UAE and Gulf businesses are poised to flood into Libya after the Emirates' Central Bank lifted a freeze on the African country's assets.
Complying with UN resolutions, Abdulrahim Mohamed Al Awadi, the UAE Central Bank's executive director and head of anti-money laundering, instructed financial institutions to "cancel the freeze on accounts in the names of central bank of Libya, Libyan Arab Foreign Bank and related bank accounts, and Libyan Oil Supply DMCC."
Fund managers in the UAE hailed the Libya move as the start of a new page for the country and for businesses in the region, which have been preparing for months for a clear path into the post-revolution country and the major opportunity it represents. The late dictator Muammar Qaddafi's rule, "a state of constant revolution", left the country lacking government infrastructure including decent health care and schools for decades.
"Libya has the potential to be a major recipient from the Gulf region, given how rich it is and how hungry the country is for capital and investment after being a closed economy for more than 30 years," said Rami Sidani, the head of Middle East and North Africa investments at Schroder Investment Management in Dubai.
"The market will open up and will be an attractive growth story."
The UN froze US$150 billion (Dh550.95bn) worth of Libyan assets held in overseas bank accounts almost a year ago amid sanctions imposed to weaken Qaddafi's regime. He was ousted and killed in August after nearly 42 years of rule. Libya's economy is expected to recover this year amid a rise in oil production, the IMF said last month. As the holder of Africa's biggest oil reserves, it is producing more than 1 million barrels a day.
New oil concessions are expected to be given after the country's elections scheduled for June, Ali Tarhouni, the former Libyan oil minister, said this month. The country is currently being led by the National Transitional Council. Italy's Eni, America's ExxonMobil and the UK's BP operate in the country.
The move by the UAE watchdog to lift asset freezes is expected to bolster trade and foreign direct investment in Libya, said Fathi ben Grira, the chief executive of MenaCorp, an investment company based in Abu Dhabi.
"The federal authorities have sent a strong signal that now business can start," Mr ben Grira said. "The Gulf has already started to look at Libya very seriously a few months ago and we have received several inquiries to do feasibility studies and research on an array of sectors such as construction, oil services and even food and beverage."
Libya's GDP contracted as much as 60 per cent last year, after the country descended into civil war, and oil output crashed to 22,000 barrels a day in July from 1.6 million barrels in the same month the year before, the IMF said.
(Source: The National)