The Libyan government agencies behind the $54bn scheme to develop the Gulf of Sirte into a world-class energy hub are planning a charm offensive as they seek interest from international investors.

If Tripoli is to make the most of the scheme, it would do well to look at its public relations. US engineering firm Fluor, which developed the masterplan for the Gulf of Sirte scheme, says several major international downstream oil and gas and petrochemicals companies have already registered their interest.

The attraction is clear: Libya is virgin territory. It holds the largest proven oil reserves in Africa, and is strategically well placed at the south of the Mediterranean Sea, making the US and European markets easily accessible. The oil it produces is easy to process, giving Libya among the lowest extraction costs in the world.

But the country’s image as a destination for foreign direct investment remains poor. Since the EU and the US lifted the last trade embargoes in 2004, investor interest in the country has risen rapidly.

But doing business in Libya remains a protracted, unpredictable and often complex affair, according to executives at international engineering and oil firms already working in the country.

Political relations between Tripoli and the West remain strained thanks to revolutionary leader Muammar Gaddafi’s habit of denouncing the policies of the UK and US governments.

The Gulf of Sirte scheme is an ideal oppor-tunity for state-run developer the Economic & Social Development Fund (ESDF), and its partner, business development agency the Economic Development Board (EDB), to prove the country can both attract and please international developers.

The commitment of the ESDF and the EDB to the scheme is unquestionable, and both agencies are already lobbying for major economic reform in Libya. Gaddafi would be wise to endorse their proposals.