By Daniel Bases, NEW YORK, March 2 (Reuters) – Lebanon’s bank deposit base should grow by at least 7 percent this year despite a possible decline in remittances, central bank governor Riad Salameh forecast on Monday. The governor told reporters in New York that, even if in a "worst case scenario" remittances were to drop by 30 percent the impact in the banking system would not be "important." "I mean in the sense that the banks will still have growth in their deposits by around 7 percent, which is enough to finance the public and the private sector," he said. Remittances from expatriates have been a key support for the Lebanese economy and the government finances during the global credit and financial crisis. Such remittances boosted Lebanon’s bank deposit base by 15 percent in 2008, while helping the country register a balance of payment surplus of $3.4 billion. "We are looking at growth in deposits that can range from 7 up to wherever. The high of 2008 is still possible to be repeated," Salameh said. Salameh estimated the balance of payments surplus could decline by 15 percent this year if the worst-case scenario for remittances materializes

If the global economy further deteriorates, however, Lebanon’s balance of payments would be supported by lower price of commodities and oil, the governor argued. Salameh, citing World Bank figures for the total amount of remittances in 2008, said they were about $6 billion. He stuck to his 2009 gross domestic product forecast of 4 percent growth which is slightly more favorable than the 3 percent predicted by the International Monetary Fund and the government’s own budget. (Reporting by Daniel Bases, writing by Walter Brandimarte; Editing by Diane Craft)