Libya Seeks U.S. Investment in Areas From Oil to Tourism

Libya is seeking to boost its oil production by a third to 2 million barrels a day by year-end, surpassing last year’s pre-conflict level, Libyan ambassador to Washington Ali Aujali said.

How fast Libya returns to pre-war levels or surpasses them “depends also on the oil companies, how fast they are returning” to restart or expand operations, Aujali said, speaking at a Bloomberg Government breakfast in Washington yesterday.

Beyond oil, Libya is eager for American investment in tourism, health care and education, he said. The nation, whose governance is still in flux, plans to hold the first election for the national assembly next month after four decades of rule by dictator Muammar Qaddafi.

“The environment is great” for U.S. companies, in large part because the Obama administration is credited by Libyans with pressing for NATO military action that helped topple Qaddafi last year, Aujali said.

“They appreciate what the Americans did,” he said, and American flags are often flown alongside Libyan ones around the country.

Libya’s governor for OPEC, Samir Kamal, set expectations lower than Aujali did, telling reporters last week in Vienna that the government hopes to reach 1.6 million barrels a day by year-end.

Aujali said the North African nation has restored crude oil production to more than 1.5 million barrels a day, or 90 percent of official production figures before Qaddafi was ousted in a violent uprising. The months-long conflict sent production levels plummeting to 45,000 barrels a day in August, according to a monthly Bloomberg survey of oil companies, producers and analysts.

Rising Output

Libyan production was restored to 1.45 million to 1.55 million barrels daily by the end of May, according to figures from the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries.

Oil Minister Abdul-Rahman Ben Yezza said last week that Libya plans to spend about $10 billion to develop long-term oil and natural gas projects and increase its crude production capacity. He said the country also has a five-year plan to increase production to about 2.2 million barrels a day.

Aujali said “we need more investment” to develop the oil industry and fulfill a longer-term goal of restoring Libya’s crude production capacity to its historical high. The U.S. Department of Energy estimates it exceeded 3 million barrels a day in the 1960s.

Aujali cited ConocoPhillips, Exxon Mobil Corp. and Occidental Petroleum Corp. as among U.S.-based multinational energy giants that have returned to Libya, and urged other U.S. companies to invest in all sectors of Libya’s economy.

American Opportunities

American companies need to “be more involved, to be more aggressive to visit Libya to see where they can make business,” he said, so they don’t lose opportunities to other countries such as Italy, which has been proactive in seeking business prospects.

Aujali cited health care, infrastructure, education and tourism as sectors in which the Libyan government is seeking foreign investment. He said tourism remains one of the least-developed industries, citing Libya’s 2,000 kilometers (1,243 miles) of beaches and its cultural attractions, including Leptis Magna, one of the best-preserved Roman ruins in the Mediterranean,

Aujali said Libya is seeking American universities and hospitals interested in assisting with training and technology and setting up branches or partnerships, as many have done in the Persian Gulf and North Africa.

Unfrozen Assets

Libya is looking to the U.S. and NATO countries to help rebuild after a bloody conflict that cost the nation billions of dollars in lost trade and revenue, according to the International Monetary Fund. The revolution killed 30,000 people and wounded 50,000 others, according to the Libyan government.

“You supported this revolution at a critical time,” he said. Still, “the new road is not built,” so the U.S. needs to stay involved to ensure the democratic transition is completed.

The Obama administration has done everything possible to assist Libya’s government, including making available $31 billion in Libyan government assets under U.S. jurisdiction that was frozen as a penalty on Qaddafi’s government, Aujali said.

The only Libyan assets that remain frozen by the U.S. are about $3 billion belonging to the Libyan Investment Authority, the government-managed sovereign wealth fund and holding company based in Tripoli, he said. The authority needs to be reorganized under a dependable board of directors before “we feel safe” asking for the funds to be released, he said.

Election Plans

Libya has scheduled elections for July 7. Aujali said 145 political parties have formed, with 3,000 candidates vying for 200 legislative posts. About 80 percent of eligible voters have registered, underscoring excitement about the democratic transition, he said.

Still, the situation remains volatile, Mustafa Abdul Jalil, chairman of the National Transitional Council, said in an interview with state-run Qatar News Agency June 17. Libya risks descending into civil war if the current unstable security situation persists, he was quoted as saying.

Aujali said his country has studied other nations’ models for reconciliation and justice following long dictatorships during which many were persecuted. Libya is “not starting from zero. There are many with experience in the history and we learn from them.”

‘No Revenge’

While some members of the old regime are under arrest, “there is no revenge at the time being against the Qaddafi regime,” he said. “Reconciliation is important. But in the first place, justice has to be made.”

Aujali said he expects a speedy resolution of the “misunderstandings” in the case of a team from the International Criminal Court in the Hague that was detained June 7 by Libyan authorities. Libya accused Australian defense lawyer Melinda Taylor of trying to smuggle documents to Qaddafi’s son Saif al-Islam Qaddafi in a Libyan prison. The Libyan government accuses Qaddafi’s son of directing the killing of thousands during his father’s regime and during the rebellion.

“The Libyan people, they have the right before anybody else to try Saif al-Islam in Libya,” Aujali said of the effort to try him in the international court in the Netherlands.

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