Economic and Political Overview

flag Lebanon Lebanon: Economic and Political Overview

In this page: Economic Outline | Political Outline | COVID-19 Country Response

 

Economic Outline

Economic Overview

For the latest updates on the key economic responses from governments to address the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, please consult the IMF's policy tracking platform Policy Responses to COVID-19.

After years of neglect, corruption, financial mismanagement and the war next door in Syria, the Lebanese economy spilled over into a full-blown crisis in October 2019, sparking mass protests that demanded sweeping reforms. The economic crisis deteriorated further since, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, rising public debt, a USD 1.2 billion Eurobond sovereign default, a currency collapse and an explosion at the port of Beirut. The traditional engines of growth in Lebanon (real estate, construction and tourism) have stalled and the banking sector, which until now has been praised for its resilience, has collapsed. According to the latest IMF data, GDP contracted by -25% in 2020. Euler Hermes expects the recession to continue in 2022, and real GDP not to return to the pre-recession level of 2017 before 2030. The Economist Intelligence Unit also expects Lebanon's economy to contract further in 2022, as private consumption is hit and coronavirus-related issues exacerbate the economic, currency, financial and debt crises. Inversely, Focus Economics forecasts a return to positive growth in 2022 (2.5%), mainly due to a favourable base effect following four straight years of recession. Among the downside risks are high inflation, dysfunctional politics, social unrest, tensions with the Gulf and the failure to undertake reforms (Focus Economics).

In 2021, Lebanon’s unprecedented crisis further deteriorated as a political deadlock prevented any reform to be implemented. The economy contracted by about 30% since 2017, the Lebanese lira lost around 90% of its value, and food prices have increased almost ten-fold since May 2019 (IMF). Social unrest and Saudi Arabia’s ban on Lebanese imports in October further darkened the situation. Public debt was estimated at 150.4% GDP in 2020, according to IMF latest figures. Lebanon is the third most indebted country in the world, after Japan and Greece. The budget deficit reached -4.8% of GDP in 2020. High public debt and a persistent overall deficit limited government action during economic downturns and following the Covid-19 crisis. The current account deficit was recorded at -17.8% of GDP in 2020. Inflation soared to nearly 85% in 2020 and is forecast by Euler Hermes at around 135% in 2021 and 50% in 2022. In November 2021, the year on year general inflation rate exceeded 200%, the highest level ever recorded in the country (FAO). The formation of a new government in September 2021 provided the opportunity to restart negotiations with the IMF. Lebanon is seeking tens of billions of dollars in aid from donor nations and the Fund, but getting this aid requires the implementation of long-overdue reforms. As pointed out by the IMF, Lebanon needs assistance to overcome its deep humanitarian, social, and economic crisis and to implement reforms to bring public finances into order, restructure public debt, rehabilitate the banking system, expand the social safety net, reform state-owned enterprises, and improve governance.

The country faces many humanitarian and social issues in addition to macroeconomic and politic challenges. The massive influx of Syrian refugees (25% of the country's population) has shaken the countries demographic balance, labour market, and is putting pressure on the costs of rent, infrastructure and supply of public services (water and electricity). The 'waste crisis', which begun in 2015, is yet to be resolved as garbage continues to pile up along the Mediterranean Sea. Unemployment has skyrocketed following the inflow of Syrian refugees, which are competing with Lebanese workers in the informal sector and could hit over a quarter of the workforce. According to the World Bank, 60% of the country's young people are not in employment, education or training. Over 70% of refugees live under the poverty line. The country faces significant social inequalities.

 
Main Indicators 20202021 (e)2022 (e)2023 (e)2024 (e)
GDP (billions USD) 24.49e0.000.000.000.00
GDP (Constant Prices, Annual % Change) -25.9e0.00.00.00.0
GDP per Capita (USD) 3e0000
General Government Balance (in % of GDP) -5.40.00.00.00.0
General Government Gross Debt (in % of GDP) 150.60.00.00.00.0
Inflation Rate (%) 84.90.00.00.00.0
Current Account (billions USD) -3.880.000.000.000.00
Current Account (in % of GDP) -15.80.00.00.00.0

Source: IMF – World Economic Outlook Database, Latest available data

Note: (e) Estimated Data

 

Main Sectors of Industry

Lebanon has fertile lands and benefits from a moderate climate and abundant water resources. However, the agricultural sector is under-developed, only contributes 3% of the GDP, and employs 11% of the workforce (World Bank, 2020). Key agricultural products include fruits (mainly apples, oranges, bananas and grapes, but also significantly olives) which account for around 30% of total agricultural production, and vegetables (such as potatoes, tomatoes and maize) which account for more than 60% of total production. Covid-19-induced trade restrictions have deepened the economic and financial crisis in Lebanon, further increasing the prices of imported food products. In addition, restrictions imposed on agricultural workers have prevented them from harvesting seasonal agricultural products. In addition to the Covid-19 crisis, the explosion at the port of Beirut in August 2020 wiped out much of Lebanon's grain reserves. In fact, the port of Beirut houses the country's only grain silos and receives 80% of its imports. Food insecurity has risen as economic situation worsened.

Industry, which accounted for 12.8% of GDP in 2019, dropped to 6.9% of GDP in 2020 due to the crisis. It employs 23.6% of the workforce. It is dominated by the manufacturing of agricultural products, metals, minerals, furniture and other manufactured goods. Before the crisis, there were over 4,700 industrial firms in Lebanon, mainly industries manufacturing agri-food products, followed by construction materials and chemical products.

Services are the dominant sector of Lebanese economy, representing 87.2% of the country's GDP and employing 65% of the workforce. The banking sector was traditionally the mainstay of the economy, but it is going through a major crisis. In March 2020, Lebanon defaulted on its USD 1.2 billion Eurobond debt for the first time. Banking activity, even when it was sustained and lucrative, did not constitute real support for the private sector since most of the liquidity coming from banks is used to finance public debt. Tourism accounts for almost 20% of GDP and employs around 18% of the active population. The sector currently suffers from the serious economic and political crisis that the country is going through and was severely affected by the Covid-19 crisis. According to the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), the number of tourist arrivals has fallen by about 57% in the Middle East.

 
Breakdown of Economic Activity By Sector Agriculture Industry Services
Employment By Sector (in % of Total Employment) 11.3 23.6 65.1
Value Added (in % of GDP) 2.5 7.2 86.4
Value Added (Annual % Change) -25.1 -0.3 -16.2

Source: World Bank, Latest available data.

 

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Indicator of Economic Freedom

Definition:

The Economic freedom index measure ten components of economic freedom, grouped into four broad categories or pillars of economic freedom: Rule of Law (property rights, freedom from corruption); Limited Government (fiscal freedom, government spending); Regulatory Efficiency (business freedom, labour freedom, monetary freedom); and Open Markets (trade freedom, investment freedom, financial freedom). Each of the freedoms within these four broad categories is individually scored on a scale of 0 to 100. A country’s overall economic freedom score is a simple average of its scores on the 10 individual freedoms.

Score:
51,4/100
World Rank:
154
Regional Rank:
12

Economic freedom in the world (interactive map)
Source: Index of Economic Freedom, Heritage Foundation

 
 

Country Risk

See the country risk analysis provided by Coface.

 

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Political Outline

Current Political Leaders
President: Michel Awn (since 31 October 2016)
Prime Minister: Najib Mikati (since 10 September 2021)
Next Election Dates
Presidential: 2022
National Assembly: May 2026
Current Political Context
Lebanon is characterised by a high level of political instability, aggravated by a severe economic crisis. The political system aims at preserving the balance between the main religious groups. In September 2021, as the country was diving further deeply into chaos and had experience a political deadlock for more than a year, a new government was formed, headed by Prime Minister Najib Mikati, a billionaire telecoms tycoon and two-time former prime minister. The government initiated discussions with the IMF regarding a much needed recovery and reform plan. On the geopolitical scene, Lebanon remains at the heart of antagonism opposing the two largest regional powers, Saudi Arabia and Iran. As a result of an arrangement between Hezbollah and Iran, fuel from Iran was delivered to Lebanon in September, triggering the imposition of new sanctions from the US (Security Council Report). Following comments made by a Lebanese official criticizing the Saudi-led war in Yemen, Saudi Arabia expelled Lebanon’s ambassador and banned Lebanese imports. Bahrain, Kuwait, and the United Arab Emirates also took diplomatic measures against Lebanon (The Economist Intelligence Unit). Ministers affiliated with Hezbollah have reportedly threatened to bring the new Lebanese government to a standstill unless Judge Tarek Bitar, who is leading the investigation into the 4 August 2020 Beirut port explosion, is removed. On 14 October 2021, seven people died and more than 30 were wounded following armed clashes that occurred in connection with anti-Bitar protests (Security Council Report). For the first time since 2014, the Israel Defence Forces conducted airstrikes on Lebanese territory at the Blue Line border.
Main Political Parties
Political forces are assigned by a fixed number of seats according to their religious denomination. They group to form electoral alliances, but such coalitions are weakly connected in practice. Two presiding coalitions formed in the wake of the 2005 assassination of former Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri:

- 14 March Coalition: maintains alliances with Druze and Phalange Christians; anti-Syrian. Comprised of:
     o Future Movement: centre-right, Sunni Muslim
     o Lebanese Forces: conservative, Maronite Christian
- 8 March Coalition: Centrist, Hezbollah-backed, pro-Syrian. Comprised of:
     o Free Patriotic Movement: centre to centre-left, Maronite Christian
     o Amal Movement: centre to centre-right, Shi'a Muslim
     o Hezbollah: Shi'a Muslim

Type of State
A Republic based on confessionalism, parliamentary democracy. This means that each political position must be filled by a person of a particular denomination.
Executive Power
The President is the head of the state and is elected by the National Assembly for a six-year term. The Prime Minister is appointed by the President in consultation with the National Assembly and acts as the head of the government, to serve a four year term. Though the Prime Minister enjoys the executive powers which include implementation of the law in the country and running the day-to-day affairs, the President also holds a strong and influential position which includes promulgation of laws passed by parliament and ratification of treaties. The Cabinet is chosen by the Prime Minister in consultation with the President and members of the National Assembly. As per the constitution of the country, the President must be a Maronite Catholic Christian and the Prime Minister a Sunni Muslim.
Legislative Power
The legislature in Lebanon is unicameral. The parliament called National Assembly consists of 128 seats; with its members elected by popular vote on the basis of proportional representation, with quotas according to religion,  to serve four-year terms. Legislative power is vested in both the government and the parliament. The executive branch of the government is directly or indirectly dependent on the support of the parliament, often expressed through a vote of confidence. The Prime Minister cannot dissolve the parliament nor can he veto its enactments. The Speaker of the Parliament must be a Shiite Muslim.
 

Indicator of Freedom of the Press

Definition:

The world rankings, published annually, measures violations of press freedom worldwide. It reflects the degree of freedom enjoyed by journalists, the media and digital citizens of each country and the means used by states to respect and uphold this freedom. Finally, a note and a position are assigned to each country. To compile this index, Reporters Without Borders (RWB) prepared a questionnaire incorporating the main criteria (44 in total) to assess the situation of press freedom in a given country. This questionnaire was sent to partner organisations,150 RWB correspondents, journalists, researchers, jurists and human rights activists. It includes every kind of direct attacks against journalists and digital citizens (murders, imprisonment, assault, threats, etc.) or against the media (censorship, confiscation, searches and harassment etc.).

World Rank:
107/180
 

Indicator of Political Freedom

Definition:

The Indicator of Political Freedom provides an annual evaluation of the state of freedom in a country as experienced by individuals. The survey measures freedom according to two broad categories: political rights and civil liberties. The ratings process is based on a checklist of 10 political rights questions (on Electoral Process, Political Pluralism and Participation, Functioning of Government) and 15 civil liberties questions (on Freedom of Expression, Belief, Associational and Organizational Rights, Rule of Law, Personal Autonomy and Individual Rights). Scores are awarded to each of these questions on a scale of 0 to 4, where a score of 0 represents the smallest degree and 4 the greatest degree of rights or liberties present. The total score awarded to the political rights and civil liberties checklist determines the political rights and civil liberties rating. Each rating of 1 through 7, with 1 representing the highest and 7 the lowest level of freedom, corresponds to a range of total scores.

Ranking:
Partly Free
Political Freedom:
5/7
Civil Liberties:
4/7

Political freedom in the world (interactive map)
Source: Freedom in the World Report, Freedom House

 

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COVID-19 Country Response

COVID-19 epidemic evolution

To find out about the latest status of the COVID-19 pandemic evolution and the most up-to-date statistics on the COVID-19 disease in Lebanon, consult the dedicated page on the website of the Ministry of Public Health. The portal also includes data on the geographical distribution of the epidemic in the country.
For the international outlook you can consult the latest
situation reports published by the World Health Organisation as well as the global daily statistics on the coronavirus pandemic evolution including data on confirmed cases and deaths by country.

Sanitary measures

To find out about the latest public health situation in Lebanon and the current sanitary measures in vigour, please consult the dedicated pages on the website of the Ministry of Public Health.
The Lebanese COVID-19 National Health Strategic Preparedness and Response Plan can be consulted here.

Travel restrictions

The COVID-19 situation, including the spread of new variants, evolves rapidly and differs from country to country. All travelers need to pay close attention to the conditions at their destination before traveling. Regularly updated information for all countries with regards to Covid-19 related travel restrictions in place including entry regulations, flight bans, test requirements and quarantine is available on TravelDoc Infopage.
It is also highly recommended to consult COVID-19 Travel Regulations Map provided and updated on the daily basis by IATA.
The US government website of Centers of Disease Control and Prevention provides COVID-19 Travel Recommendations by Destination.
The UK Foreign travel advice also provides travelling abroad advice for all countries, including the latest information on coronavirus, safety and security, entry requirements and travel warnings.

Import & export restrictions

For information on the trade restrictions adopted by the Lebanese government, consult the section dedicated to Lebanon on the International Trade Centre's COVID-19 Temporary Trade Measures webpage.

Economic recovery plan

For the general overview of the key economic policy responses to the COVID-19 outbreak (fiscal, monetary and macroeconomic) taken by the Lebanese government to limit the socio-economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, please consult the section dedicated to Lebanon in the IMF’s Policy Tracker platform.

Support plan for businesses

For the information on the local business support scheme established by the Lebanese government, consult the website of the Ministry of Economy and Trade, as well as the dedicated page from KPMG.

For a general overview of international SME support policy responses to the COVID-19 outbreak refer to the OECD's SME Covid-19 Policy Responses document.
You can also consult the World Bank's Map of SME-Support Measures in Response to COVID-19.

Support plan for exporters

For the up-to-date information on possible support plans for exporters in Lebanon, if applicable, please consult the website of the Investment Development Authority of Lebanon (IDAL).

 

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Latest Update: November 2022