International experts converge at economics, finance forum
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June 6, 2006—
Speakers at an economics and finance forum at LAU outlined patterns and policies adopted by countries in the Middle East and North Africa and discussed their implications on the region’s growth and economic revival.
The 8th International Conference on the Economics and Finance of the Middle East and North Africa grouped participants from the U.S., the U.K., France, Switzerland, Iran, Tunisia, Egypt and Lebanon.
About 11 speakers including academicians, economists and financial experts submitted papers on the economy and finance of the MENA region. The School of Business at the Byblos campus organized the event May 22–24, 2006.
David Cobham from the Department of Economics at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh tackled exchange rate regimes and trade with implications for MENA countries. He outlined such implications against the background of MENA countries’ current exchange rate arrangements and trade patterns.
“Exchange rate regimes can have large effects on the pattern of a country’s trade,” he said. “In choosing their exchange rate regimes, countries should aim to maximize their trade as a means to maximizing growth and welfare,” he added. Cobham believes that while most MENA countries are operating with exchange rate regimes focused on the dollar, they would be better off with a focus on the euro.
Hadi Salehi Esfahani from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in the U.S. examined the evolution of trade policy in MENA countries since the 1960s. “Contrary to the current popular perception, until the 1980s, MENA countries were generally more open than the rest of the developing world. That situation changed in the 1980s and especially the 1990s as most MENA countries maintained their trade policies, while many other developing countries proceeded with liberalization,” Esfahani told the conference.
Conference speakers also tackled issues related to monetary policies, social capital and governance, trade, finance and financial markets, as well as structure and growth of MENA economies.
On the sidelines of the conference, a public policy session on the Lebanese government’s “Beirut I Proposal for Reform” was held with the participation of former Finance Minister George Corm, MP Farid El Khazen and Finance Ministry Consultant Saadeh El Chami. The roundtable discussion tackled the current economic situation in Lebanon and the problem of public deficit with its negative impact on economic activity and investment.
El Shami outlined the Lebanese government’s economic reform proposal as based on two pillars: boosting growth to reduce public deficit and adopting new monetary and financial policies. While El Khazen regarded the proposals as offering short-term solutions to Lebanon’s economic problems, Corm suggested launching economic dialogue between the Finance Ministry and the Central Bank to agree on the rescheduling of the country’s debt.