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In its ongoing commitment to provide intelligent market analysis for the region in a frank and open forum, Economist Conferences, part of The Economist Group, will host a business roundtable at the Four Seasons hotel, in Beirut on Tuesday June 15th 2010 to discuss how Lebanon can take advantage of its home-grown talent and once again become a regional hub.

The event will host Prime Minister Saad Hariri and senior ministers from the Government of Lebanon, alongside business leaders and experts from The Economist Group, to engage in a debate on the critical issues affecting the economic and business outlook for Lebanon.

The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) forecasts that Lebanon's economic growth will reach 5.6% in 2010 and 5.3% in 2011, driven by robust demand for Lebanon's exports of goods and services, especially tourism.

Although this is below the growth seen in 2007-09, it is still well above the long-term average since the civil war. It is also above the forecast for MENA regional growth, which is expected to average 4.5% in each year.

But Lebanon's growth potential is far higher. The country has strong human capital and many areas of the country are underdeveloped. At present, growth is concentrated in a few services sectors based around Beirut. If sufficient financing and investment were made available, and if investors were confident enough, a wider range of economic sectors in different regions of the country could grow strongly.

One of the key constraints is the uncertainty about the long-term political situation, especially in the light of the political risks elsewhere in the region and the unresolved conflict with Israel. The country's limited infrastructure - especially for electricity -could also place a ceiling on growth.

A third concern is the cost of financing; Lebanon's banking sector has been successful in terms of its own growth and profitability, but its contribution to wider economic growth is limited. This situation looks unlikely to change as banks will continue to extend much of their domestic credit to the government. The Economist Intelligence Unit forecasts that the fiscal deficit will average 10% of GDP per year in 2010 and 2011, and will remain one of the major constraints on Lebanon's growth.

The issues of the fiscal deficit, the infrastructure for electricity and telecoms, the role of the banking sector, human capital, and Lebanon's legal environment for doing business, will all be discussed through an honest and interactive debate at Economist Conference's first roundtable in Lebanon, to be held next week, Tuesday 15th June, at the Four Seasons in Beirut.

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