European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said trade benefits were being explored after Beirut’s port blast. French President Emmanuel Macron arrived in the Lebanese capital hoping to foster a global response.
The European Union offered preferential trade to Lebanon on Thursday as the Middle Eastern country’s state and central bank face financial meltdown in the wake of the port explosion in Beirut.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said the bloc was ready to step in to aid Lebanon with preferential trade and customs backing. She made the announcement after a phone call with Lebanese Prime Minister Hassan Diab in which von der Leyen pledged €33 million ($39 million) in emergency aid.
“The Commission stood ready to explore how to boost our trade relations in this challenging time, in particular in the form of further preferential trade and customs facilitation,” von der Leyen said in a statement.
The EU has already sent more than 100 firefighters and a military vessel for medical evacuation to the Lebanese capital.
Tuesday’s blast killed at least 137 people, wounding 5,000 more and has left up to 300,000 citizens homeless. Beirut’s port was destroyed, causing up to $15 billion (€12.6 billion) in damage.
Very limited financial capacity
Von der Leyen pledged to help in assessing Beirut’s reconstruction, as well as support in discussions with international financial institutions to access further financial aid.
This assistance appears imperative at a time when the Lebanese state and central bank have “very limited” financial capacity to cope with the impact of the explosion, its economy minister said.
Raoul Nehme told Sky News Arabia: “The capacity of the state is very limited, and so is that of the central bank and the banks. He added: “We’re not swimming in dollars.”
He said working with the International Monetary Fund was the only way out for Lebanon, which was already wrestling with a dollar crunch and financial meltdown before Tuesday’s blast.