March 2, 2020 / 10:21 AM / 3 months ago

UPDATE 1-IATA says in talks with Lebanon's central bank on airline revenue repatriation

(Adds IATA official quotes, context on Lebanon financial crisis)

DUBAI, March 2 (Reuters) - The International Air Transport Association (IATA) said on Monday it was working with Lebanon’s central bank to ensure revenues of non-Lebanese airlines continue to be repatriated despite restrictions on currency transfers abroad.

Airline revenues are still flowing out of the crisis-hit country but transfers are becoming difficult, IATA’s Vice President for Africa and the Middle East Muhammad Ali Albakri told a news conference.

A foreign currency liquidity crunch has forced banks in Lebanon to impose tight restrictions on access to hard currency and sending money abroad, and the Lebanese pound has slumped.

“We continue to work with the Lebanese government, we continue to work with the Lebanese central bank ... it is difficult but it is still flowing,” he said. “The distribution system is still working.”

Albakri, speaking in the United Arab Emirates’ capital Abu Dhabi, said he hopes IATA would not have to put Lebanon on its list of countries that block funds being repatriated.

“The country understands - the decision makers, the government - how vital air connectivity is to Lebanon especially in this difficult political time, and they are doing everything in their power to make sure that is not disrupted,” he said.

Tourism has traditionally been an important part of the Lebanese economy, which is mired in its worst crisis since the 1975-90 war.

That came to a head last year as capital flows into the country slowed down and protests erupted against a political elite over decades of corruption and bad governance. (Reporting by Alexander Cornwell; Writing by Aziz El Yaakoubi; Editing by Alison Williams and Jan Harvey)

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