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Jan 03 - 16, 2000

  1. International
  2. Finance
  3. Industry
  4. Policy
  5. Trade
  6. Gulf

The Syrian-Israeli talks: designing a mysterious future

It is not as simple as just two countries striving for peace, for the story has a painful past, uneasy present and unpromising future. Such a fact is not only a fit description for the Israeli-Syrian relations, but it also illustrates Israel's relationship with most of its Arab neighbours.

For the Israeli government, manifested in Ehud Barak, the challenge remains the same; a historically confused nation, angry settlers, and religious interpretations that hardly coincide with current politics. As careful as he appears to be, Barak is trying to assure all sides that his commitment to peace shall produce a formula that pleases all. Pleasing all however, is out of reach, for the involved sides have little or nothing in common.

Syria's demands are clear; Israel must withdraw from the Occupied Golan Heights. While the Syrian government sounds determined not to validate any agreement that denies complete Israeli withdrawal from all the land occupied during the 1967 war, Israel has vowed not to go that far. It is unquestionable that a serious Israeli pull back is going to take place. But its territorial and political significance is yet to be decided..

Regional confederation

Amman rejected press reports that plans were underway for a confederation between Lebanon, Jordan and Syria, saying the matter was only a "proposal." Deputy Prime Minister Ayman Majali was quoted in the daily Al-Dustour as denying "the existence of an agreement" about a confederation plan. "This is merely a proposal put forward (in the press) a few months ago, about a union between the three countries, and the matter has not got beyond the proposal stage since then," said Majali, who is also information minister.

Palestinian Internet firm

Palestinian Internet provider Palnet is considering plans to become a public company as it develops its business in 2000, an official said. Palnet General Manager Maan Bseiso said the goal to list the company on local and international stock markets was still being decided but the process might be launched next year.

Abu Dhabi ups expat utility charges

The emirate of Abu Dhabi will increase electricity and water charges by as much as 80 percent for expatriates, but continue providing subsidised utilities to nationals, newspapers said Tuesday.

Expatriate electricity charges will be raised by a third from January 1 to 20 fils (three cents) per kilowatt, while nationals will pay five fils (less than one cent) per kilowatt, Gulf News said.

Water charges for foreigners are being increased more than 80 percent to 20 dirhams (5.45 dollars) per 1,000 gallons (3,800 litres). Nationals will officially pay nothing for their water.

The changes mean expatriates will for the first time pay more for utilities than their actual cost, currently running at 2.8 cents for a kilowatt of electricity and 5.23 dollars for 1,000 gallons of water.

Kuwait to set up body to tackle economic problems

Kuwait is to set up a body to tackle the emirate's economic and financial problems as the government attempts to revitalise the economy, the official KUNA news agency reported Sunday.

"The main aim in establishing this body is to implement the recommendations put forward by the government's economic commission and the higher planning council," said Cabinet Affairs Minister Mahammed Deifallah Sharar after the weekly cabinet meeting.

It will have five to seven members with expertise in economic, financial and legal affairs, and will be directly responsible to the cabinet, he said.

"It will be in a position to take decisions unencumbered by the shilly-shallying and routine of government offices," he said, adding that its decisions would be issued by ministers and submitted to parliament.

In its efforts to revitalise the Kuwaiti economy the government recently adopted a series of measures to open up the country to foreign investment and encourage the private sector.

It is also trying to increase the number of its own nationals in employment, in order to reduce its dependence on foreign workers, especially in the private sector, and is aiming for complete economic liberalisation, including an end to subsidies.

The government currently employs 92 percent of the working Kuwaitis, amounting to some 222,000 people, paying them high salaries for relatively short working days, while the private sector is dominated by expatriates.

Jordanian-Palestinian talks on trade

The Jordanian and Palestinian trade ministers met here Saturday to discuss ways of improving cooperation in trade, transport and agriculture.

Jordanian Trade Minister Mahammed Asfur told journalists that the talks were a prelude to a tripartite Jordanian-Palestinian-Israeli meeting to draw up an agreement on promoting trade between all three sides.

Joint Jordanian-Palestinian technical committees would meet in the next two weeks to discuss details, he said.

The main obstacles holding up trade between Jordan and the Palestinian Authority are "the strict criteria and standards imposed by Israel on Palestinian imports from Jordan," Asfur said.

UAE foreign missions may issue visas

Foreign missions of the United Arab Emirates are likely to be allowed to issue tourist and visit visas, it was reported Saturday.

Brigadier Hadher bin Khalaf Al Muhairiat, director general of the department of naturalisation and residency, ministry of interior, was quoted by the sharjah based Al Khaleej paper as saying that the ministry is considering the possibility for the ministry of foreign affairs to issue tourist and visiting visas at UAE embassies abroad. The mission officials would be able to evaluate the tourist and visiting conditions better, he said, in a statement to the paper.

Embassies are in a better position to assess the claims of applicants, while determining and assessing their interest in tourism or other visits to the country , he said.

Kuwait to criminalise insider trading

Kuwait is preparing a new law to criminalise inside trading in the local stock market, Commerce and Industry Minister Abdel Wahhab Mahammed Al-Wazzan said Sunday.

His ministry "will present to the cabinet a law criminalising the leak of secret information which weakens the market," he said, quoted by the official KUNA news agency.

Oman urges brokers to help boost market capital

Oman's Capital Market Authority (CMA) on Monday called on brokers to play a greater role in raising capital on the Muscat Securities Market (MSM).

"The brokerage companies are not adequately imparting the culture of investment among the public and they must play their vital role in inviting capital for investment in the market," a CMA statement quoted chairman Makbool Ali Sultan, who is also the minister of commerce and industry, as saying.

Dubai closes down Cartier over tax scam

Authorities have closed down Cartier shops in the Emirate of Dubai after discovering a multimillion-dollar customs fraud by the luxury brand's Middle East distributor, a newspaper reported Wednesday.

The closures were ordered Monday night after Cartier International's exclusive distributor, International Business Group (IBG), failed to pay fines totalling 180 million dirhams (49 million dollars), the Gulf News said.

The fines are three times the amount of customs duty IBG evaded by undervaluing import bills, the daily said quoting industry sources.

Bahraini Emir sets up single state oil firm

Bahrain's Emir Shaikh Hamad bin Isa Al-Khalifa on Wednesday set up a single oil firm which will emerge from the merger between the state's refining company and oil production firm.

The move calls for the setting up of Bahrain Petroleum Company, the Gulf Arab state's official Gulf News Agency said.

Bahrain earlier this year agreed to merge Bahrain Petroleum Co (BAPCO), which runs a 250,000 barrels per day (bpd) refinery, and Bahrain National Oil Co (BANOCO), which is responsible for domestic oil production and distribution.

BAPCO became 100 percent owned by the Bahraini government after it acquired a 40 percent stake held by Caltex, the joint venture of Texaco Inc and Chevron Corp in April 1997.

Saudi banks

Banks in Saudi Arabia will shut on January 1 as a precaution against the possible impact of the so-called millennium bug, a central bank source said on Wednesday. The Saudi Arabian Monetary Agency (SAMA) source said banks would also shut to complete their accounts for 1999.

Iran says OPEC likely to extend oil cuts in March

OPEC powerhouse Iran said on Monday the cartel would probably agree to extend oil supply curbs for three to six months in March when the cuts are due to expire. "OPEC members will probably agree in their March meeting to extend the cuts for another three to six months," Oil Minister Bijan Zanganeh told reporters.

Mexican Energy Minister Luis Tellez last week said that non-OPEC Mexico and other major oil producers were ready to extend output cuts through next year, depending on market conditions.

But Tellez did not say whether the cuts would be extended at the same level beyond March 31, 2000, the expiry date for the current accord.

Oil traders have been wondering whether OPEC member states will respond to higher prices and dwindling oil stockpiles in the West by easing the supply curbs.

Prices hit a nine-year high of $26.15 last week following a robust rally in 1999 that saw the value of crude more than double.

"There is good understanding and cooperation to abide by the cuts," Zanganeh said. "I don't think there will be any special event before March." He said OPEC compliance with supply curbs was at 90 percent.

OPEC has kept prices strong by maintaining strict compliance with the cuts which have removed nearly five million barrels per day from the market.

It is in the precarious position of trying to keep prices strong while seeking to ease consumer anxiety over oil shortages in the winter season, when demand hits a peak.

Gas dispute

Iran's oil minister on Monday played down a potential dispute over delays in the delivery of Iranian gas to Turkey, saying Tehran was mainly interested in making sure the $23 billion deal was carried out.

"At this stage what is important is for the transfer of gas to Turkey to start. We will postpone the legal issues until later," Bijan Zanganeh told reporters.

He said Iran was ready to deliver the gas from January 1, under the $23 billion deal signed in 1996 between the two countries.

Turkey has said it would send senior gas officials to Iran to try to revise a penalty clause in the agreement, to avoid paying $120 million for undelivered gas.

Turkey signed the 23-year accord with its eastern neighbour when an Islamist-led government was ruling in Ankara.

Arab Fund to lend Jordan $115 mln for dam

The Kuwait-based Arab fund will lend Jordan 81.5 million dinars (115 million dollars) to build a dam to boost water resources in the drought-stricken country, officials said Thursday.

They said Jordan's planning ministry signed the deal Wednesday with the Arab Fund for Economic and Social Development, which is affiliated with the Arab League.

The money will go to construction of the Al-Wahdeh Dam on the Yarmuk River in northern Jordan, which will benefit both Jordan and neighbouring Syria which is also plagued by water shortages.

Iraq earns 340 mln dollars in new oil exports

Iraq exported 14.6 million barrels of crude worth 340 million dollars in the week up to December 24 under the latest phase of the oil-for-food programme, the United Nations said Thursday.

Exports resumed on December 17 after the seventh six-month extension of the scheme.

The UN sanctions committee has approved 27 contracts for the sale of Iraqi oil with a total volume of 122.1 million barrels under the new phase of the scheme by which Baghdad can import basic goods in exchange for limited crude sales.

The contracts were the first to be submitted after a three-week suspension of Iraqi oil exports over a dispute with the United Nations.

No contracts for humanitarian supplies have yet been acknowleged from Iraq for the new phase but the UN statement said humanitarian supplies from the previous phases were still arriving in Iraq.

These included 25,000 tonnes of rice, 7,131 tonnes of cooking oil, 5,308 tonnes of detergents and soaps, 2,934 tonnes of powdered baby formula as well as medicines.Saudi bourse breaks 2,000

Iraq takes delivery of 2,400 Renault lorries

Iraq has taken delivery of 2,400 French-made Renault lorries as part of the UN-approved "oil for food" deal, an Iraqi weekly reported Wednesday.

The oil ministry will get 1,200 of them for transporting oil products, 800 will go to the trade ministry and the remaining 400 will used by the transport ministry, said Al-Ilam.

Last week the magazine said Iraq had already taken delivery of 500 Renault lorries for the oil ministry.

Arab marts' capital rises $12b in 1999

The year 1999 has been especially good to the most Arab bourses as their capital rose by $12 billion while the value of shares traded surged by $1.9 billion. However, a series of problems face these bourses as the new millennium draws near.

These problems include the lack of financial instruments and the sluggish demand on them, lagging legal, organisational and institutional frameworks and the fierce competition posed by the alternative investment finance tools.


Dubai Saudi Aramco is reported to have completed the purchase of a 28.4 per cent stake in South Korea's Ssangyong Oil from Ssangyong Cement, the flagship firm of 'troubled' conglomerate Ssangyong.