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Cablegate: Libya's Central Bank Continues Financial Sector Modernization Efforts

VZCZCXRO9000
PP RUEHTRO
DE RUEHTRO #0856 3041158
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 301158Z OCT 08
FM AMEMBASSY TRIPOLI
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 4056
INFO RUEHAS/AMEMBASSY ALGIERS PRIORITY 0793
RUEHRB/AMEMBASSY RABAT PRIORITY 0738
RUEHTU/AMEMBASSY TUNIS PRIORITY 0646
RUEHEG/AMEMBASSY CAIRO PRIORITY 1258
RUCPDOC/DEPT OF COMMERCE WASHINGTON DC
RHMFIUU/DEPT OF ENERGY WASHINGTON DC
RUEATRS/DEPT OF TREASURY WASHINGTON DC
RUEHFR/AMEMBASSY PARIS PRIORITY 0606
RUEHLO/AMEMBASSY LONDON PRIORITY 0918
RUEHTRO/AMEMBASSY TRIPOLI 4577

UNCLAS TRIPOLI 000856

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

DEPT FOR NEA/MAG; COMMERCE FOR NATE MASON; ENERGY FOR GINA
ERICKSON; CAIRO FOR CLARENCE SEVERENS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: EPET EFIN PGOV LY EAID
SUBJECT: LIBYA'S CENTRAL BANK CONTINUES FINANCIAL SECTOR MODERNIZATION EFFORTS

REF: A) TRIPOLI 827 , B) TRIPOLI 842

1. (SBU) Summary: Libya's Central Bank Governor briefed a visiting U.S. trade expert and Emboffs on efforts by the Government of Libya (GOL) to modernize the financial sector, in part to attract greater foreign direct investment in non hydrocarbon sectors. Libya is working with international organizations to improve financial sector transparency, plans to bring international credit rating agencies to Libya to assess Libyan financial instruments and its fledgling stock market, and is working to improve basic banking supervision and operations. Libya plans to sell Certificates of Deposit (CD's) to banks and eventually directly to the public, and is in the process of training banking officials in loan risk assessment as part of an effort to broaden lending to small and medium sized enterprises (SME's). End summary.

2. (SBU) On October 13, Public Affairs-sponsored speaker Bruce Stokes, a trade and economic specialist with the National Journal, met with Libyan Central Bank (CB) Governor Farhat Omar Bengadara. Stokes was accompanied by the CDA, PAO, Econoff and PA Assistant. Bengadara discussed, inter alia, a financial sector reform program that comprises encouraging financial market operations - including modernizing Libya's stock market and selling CD's to banks and the general public - and modernizing Libya's banking practices and the CB itself. (Note: See reftels for details on Libya's response to the global financial crisis and Bengadara's views on Muammar al-Qadhafi's proposals for government restructuring and privatization. End note.)

3. (U) Stressing the negative impact of sanctions-era isolation on Libya's banking sector and the need for technical banking assistance, Bengadara said the CB is also working actively with the World Bank, IMF and McKinsey (with whom it has a consulting contract) to improve Libya's banking and financial sector. The overarching goal is to help create a better functioning, more transparent financial sector to make Libya a more attractive destination for foreign direct investment (FDI). Noting that there was plenty of interest in oil and gas exploration and production, which benefitted from well-organized investment under the auspices of the National Oil Corporation's Exploration and Production Sharing Agreement scheme, Bengadara stressed that the CB's efforts were targeted at securing FDI in non-hydrocarbon sectors such as agriculture and tourism. There was also room for more FDI in downstream hydrocarbon industries such as petrochemical production and refining (Libya imports most of its gasoline from Italian refineries). Echoing a line we've heard from other senior GOL officials, he said Libya - with its strategic location, long shoreline and multiple port facilities - wanted to become a regional center for travel, banking and investment akin to Dubai.

4. (U) As part of the program to sell CD's, the CB is working to facilitate visits by rating agencies Moody's and Standard and Poor in an effort to secure credible ratings of GOL financial instruments and as assessment of the fledgling stock market. The CB is also interested in improving greater overall transparency in the Libyan economy; Bengadara and his team have been involved in ongoing discussions with international groups working on this issue. Specific areas of discussion included infrastructure development, tax reform and streamlining visa issuances for foreign businesspeople.

5. (SBU) Bengadara said the CB is also focused in efforts to improve basic banking supervision and operations. The CB has two external advisors who oversee a credit risk initiative to train banking officials in analyzing loan applications from small- and medium-sized enterprises, although the retail banking sector is still very limited. In broader terms, Libya views itself as being more akin to Saudi Arabia than the UAE, in the sense that the UAE has fewer oil and gas resources and therefore depends to a greater degree on FDI. Like Saudi Arabia, Libya's considerable hydrocarbon resources afford it more cushion and make it less dependent on FDI; however, Bengadara is trying to encourage GOL officials to take a longer-term view of FDI as a means by which to help diversify Libya's oil-dependent economy.
STEVENS

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