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Dec 13, 1999

  1. International
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  4. Policy
  5. Trade
  6. Gulf

Syria-Israel peace talks back on track

As if to end the 20th century in good posture, US President Bill Clinton announced Wednesday that Israel-Syria talks would resume here next week after a break of almost four years.

The announcement came as US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright wraps up a shuttle diplomacy mission between Syria and Israel in a bid to end the stalemate.

As outlined by Clinton, under the agreement, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Syrian Foreign Minister Farouq Al-Shara will meet for one or two days in Washington then return to the region for intensive negotiations at a site to be determined.

White House officials said the Barak-Al-Shara meeting was likely to take place in midweek. Officials were hastily trying to arrange a site for them.

It will be the highest-level talks ever held between Israel and Syria, which is demanding that Israel turn over the strategic Golan Heights seized during the 1967 Arab-Israeli war. The previous talks between the two countries were at the chief of staff level.

Clinton had earlier created some confusion by saying the talks would resume "from the point where they left off" when Israel broke off the previous negotiations in early 1996.

Israel and Syria disagree on where the talks left off.

Syria says Israel pledged a full withdrawal from the Golan Heights. But Israel says it made a hypothetical offer to see what Syria would give in return.

Clinton did not say whether Israel had undertaken to return the Golan Heights to Syria, and he declined to be drawn out on the question, saying he had taken a "blood oath" not to discuss details out of fears of jeopardising the negotiations.

Iraq to pump oil if UN approves 6-month deal

Iraq will resume pumping of oil on Saturday if the UN Security Council agrees on Friday a straightforward six-month rollover of the United Nations' oil- for-food programme, an Iraqi Oil Ministry source said on Thursday.

"The Iraqi Oil Ministry is readying itself to resume pumping of crude oil for export purposes on Saturday if the United Nations renews the programme for another six months," the source, who asked not to be named, told Reuters.

The source did not say whether Iraq would resume its oil pumping to the Turkish port of Ceyhan in the Mediterranean or to the Iraqi southern Mina-al-Bakr oil terminal, both used to export oil under previous oil-for-food deals with the UN.

Investment in energy

Saudi Arabia's oil minister said late on Wednesday he welcomed foreign investment in his country's energy sector but that it must be in areas that benefited the Saudis and not just foreign companies. Ali Al-Naimi said Saudi Arabia had nothing against foreign investment in its upstream (exploration and production) or downstream (processing and marketing) oil and natural gas sectors.

IEA says OPEC bites deep into world oil stocks

World oil inventories now are being drawn down so rapidly that consumers in the West might even be hit by retail supply outages this winter, the International Energy Agency warned on Wednesday.

Stockpiles already depleted by OPEC supply curbs are being drawn down more quickly than expected by Iraq's decision to suspend exports because of a wrangle at the United Nations over a new resolution on sanctions.

"Without Iraqi output in December we run the danger of seeing some spot outages to consumers in the supply of heating oil or gasoline this winter," said David Knapp, the head of the oil markets division at the West's Paris-based oil watchdog.

Iraq previously was supplying 2.3 million barrels a day to the 75 million bpd world market and says it will only resume sales under the original conditions of the UN's oil-for-food exchange. The UN is likely to vote on a new sanctions resolution later this week.

Robert Priddle, the IEA's executive director, said in Washington on Tuesday that the agency was projecting a five million bpd shortfall in global oil supplies during December.

Priddle told reporters that if the millennium computer bug were to disrupt deliveries at the end of the year the agency was prepared to order the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) governments which it represents to tap their strategic reserves.

In its monthly Oil Market Report on Wednesday, the IEA said commercial inventories among industrialised nations fell 440,000 barrels a day in October after an unusually large 1.56 million bpd draw in September.

Saudi bourse higher

Saudi stocks rose sharply this week to reverse a fortnight of profit-taking amid further power sector merger news and hopes the index will break up through the 2,000 point level, Bakheet Financial Advisors said Thursday. The NCFEI All-share Index closed up 2.7 percent at 1,977.06 points as trading volumes rose by nearly a third on the previous week to 1.99 billion rials (531 million dollars), the Riyadh-based investment specialists said. Thirty-nine shares rose, 16 fell, eight did not change and another 10 were not traded, Bakheet said.

Oman reduces import taxes

Oman has reduced import taxes on luxury goods and cars, reversing a rise it imposed earlier this year in the face of record low oil prices, National Economy Minister Ahmed bin Abdul Nabi Makki said. Oman in January raised the tax level on luxury goods to 15 percent and on cars to between 10 and 15 percent, but has now lowered both back to their original five percent level.

Iran opens up economy but investors want more

Foreign and local businessmen showed interest but appeared non-committal as Iran this week unveiled unprecedented liberal regulations designed to woo much-needed investment to its free trade zones.

The new rules, which include allowing foreign banks in the zones for the first time since the 1979 Islamic revolution, were presented to Western, regional and Iranian bankers and executives at a seminar which ended on Tuesday.

"The numerous ills of industry and trade in Iran's free trade zones cannot be remedied without a review of structures and strategies... and the adoption of straightforward rules. And this task has begun," Hossein Nassiri, the head of the trade zones, told the three-day seminar on the Gulf island of Kish.

The new rules also include allowing in private Iranian banks and foreign or local private insurance firms, all unseen since 1979, and liberalising foreign exchange in the zones. Officials said Iran would guarantee foreign investment against seizure.

Intellectual property rights law

Kuwaiti MPs passed a bill protecting intellectual property rights just days before the World Trade Organisation (WTO) could have imposed sanctions on the emirate.

The National Assembly voted by 49 to one in favour of the draft law, with only hardline Islamist MP Walid Al-Tabtabai voting against the bill. Some 15 MPs and ministers, who also have one vote each, were not present.

Cement firms drag Morocco bourse to 24-week low

Losses in cement firms pushed Morocco's bourse to a 24-week low with its IGB all-share index closing Tuesday's session 0.68 percent down in subdued trade, brokers said.

IGB ended 780.96 points against 786.34 points on Monday. Brokers said all cement firms lost ground after analysts revised down forecasts for cement sales growth this year.

The market's leading cement firm Lafarge slid 80 dirhams to 1,449 dirhams, Asmar lost almost 6.0 percent to end at 1,100, Cior ended 18 dirhams down at 1,051 and Cimar shed 14 dirhams to 985.

Cairo bourse MobiNil, Hermes index hit new highs

Mobile phone operator Egyptian Company for Mobile Services (MobiNil) once again dominated the Cairo bourse on Sunday and surged to a new record high with brokers expecting further boosts to the stock.

MobiNil, which has been valued by some securities houses as high as 135 pounds, ended up 4.9 percent, or 6.03 pounds, at 128.17 in volume of 621,661 shares.

The benchmark Hermes 41-share financial index (HFI) also reached a new year high, adding 157.57 points, or 1.37 percent, to 11,680.04 from a previous high of 11,616.19 on February 1.

Ericsson wins $20 mln Bahrain GSM deal

Sweden's Ericsson on Tuesday won a $20 million contract from Bahrain Telecommunications Company (Batelco) to expand its GSM network on the island.

A Batelco statement said the contract would be implemented in three phases and would raise capacity to 230,000 lines by December 2001 from the current 150,000 lines, at a cost of 7.5 million dinars ($20 million).

Undiscovered Arab gas reserves top 23 trillion cubic metres

The Organisation of Arab Petroleum Exporting Countries (OAPEC) on Sunday estimated undiscovered natural gas reserves in the Arab world at 23.5 trillion cubic metres (822.5 trillion cubic feet).

OAPEC added that proven gas reserves for Arab countries, which sit on 20 percent of world supply, stood at 32.6 trillion cubic metres (1,141 trillion cubic feet) at the end of 1998, Kuwait's official news agency KUNA reported.

"Total Arab states' production of gas reached some 400 billion cubic metres (14 trillion cubic feet) in 1997, with the marketed output amounting to 226 billion cubic metres (7.91 trillion cubic feet), some 10 percent of world production," the Kuwait-based OAPEC said, quoted by KUNA.

Qatar, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Saudi Arabia and Algeria hold the biggest gas reserves, OAPEC said, adding that Arab states' gas liquefaction capacity was some 41.8 million tonnes a year, or 40 percent of world capacity.

Algeria has the largest liquefaction plant with an estimated capacity of 23 million tonnes a year, followed by Qatar with 11.8 million tonnes a year, it said.

Iraq, Lebanon agree to boost transport links

Iraq and Lebanon agreed on Monday to boost transport links for both goods and passengers, the official news agency INA reported.

It said Transport Minister Ahmad Murtada and Lebanese counterpart Najib Miqati signed an accord in Baghdad to strengthen maritime and land links, covering trucks, buses and railways.

'UAE in Egypt'

A large number of companies from the UAE have confirmed their participation at 'UAE in Egypt' exhibition, which will be held at the Cairo International Congress Centre in Egypt from 27th to 30th March 2000, according to a Dubai World Trade Centre press release dated Dec 06.

The exhibition aims at improving bilateral trade ties between the two countries and facilitates a move towards integrating the two economies enjoying considerable competitive advantages.

Jordan's entry delayed

Jordan's much-awaited entry into the World Trade Organisation was postponed by the breakdown of the agency's ministerial talks, Jordanian Trade Minister Mahammed Asfur told Petra news agency Saturday.

Asfur said, however, that Jordan's accession, which was expected to be formally announced this week in Seattle, will be delayed until the WTO meets in Geneva in the second half of December, Petra reported.

Saudi plans to levy highway tolls

Saudi authorities plan to introduce tolls for the use of highways in the oil-rich kingdom, a transport ministry official said Monday.

Ministerial undersecretary Abdullah Al-Miqbel, who was quoted in Al-Yaum newspaper, said a study was being carried out and an announcement would follow once it was completed.

With 4.5 million cars on its roads, Saudi Arabia has invested 51 billion dollars build highways and the annual maintenance costs run at more than 210 million dollars, he said, without giving a proposed toll charge.

In another move to raise state revenues after a collapse in oil prices in 1998, Saudi Arabia in June started to levy an airport tax of 13 dollars for travellers leaving the country.

Morocco sees 99 tourism investments at $701mln

Morocco expects total investment in the growing tourism industry to reach seven billion dirhams ($701.3 million) in 1999, a tourism ministry official said.

Investment accords signed so far this year with local and foreign leisure operators have reached 5.4 billion dirhams, the official said.

"But with some three agreements with foreign operators due to be signed this month, we will hit the seven billion level hopefully before the end of the year," he told.

Saudi prince says Kingdom must change

With oil revenues no longer able to keep up with growth, Saudi Arabia will have to embark on economic liberalization in the new millennium or see its fabled wealth melt away.

Difficult times ahead are already visible and one of the best places to witness this is among the rich, like Saudi tycoon Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal, whose generosity is being increasingly sought after by those less fortunate.

The billionaire's desert camp at Ramah, 60 kilometres (35 miles) from Riyadh, is transformed once a week into a meeting place for scores of Saudis who come to tell the prince, in speeches and poems, of their financial woes.

Around a massive fire, the prince sits in the open air to listen to these men, dressed, like him, in white robes and headdresses. His eyes occasionally wander over to a nearby bank of TV screens transmitting western channels.

Saudis finds two more gas fields

Two more gas fields have been discovered in eastern Saudi Arabia, Oil and Resources Minister Ali bin Ibrahim Al Nuaimi said.

"According to initial estimates the two fields contain six billion barrels of condensate and four trillion cubic feet (120 billion cubic meters) of gas," he said.

"Saudi Aramco discovered the Niban gas field on November 29 and 90 kilometres south of it, the Al Ghwar field."

"Just before that, Aramco found a field in the Shaden area, 60 kilometres southwest of Al Ghwar.

"Prospecting in the two (Niban and Al Ghwar) areas began in August and July," he said.