worked for the Thomson Reuters Foundation — the media organization’s philanthropic arm — denied charges of sedition but was convicted and jailed for five years.

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe has spent more than four years in jail, or under house arrest, since being detained in the Iranian capital in April 2016. (AFP)

Her husband Richard Ratcliffe said this week that the Foreign Office’s handling of the case “seems disastrous,” and that “the UK is dancing to Iran’s tune.”
Raab told the BBC: “We’ve made it very clear we want to try to put the relationship between the UK and Iran on a better footing.
“If Nazanin is returned to prison, that will of course put our discussions and the basis of those discussions in a totally different place. It is entirely unacceptable.”
Richard Ratcliffe linked the latest development to the postponement of a hearing that was due to take place on Tuesday in London to address Iran’s longstanding demand for the repayment by Britain of hundreds of millions from an old military equipment order.
“As Nazanin’s husband, I do think that if she’s not home for Christmas, there’s every chance this could run for years,” he said, accusing Iran of “hostage diplomacy.”