Bilateral Relations Overview
Embassy of India, Beirut
Brief on India-Lebanon bilateral relations
India and Lebanon have had traditionally amicable relations since the establishment of diplomatic relations in 1954. Shared commonalities include a democratic, parliamentary system of government based on a written constitution that guarantees the rule of law, certain basic freedoms and human rights such as freedom of expression; a market economy moving towards greater liberalization; a large pool of educated English-speaking people and a vibrant entrepreneurial class.
The fact that India kept its Embassy in Beirut open and functioning throughout the civil war (from 1975 to 1990, closing briefly from August 5 to October 16, 1989), in contrast to a large number of other foreign Embassies in Beirut, is appreciated by the Lebanese, together with India’s traditionally strong linkages with the Arab world, solidarity for the Palestine cause, and most recently our balanced and calibrated approach on Arab Spring developments including Syria. Both countries have also cooperated closely on various issues of mutual interest during their overlap in 2010 as non-permanent members of the UN Security Council.
Lebanese officials and political representatives have traditionally praised the professional excellence and commitment of the Indian contingent deployed in the UNIFIL forces in south Lebanon, and positive reports have appeared in the Lebanese media about the free medicines and medical care being provided by Indian doctors and veterinarians from the UNFIL contingent to villagers and live stocks in south Lebanon.
Before the onset of the civil war in 1975, there was a large Indian diaspora in Lebanon (around 150,000), Air India had direct flights from Delhi to Beirut and Lebanon was an active member of NAM. However, the development of bilateral interaction has been circumscribed by the domestic and regional challenges faced by Lebanon over the years, and Lebanon did not become an important strategic partner for India. This scenario may be set to change with the possibility of Indian participation in the exploitation of Lebanon’s offshore gas and oil reserves. With the increasing instability in the region, especially in Syria and Iraq, Lebanon itself also needs to find new markets and partners in economic cooperation. There is a window for India to establish a presence in this country by providing developmental aid as also by increasing our involvement in sectors such as infrastructure, power and alternative energy, information technology, education and agriculture. Culturally also, people-to-people ties have remained warm and cordial, with Bollywood playing an important role and with regular coverage in the Lebanese media on developments in India. India is also becoming an attractive tourist destination for the Lebanese.
Visits from Lebanon:
After Foreign Minister Fairz Boueiz’s visit to India in 1997 for NAM Conference in New Delhi, the next high-level visit from Lebanon took place in February 2015, when Agriculture Minister Akram Chehayeb visited Delhi at the invitation of his counterpart, and also inaugurated the Lebanese Pavilion at the Surajkund Mela where Lebanon was the Partner Country.
Visits from India: Shri E. Ahmad, Minister of State (MOS) for External Affairs visited Lebanon from September 28 to October 1, 2005. Special Envoy to PM, Shri C.R. Gharekhan, visited Beirut in July 2006 in tandem with an IAF plane carrying relief supplies required by Lebanon in the aftermath of the July 2006 conflict with Israel. MOS for Defence, Shri MM Pallam Raju, along with a MOD delegation visited the INDBATT in UNIFIL, South Lebanon from 10-12 September 2008. MOS, Shri E. Ahmad, again visited Lebanon from 30th June to 2nd July 2013. Secretary (East), Mr. Anil Wadhwa, visited Lebanon from 27-30 March, 2014. A MOD-MEA delegation led by Lt. Gen Jaswinder Singh Sandhu, DG SD, Army HQ, Ministry of Defence accompanied by Mr. Rudrendra Tandon, JS (UNP), MEA visited Lebanon from 11-13 January. The delegation visited theIndian contingents deployed at UNIFIL. Minister of State for External Affairs, Shri M.J. Akbar, visited Lebanon from 17-19 August 2016 and held bilateral meetings with PM Tammam Salam, Speaker Nabih Berri, Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil and Director General of General Security Maj Gen Abbas Ibrahim. He also met with United National Special Coordinator for Lebanon Ms Sigrid Kaag and attended a luncheon meeting with the members of the Lebanon-India Parliamentary Friendship Committee.
Parliamentary Friendship Committee: A Lebanon-India Parliamentary Friendship Committee was established in April 2006 with 12 members drawn from a cross section of political/religious groups. Lok Sabha Secretariat has been requested to establish its counterpart in the 16th Lok Sabha. The Lok Sabha Secretariat has also issued an invitation to the Speaker of the Lebanese Parliament to visit India with a parliamentary delegation. Minister of State for External Affairs, Shri M.J. Akbar, during his meeting with Speaker Nabih Berri on Aug 19, reminded him of this invitation. MoS also met with the Lebanon-India Parliamentary Friendship Committee members.
Peacekeeping – INDBATT in United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL): An Indian battalion (INDBATT) has been deployed in UNIFIL since November 1998. At present, this battalion consists of 860 defence personnel including 4 doctors and 1 nursing staff officer, who are deployed in the eastern-most sector of Lebanon’s southern border with Israel at the tri-junction with Syria. In addition, 16 Indian defence personnel (including the Deputy Force Commander) are based in UNIFIL Headquarters, Nacquora, together with a 21-member medical team.
Bilateral Agreements/MOUs: There is a Cultural Exchange Agreement (signed in April 1997, ratified in February 2000, which is automatically renewed every 5 years and therefore still valid) and a MOU for an Educational Exchange Programme (signed in June 2013, valid for 5 years, to be automatically renewed every 5 years).
Agreements/MOUs under consideration: Drafts MoUs for cooperation in Agriculture & Allied sectors, for holding regular Foreign Office Consultations (FOC), and for expediting issue of Lebanese visas to Indian business men and tourists, as also draft agreements on Bilateral Investment Promotion and Protection (BIPPA), Cooperation in the Tourism sector, Transfer of Sentenced Persons, Extradition, Mutual & Legal Assistance and Judicial Cooperation are under consideration. Apart from the Agriculture MoU however, none of the other drafts are under active consideration.
Relief and Rehabilitation Assistance from India:
Assistance of Rs.10 crores was announced in July 2006 as humanitarian aid for reconstruction after the 34-day Israeli bombardment of Lebanon, and against this commitment, blankets, tents and medicines worth around Rs. 45 lakhs were provided. In October 2007, US$ 600,000 was committed for the rehabilitation and reconstruction of the Palestinian refugee camps in northern Lebanon, but no disbursements have been made against this commitment. Proposals for providing developmental assistance to Lebanon are currently under consideration of the Indian government, including a project for setting up a pilot solar or wind energy plant in Lebanon. In 2013, 2014 and 2015, India has contributed half a million US dollars annually to Lebanon Recovery Fund.
Development of trade ties: Indo-Lebanon trade, which had come to a virtual halt during the civil war, has increased in recent years. From $ 13.60 million in 1993, and $ 55 million in 1999, the two-way bilateral trade during 2012 was to the tune of $ 370 million and this increased further in 2014 to $429.78 million. With Indian exports to Lebanon amounting to $ 406.13 million in 2014, the balance of trade is predominantly in favour of India. Bilateral trade in 2015 reached $ 342.76 million with Indian exports to Lebanon being $ 322.75 million and Indian imports $19.99 million. In addition, many products are being sourced in India by Lebanese companies for export to Africa, Latin America and the Middle East.
Major trade items: Exports from India are diamonds, motor cars, auto-parts, pharmaceuticals, rice, while Lebanon is exporting aluminum and copper waste & scrap, tanned or crust hides & skins to India. The balance of trade is in India’s favour as Lebanon only exports around USD 28 million dollars worth of goods to India while India exports goods worth around USD 420 million dollars to Lebanon. There is considerable potential for expanding Indian exports in pharmaceuticals, textiles, designer fashions and accessories, tourism, information technology, education, fertilizers and chemicals, agricultural and processed food products, auto spare parts, construction, mining and electrical equipment. From Lebanon, India can source olive oil, wine, fruits such as apples, apricots and peaches, gourmet chocolates and other niche products.
Investment: There is considerable potential for Indian investment in Lebanon in the energy sector, and in the information technology and infrastructure sectors. A couple of Lebanese companies have set up operations in India in the service sector. There is also potential for joint ventures between Lebanese and Indian companies in Africa and in reconstruction activities in the region.
B2B interaction: In 2014, a 15-member delegation from the Federation of Indian Export Organizations (FIEO) visited Lebanon from 28-31 May 2014 and signed a Cooperation MoU with the Chamber of Commerce of Industry and Agriculture of Saida & South Lebanon (CCIAS). A business delegation led by the Lebanese Minister of Agriculture visited India from 5-6 February 2015. November 2015 saw the visit to Kerala of a group of Lebanese tour operators sponsored by GOIRTO. For the first time, the Embassy participated in the Art of Living Exhibition at Forum de Beirut (25-29 November 2015) with an Indian Pavilion, displaying Bajaj Pulsar motorbikes and Bajaj auto-rickshaws, Kirloskar generators and water pumps as also machine tools from India; and in 2016, (23-27 November ) displayed and distributed brochures on various tourist destinations of India, art and craft of India and disseminated information on ‘Doing Business in India’ at the 2016 edition of the Exhibition. A Chemical & Allied Products Export Promotion Council (CAPEXIL) delegation visited Lebanon from 4-6 September 2016 and held B2B meetings with Beirut Chamber of Commerce and Industry and with Chamber of Commerce & Industry and Agriculture of Saida & South Lebanon to explore business opportunities.
Indian involvement in Lebanon’s hydrocarbon sector has been initiated with two Indian companies – ONGC Videsh Ltd [OVL] and Cairn India – having pre-qualified as “non-operators” along with 34 other companies to participate in the first Offshore Natural Gas Round initiated by the Lebanese government. They have now to join a consortium, which has to include at least one company from the 12 companies that have pre-qualified as “operators”, in order to participate in the next stage i.e. the bidding for specific blocks. However, the project is stalled due to delays by the Lebanese government in passing necessary legislation.
In October 2014, the CEP between Lebanon and India (ratified in 2000) was activated for the first time, with ICCR sending to Lebanon Sonam Kalra’s “Sufi Gospel Project” under CEP terms. Also for the first time, Lebanon participated as the Partner Country in Surajkund Mela 2015 from 1 February to 15 February. For the last three years, the Embassy has been organizing an Indian Food Festival with chefs from India. We have also been participating in the annual Ramdaniyat Beirutiya Exhibition held every year for three years now, with a stall displaying Indian handicrafts and tourism material.
The Embassy regularly participates in events to promote Indian culture, including exhibitions, India Days in various schools, universities and other organizations such as various municipality councils and the YWCA, fashion shows, film screenings and film festivals etc. We also support events organized by Lebanese organizations such as the Beirut Spring Festival, the Beiteddine Festival, the Cultural Resistance Film Festival and the Beirut Yoga Festival by providing resource material as also funding the publicity of the Indian components. Gandhi Jayanti and the International Day of Yoga are also celebrated in Lebanon by the Embassy with events organized all over the country.
In January 2015, for the first time in many years, the Embassy distributed a special supplement on the occasion of Republic Day in two major Arabic newspapers in Lebanon - An-Nahar and As-Safir. Produced by the Embassy of India in collaboration with Agenda Culterel, a Lebanese organization for the promotion of cultural activities, a coffee table book titled "India-A Universal Destination" was released at the opening of the Indian Food Festival on 5th July 2016. An e-version is available on the Mission’s website.
The Embassy also works closely with the Indian Battalion in South Lebanon to organize events for UNIFIL contingents and local residents such as cultural shows, the five-km run “Run for Peace” organized in October 2015 to mark Gandhi Jayanti and a Yoga workshop to mark IDY 2016.
Efforts are also being made to expand cooperation in the academic sector. In 2015, a MoU was signed between the Lebanese American University and the Embassy of India on 12 October establishing the first ICCR Chair in Lebanon, which will become operational in February 2017. For the first time, an ICCR Senior Fellowship has been awarded to a Lebanese national Mr. Bassam Mikhael Lahoud for financial year 2016-17. Mr. Ziad Mikati became the first Lebanese participant in the Asian Forum on Global Governance 2015 organized by ORF from 25 October-3 November 2015 in New Delhi, and Lebanon will again participate in this conference to be held in January 2017.
Indian Technical and Economic Cooperation (ITEC) Programme: India offered 20 civilian slots and 10 slots for defence personnel. Civilian slots are generally over-subscribed, though not all the slots are utilised for defence personnel due to non-acceptance of candidates. IT, Audit and English language courses are the most popular subjects, followed by Public Administration. The Embassy also organizes receptions to mark ITEC Day, with around 40 to 50 attendees on average.
Indian Community in Lebanon: There are only a handful of persons of Indian origin in Lebanon, mainly women married to Lebanese citizens. The non-resident Indian community is also small, comprising around 8000 to 10,000 workers, mainly employed in construction, sanitation, agriculture and factories. There are a few professionals holding managerial positions in companies such as Al Maaza and the Landmark Group, a few holding civilian positions in UNIFIL and other UN agencies, and a couple of professors teaching in the American University of Beirut and Haigazian University
(Updated on 7th Dec 2016 )
Mission website: http://indianembassybeirut.org/
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Twitter link: India in Lebanon (@IndiaInLebanon)
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