The economic, financial and social crisis, which passed the two-year mark this year, continues to sink Lebanon into a bottomless abyss. Forced to struggle to survive, some companies can count on initiatives that aim to publicize and export Lebanese products abroad to capture hard currency that is sorely lacking in the country, whose local currency has been stinging since the end of summer 2019.
It is within this framework, that 27 Lebanese companies participated for the first time in the “Specialty and Fine Food Fair”, a trade fair organized at the Olympia in London and devoted to high-quality food products on the 6th and the 7th of September, 2021. They exhibited under the “Taste of Lebanon” pavilion divided into two stands (one for food, the other for drinks), and one of the largest at the fair, according to the event’s statement.
Although this is not the first time that Lebanese companies made their mark in this Salon which already has 22 editions, ” it is the first time that the Lebanese have joined forces to be represented in a single pavilion ”, rejoices Christian Kamel. As director of the Business Innovation and Enhance Exports for Lebanon project, an initiative of the Middle East Partnership Initiative, MEPI, funded by the United States of America Government ) and the NGO Fair Trade Lebanon (FTL), whose goal is to help Lebanese SMEs and cooperatives be more competitive on the international scene, Christian Kamel is particularly involved in the success of the event.
Of the 27 companies that came to represent Lebanon, 12 are vineyards and spirits producers: Château Ksara, Château St Thomas, Côteaux Les Cèdres, Château Heritage, Les Trois Maladroits, Karam Wines, Château Trois Collines, Adyar, Muse du Liban, Château Oumsiyat, The Three Brothers Gin and Elmir ;
14 specialize in food: The Good Thymes, Darmess, al-Kazzi, Le Joyau d’Olive, Mechaalany, Bustan el-Zeitoun, Terroirs du Liban, Biomass-Organic Products, al-Rabih, House of Zejd, mymoune, Said Saifan and 1939 Zeit Boulos; and a roaster, Café Super Brasil.
The three organizations mentioned above (Bieel, FTL and MEPI) have been supported by a plethora of Lebanese and foreign actors, including the Lebanese Embassy in the United Kingdom, the Canadian government, the Association of Industrialists of Lebanon (AIL), the Authority for the Development of Investments in Lebanon (IDAL), the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (Unido), the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), the NGO QOOT Cluster (an agricultural innovation cluster) and René Moawad Foundation.
The support of these actors made it possible for the Lebanese companies to finance their trip to the exhibition where the rental of a booth costs between “5,000 and 10,000 dollars”, not to mention other fees. 80% of the bill was paid by the organizers, and the remaining 20% covered by the invited companies.
“Money and Covid are severe limitations, but Lebanon had to be present and not miss this opportunity!”, summarizes the director of Bieel. This is the reason why Lebanese producers have come together under a single 60m² pavilion. In addition, “food & beverage professionals present in Great Britain took care of the presentation and the animation”, indicates Christian Kamel, who specifies that many virtual meetings on Zoom took place between these specialists and Lebanese companies to be able to convey product characteristics and key messages. The national carrier, Middle East Airlines (MEA), meanwhile carried nearly a ton of cargo free of charge to London, saving between “$ 5,000 and $ 10,000”.
Finally, it is no coincidence that the organizers chose the London Trade Show over another exhibition (the Gulfood in Dubai which takes place in February 2022 or the Anuga in Cologne which is scheduled for next month). According to Christian Kamel, Brexit has pushed the United Kingdom to seek new trading partners, prompting the British authorities to sign a new trade agreement with Lebanon in 2019. He added that the Economic Attaché at the Lebanese Embassy in the United Kingdom, Ralph Nehmé, is actively working to raise the quotas of Lebanese exports to this country. The second stated goal is “to get out of the ethnic market (specializing in Middle Eastern gastronomy) in order to sell the goods of the Cedar country in supermarkets, among other items.” The increase in exports will make it possible to “move from a rent economy to a productive economy”, hopes Christian Kamel, who relies above all on wine, olive oil and Lebanese specialized products, “which have an economic and social impact, due to strong jobs creations”. In 2019, exports to the UK of plant-based or animal-based products, as well as oils, ready-to-eat products, beverages and tobacco, reached nearly $ 18.7 million, according to figures from Lebanese customs, almost half of the total exports of nearly $ 40.6 million two years ago.