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GULF

Mar 13 - 26, 2000

  1. International
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  6. Gulf

Mubarak: Barak, Arafat boost peace hopes

Mubarak said he had "great hopes" for the peace process after a summit here Thursday with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak.

"Many problems have been solved," Mubarak told a press conference, suggesting the peace deal Barak and Arafat signed here six months ago was being put on a fresh track.

But he said the two sides had still to clear up some undisclosed details, following the announcement Wednesday that Israel and the Palestinians will resume negotiations in Washington in about 10 days.

"We are optimistic for the next stage and God willing, some things will be announced soon," Mubarak told reporters at this Red Sea resort.

Mubarak added he had "great hopes" for not only the Israeli-Palestinian track but also for a resumption soon of the stalled Israeli-Syrian-Lebanese talks.

Mubarak, flanked by Arafat and Barak who gave no statement, also described the summit as having taken place in "a very friendly atmosphere." Mubarak's advisor Ossama Al-Baz tempered his optimism, saying: "what interests us is the implementation of signed accords, and actions much more than words." The Sharm el-Sheikh agreement Mubarak presided over on September 5 later foundered amid disputes over Israeli land transfers and an outline deal for a final settlement.

On his return to Gaza, Arafat said he "hoped" his meeting with Mubarak and Barak would push Israel not to repeat the mistakes of the past and to implement accords it signed with the Palestinians.

"The meeting in Sharm el-Sheikh confirms ... the great importance of making sure what has been agreed in the past in Sharm el-Sheikh is implemented and of pushing the peace process forward," Arafat told reporters.

New PM can revive economy

Syria on Wednesday celebrated the 37th anniversary of the Baath party taking power, preparing to embark on a series of long-awaited domestic reforms under new Prime Minister Mohammed Mustafa Miro.

One of the key tasks facing the new government — the first major political change for Syria in eight years — will be to accelerate economic changes pitched at lifting the country out of a grinding two year recession.

President Hafez al-Assad accepted the resignation of the government of Prime Minister Mahmud Al-Zohbi and asked the governor of Aleppo, Mohammed Mustafa Miro, 59, to form a new government.

During nearly five years as governor of Syria's second city, Miro won a reputation for honesty and a determination to fight against corruption.

Saudi set to hold energy investment talks

Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Abdullah said the kingdom would invite foreign firms for talks after the Muslim pilgrimage in March on energy investment proposals worth more than $100 billion.

The crown prince told the official Saudi Press Agency that the Supreme Council for Petroleum and Mineral Affairs, which was recently set up to oversee oil and gas policy, had formed a ministerial committee to invite the foreign firms for talks.

The crown prince said Saudi Arabia had received proposals from 18 international companies, including 10 of the world's biggest oil firms, on investment in different areas of the energy sector.

The proposals covered gas treatment, production, distribution and transport, as well as crude refining, transport, marketing and related infrastructure, he said.

Lebanese pull-out

In the finely balanced game being played out in the Middle East, Israel has taken the initiative by announcing a military pull-out from South Lebanon by July, analysts said.

Peace in the region is nevertheless still a question of political will, one Beirut diplomat said, speaking before the announcement of a change of government in Damascus, which was not expected to change much on the foreign policy front.

"Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak controls the rhythm of events and is continuing to put pressure" on Syria, the western diplomat told.

"That Syria and Lebanon should suspect Israel of wanting to break up their unity is an understandable dramatization," he added.

Dubai warns of massive shakeup in shipping industry

Dubai Port Authority (DPA) warned that the advent of e-commerce and the increasing size of vessels spells a major shake-up for the shipping industry.

"Ports which are not prepared to handle larger volumes of cargo at much faster turn-around times are going to lose out," DPA managing director Sultan bin Sulayem told the Terminal Operations Conference Asia 2000.

"We have by-passed the 12,000 and 14,000 TEU (20-foot equivalent units) vessels and are now discussing the 18,000 Malaca Max carriers," he said.

"This will mean another massive shake-up for terminal operators and goes to show the magnitude of potential growth in this business."

Oil prices plunge on Saudi-Iran agreement

Oil prices fell sharply on Wednesday after the Saudi and Iranian oil ministers agreed on the need for "adequate and timely" supplies to balance the market and on a sharp increase in US stocks.

Despite the decline, crude prices hung close to the recent nine-year high points.

Brent North Sea crude for April delivery, which had risen by almost two dollars on Tuesday, fell back by more than a dollar in early trading. It clawed back some of the losses to show a decline of 85 cents at 31.05 dollars a barrel in late trading on the International Petroleum Exchange.

In New York, the price of benchmark light sweet crude for April delivery fell by 79 cents to 33.34 dollars per barrel.

Prices plunged on news that Saudi Arabia, the kingpin producer which is urging increased output to cool markets, had reached agreement with Iran, which along with Iraq, Algeria and Libya had argued against an increase in output. They did not say by how much or when production should rise.

"Iran and Saudi Arabia on Wednesday noted that the recent rising oil price levels and their continued volatility is not in the long term interests of producers or consumers," the Iranian news agency IRNA said.

"The ministers agreed that current market conditions and outlook necessitate that oil products from OPEC and non-OPEC provide adequate and timely oil supplies to balance the market in order to reach sustainable price levels conducive to world economic growth and market stability," a joint statement said.

The statement followed talks between Saudi Oil Minister Ali bin Ibrahim al-Nuaimi and his Iranian counterpart Bijan Namdar Zangheneh.

US seen close to easing sanctions against Iran

The United States is close to easing economic sanctions against Iran following a spectacular victory by reformers in last month's parliamentary elections, The Los Angeles Times reported Tuesday. The paper quotes Clinton administration officials as saying they are considering lifting a ban on import of Iranian caviar, carpets and pistachio nuts in what would be the most significant US public overture to Iran since 1979. The ban on purchases of Iranian oil and gas is expected to remain in place.

The easing of sanctions is one of several options considered by the White House after reformers backing President Mohammad Khatami took the vast majority of seats in the Iranian parliament, according to The Times. The three products are Iran's most important exports after oil and gas.

US officials say potential sales of these products to US buyers would not be significant enough to enable Iran to finance development of weapons of mass destruction, reported the daily.

Egypt draft budget

Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak on Wednesday reviewed a draft budget for fiscal 2000/1 (July-June) that set a GDP growth target of seven per cent, against this year's target of six per cent, officials said.

The draft budget projected spending at 111 billion pounds ($32 billion), up from 99 billion pounds in 1999/0.

Jordan, Israel sign first ever labour accord

Jordan and Israel have signed an "experimental" protocol agreement to export labour to Israel within a legal framework, for the first time since their 1994 peace treaty, officials said.

The accord signed Tuesday in the Red Sea Israeli resort of Eilat stipulates that over the next year 200 Jordanians will be able to cross daily into Eilat from the nearby port city of Aqaba for work.

"We expect to implement this at the beginning of May after clearing Jordanian candidates for security," Israeli embassy spokesman Roey Gilad told.

Jordanians will be employed in tourism and services as well as in constrution while some of the 200 candidates will work in agriculture in nearby Eilot, Gilad said.

SABIC enters age of e-commerce

Saudi Basic Industries Corp. (SABIC) announced that it was entering the age of e-commerce on the Internet through an affiliate in the United States.

SABIC Americas Inc. has made a minority equity investment and joined ChemConnect, a San Francisco-based electronic commerce company for online trading in chemicals and plastics, it said, without giving a figure for the investment.

Kuwait to unveil economic reform package

Kuwait's government is to meet Wednesday with MPs to decide on a series of long-awaited reforms aimed at revitalising the emirate's sluggish economy, newspapers reported.

The parliamentary economic committee will listen to recommendations by a governmental seven-member economic reforms committee charged with tackling Kuwait's problems.

Foreign Minister Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah said he hoped the meeting would consolidate "a common outlook that would help remove obstacles for economic recovery." And MP Abdelwahab Al-Haroun, head of the parliamentary committee, said he expected the government to submit a "comprehensive future vision for economic reform." "We hope the meeting will help find the solutions to the state of paralysis and recession of all economic activities in the country," Haroun told Al-Qabas newspaper.

IMF expects UAE 2000 growth at five per cent

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) expects the United Arab Emirates to post at least five per cent economic growth in 2000, mostly due to a thriving non-oil sector, a UAE cabinet minister said on Tuesday.

Minister of State for Finance and Industrial Affairs Mohammad Khalfan bin Kharbash made his comments at the end of talks in Abu Dhabi with an IMF team which has been in the Gulf Arab state for two weeks to review the country's economy.

"The IMF team expected that gross domestic product (GDP) would not be less than five per cent in 2000 and expected a big part of that to be from growth in the non-oil sector," the official WAM news agency quoted Kharbash as saying.

It was not clear if the growth was in nominal or real terms.

Iraq to build port terminal on Gulf

Construction has begun on a 1.3 million dollar terminal at the Iraq's port of Um Qasr on the Gulf, the official press reported.

Port authority director Jassem Al-Mashhadani told Al-Jumhuriya newspaper, "President Saddam Hussein has allocated two billion dinars (1.3 million dollars) for the project which should encourage tourism and trade in the province," of Basra in southern Iraq.

The announcement came after the inauguration last week of a new desert border post at Ar'ar to ease the passage of pilgrims heading for Mecca in Saudi Arabia.


Abu Dhabi to build World Trade Centre

The Emirati capital is to have its own World Trade Centre in 2003 at a cost of 300 million dirhams (82 million dollars), following the example of neighbour Dubai, the developers announced Monday.

ADDAR Real Estate Services, set up with investments from foreign arms suppliers to the Emirates, and Abu Dhabi's General Exhibitions Corp. said a second phase would cost another 200 million dirhams (54 million dollars), but gave no date.

The Abu Dhabi centre, covering 65,000 square metres in its initial phase, will join a network of more than 300 World Trade Centres around the world, including one in the UAE trading hub of Dubai.

Mubarak calls for Arab economic integration

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Arab officials called Saturday for greater regional integration to combat the dangers of the new world economic order, at a conference.

"Arab states are in serious need of a common market to confront other global economic blocs and preserve a reasonable income and standard of living," said Mubarak's address to the opening of the Arab labour conference, read by Egyptian Workforce Minister Ahmed Amawi.

Members of the Arab League, who aim to set up a free trade zone by 2007, started reducing customs on reciprocal goods in 1998. Mubarak added that economic integration must be based on specifically Arab characteristics.