At Tripoli fair, Libyan and foreign firms eye post-war trade

Wed Apr 10, 2013 10:05am EDT
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By Marie-Louise Gumuchian

TRIPOLI (Reuters) - Handing out plastic tea spoons of golden honey, Milad Ahmed Ajaj hopes his local produce will win over curious onlookers hovering around his stand at a commercial fair in Tripoli.

The businessman, whose food company Alshifaa also produces olive oil, showcased his goods at the Tripoli International Fair this week along with other hopeful Libyan exporters who, after years of cumbersome bureaucracy during Muammar Gaddafi's rule, now see a chance to tap overseas markets.

"You can find Egyptian goods abroad, Tunisian olive oil is everywhere so why not Libyan goods? We have a similar climate, natural and good quality produce," Ajaj said at his stand, surrounded by jars of clear honey and bottles of olive oil.

"We are like babies wanting to take our first steps. We want to export our goods but Libya still has problems. We need support, a first push to help us target international markets."

Boosting exports would reduce Libya's reliance on volatile oil revenues and the drive to sell more overseas is being spearheaded by the Libyan Export Promotion Centre (LEPC), a body set up in 2006 that is supported by the economy ministry.

The North African country's first elections in a generation last July were seen marking a new start for the economy after Gaddafi's 42-year autocratic rule. The new government is still transitional as the country prepares for a new constitution but with unemployment estimated to be running at around 15 percent, it is under pressure to diversify the economy and create jobs.

Gross domestic product more than doubled last year, according to the International Monetary Fund, but growth was driven almost entirely by the resumption of oil production to levels of close to 1.6 million barrels per day (bpd) seen before the uprising that toppled Gaddafi in October 2011.

"Libya produces good-quality dates, fish and olives, for example, and there is no reason why it can't develop those into a good little export niche, with the right government support and business environment, especially given the country's location," Alex Warren of London-based research and advisory firm Frontier, said.   Continued...

A passerby visits a booth for a Libyan company selling local dates at the Tripoli International Fair, April 8, 2013. REUTERS/Ismail Zitouny