Canadian companies will benefit from military intervention: Libyan official

Libya's top diplomat in Ottawa expects Canadian companies to benefit from the goodwill earned by this country's active military involvement in the effort to topple Moammar Gadhafi's regime.

"The Libyan people do see a country (Canada) that stood by them and helped them and answered their call when they needed them," Abubaker Karmos said Tuesday. "They see those countries as better partners probably than some of those other countries that didn't show as much interest."

Karmos was speaking hours after Foreign Minister John Baird announced Canada was reopening its embassy in Tripoli, with a particular focus on strengthening business ties between the two countries.

"Having now taken stock of the situation, we are starting the work of refurbishing and securing our embassy in Tripoli," Baird told reporters in the House of Commons foyer. "We have also brought in a team of staff members who will enable us to liaise directly with officials of the new government of Libya. The team will also prepare for a larger complement of diplomats that will allow us to resume commercial services to Canadians."

A senior French official recently estimated it could cost $200 billion over 10 years to rebuild Libya after six months of civil war between rebels and pro-Gadhafi forces.

The North African nation possesses Africa's largest oil reserves.

Calgary-based energy giant Suncor was producing an estimated 35,000 barrels of oil per day in the country in a joint venture with a state-owned oil firm. Montreal engineering firm SNC-Lavalin had secured Libyan government contracts to build an airport in Benghazi, a water pipeline and a jail in Tripoli.

Karmos reaffirmed agreements that were signed between foreign companies and Libya prior to the war will be honoured. But he said more will be coming down the pipeline.

"There's a lot of work to be done in the country in terms of infrastructure and the oil sector," the diplomat said, "and we are looking for Canadian companies to take a leading role in that."

French and British companies are already rushing to the door so they can get a piece of the major business opportunities that will be made available in Libya's post-Gadhafi era.

A Reuters report said 400 executives from such French firms as oil giant Total and carmaker Peugeot met with French officials in Paris last week to discuss the situation in the North African country. Reports indicate the same is happening in the United Kingdom. Both were major proponents of international military intervention in Libya.

Canadian Chamber of Commerce president Perrin Beatty said the Canadian government and private sector must be on the ground and ready to compete sooner rather than later.

"It's going to be very important for us to be there, both at the governmental and at the private sector level," he said, "because the new government of Libya is going to want to be making decisions as rapidly as possible to get their economy moving again."

Beatty said there are huge opportunities in Libya for Canadian firms, and he had no doubt Canada's military intervention will result in positive results for business.

"I think that the support Canada has shown to the Libyan people throughout the revolution demonstrates that we're a good partner to work with," he said, "and will result in a receptiveness on the part of the Libyan people and the Libyan government to see Canadians front and centre."

Suncor spokeswoman Kelli Stevens, however, said the company is not feeling pressed to return to Libya quickly or try to expand its operations there.

"We're still monitoring to see how everything unfolds over the next while," she said. "First and foremost we need to know that we can return safely."

Baird also announced that a United Nations Security Council sanctions committee had agreed to unfreeze -- with conditions -- about $2.2 billion in Libyan funds held by Canadian banks and other institutions since March.

The move comes weeks after the sanctions committee freed up billions held by Canada's closest allies in the NATO-led military mission -- the U.S., France and the United Kingdom. More recently, the Netherlands and Austria were allowed to begin disbursing frozen Libyan assets.

In a letter to Canadian Ambassador to the UN Guillermo Rishchynski dated Sept. 9 and confirming the funds could be unfrozen, the head of the sanctions committee said one-third of the money, or $733 million, could be directed toward UN agencies to respond to humanitarian needs and early reconstruction.

Another third could be paid to third-party vendors for fuel or other urgently needed civilian goods. The final third could be added to a special fund managed by the international community and used to pay civil servant salaries and fund such basic services as food subsidies, electricity and health care.

"These funds will help the Libyan people in the short and medium term," Baird said. "This money will help the new Libya get back on its feet."

World leaders will be discussing the situation in Libya on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly next week -- including whether a continued international military presence in the region is still necessary.

A Canadian naval frigate is still enforcing an arms embargo off the Libyan coast and Canadian fighter jets are continuing to conduct missions over the country, though NATO officials said they are not providing direct support to rebel forces fighting Gadhafi forces.

The NATO and Canadian missions are set to expire on Sept. 27, but NATO is expected to decide over the next week or so whether an extension is necessary. The Conservative government has indicated Canada will continue contributing military assets as long as NATO requires them.

[Source: The Gazette, Ottawa, Can, 13Sep11]

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