West sees business opportunities in Libya

The guns in Libya have barely quieted, and NATO’s military assistance to the rebellion that toppled Moammar Gadhafi will not end officially until Monday. But a new invasion force is already plotting its own landing on the shores of Tripoli.

Western security, construction and infrastructure companies that see profit-making opportunities receding in Iraq and Afghanistan have turned their sights on Libya, now free of four decades of dictatorship. Entrepreneurs are abuzz about the business potential of a country with huge needs and the oil to pay for them, plus the competitive advantage of Libyan gratitude toward the United States and its NATO partners.

A week before Gadhafi’s death Oct. 20, a delegation from 80 French companies arrived in Tripoli to meet officials of the National Transitional Council, the interim government. Last week, the new British defense minister, Philip Hammond, urged British companies to “pack their suitcases” and head to Tripoli.

When Gadhafi’s body was still on public display, a British venture, Trango Special Projects, pitched its support services to companies looking to cash in.

“Whilst speculation continues regarding Gadhafi’s killing,” Trango said on its website, “are you and your business ready to return to Libya?”

The company offered rooms at its Tripoli villa and transport “by our discreet mixed British and Libyan security team.” Its discretion does not come cheaply. The price for a 10-minute ride from the airport, for which the ordinary cab fare is about $5, is listed at 500 British pounds, or about $800.

“There is a gold rush of sorts taking place right now,” said David Hamod, president and chief executive officer of the National U.S.-Arab Chamber of Commerce. “And the Europeans and Asians are way ahead of us. I’m getting calls daily from members of the business community in Libya. They say, ‘Come back; we don’t want the Americans to lose out.”‘

Yet there is hesitancy on both sides, and so far the talk greatly exceeds the action. The National Transitional Council, hoping to avoid any echo of the rank corruption of the Gadhafi era, has said no long-term contracts will be signed until an elected government is in place. And with cities still bristling with arms and jobless young men, Libya does not offer anything like a safe business environment – hence the pitches from security providers.

(Source: The New York Times)

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