Lebanon is close to a deal with the World Bank on a $150 million loan for food security and to stabilise bread prices for the next six months, the country’s economy minister has said.
Amin Salam said he was ‘optimistic’ about talks with the IMF.
“Work is ongoing and the train is moving. I am optimistic,” he said.
Mr Salam said the IMF is focusing on three sectors — electricity, transportation and high-speed internet — which could help reactivate the economy.
He said the government does not have immediate plans to lift bread subsidies, especially for flour used in making flat Arabic bread, the main staple in Lebanon.
The country’s economic crisis has been described as one of the worst in modern history. Lebanon imports most of its wheat and has faced shortages over the past weeks as Russia’s war in Ukraine leads to increases in prices of oil and food products globally.
There have been concerns the government might lift wheat subsidies as foreign currency reserves drop to critical levels at the central bank. Any lifting of subsidies would sharply increase the price of bread in a country where more than three-quarters of its six million people, including one million Syrian refugees, live in poverty.
“We are working with the World Bank to keep market stability for the next six months by getting $150 million,” Mr Salam told AP.
He said the deal with the World Bank would stabilise the price of bread and wheat until a ration card policy is in force so people in need can benefit.
Mr Salam said subsidies cannot continue for ever, especially for flour that is used for making pastries and sweets. He said such policies were implemented in Egypt and other countries where subsidies were lifted for wheat used in some products and left for bread.
Meetings are scheduled with World Bank officials on Wednesday, said Mr Salam. Lebanon will then propose final recommendations to the bank’s board.
He said the war in Ukraine is forcing Lebanon to find new sources of wheat that are far away and more expensive.
Earlier this month, Lebanon and the IMF reached a tentative agreement for comprehensive economic policies that could eventually pave the way for some relief for the country after Beirut implements wide-ranging reforms.
Breaking with the position of the prime minister, he suggested central bank governor Riad Salameh should leave his role.
″His situation has become tenuous,″ Mr Salam said.
Mr Salameh, who has been in the job since 1993, is facing investigations in Lebanon and several European countries into possible cases of money laundering and embezzlement. The governor is protected by several top officials, including the prime minister and parliament speaker.
“I’m all for change,” Mr Salam said. “No one is irreplaceable.”
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