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Sep 18 - 24, 2000

OPEC caps runaway oil price, for now

OPEC's decision to lift supplies by another three per cent will put a lid on oil's breakneck price rise but leaves major consumers with little reason to breathe easy heading into winter.

The Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries' deal to release 800,000 barrels per day (bpd) of crude on the high side of pre-meeting estimates is likely to pull prices back from last week's 10-year peaks above $35 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange, market analysts said.

Yet US vulnerability to heating oil shortages will keep prices bubbling near the $30 level that has alarmed industrialised nations, and maintain the focus on how far OPEC's top producer Saudi Arabia will go to bring prices lower.

"This is a market that is very strong. The speculators have got hold of it, and it will need a lot of fundamental signals to get it lower." said Sarah Emerson of Boston's Energy Security Analysis (ESAI).

"Crude will come off a dollar or so early on as 800,000 bpd is a little bit more than expected," said Nauman Barakat of ABN Amro bank. "After that it will be the US heating oil and diesel situation that will tell us where we're going." OPEC's supply rise, lifting quotas to 26.2 million bpd for 10 members from October 1, offers some relief to US crude oil stocks, hovering at 24-year lows.

"They're supplying more than the market expected. They're saying this is not about economic war, its about supplying the market in a reasonable fashion," said Roger Diwan of Washington's Petroleum Finance Company.

OPEC remains powerless, though, to remedy a deficit in US heating oil that leaves the world's biggest consumer badly exposed to a cold winter.

US heating oil inventories stand nearly 40 per cent below this time last year even though the country's stretched refining network has been running full blast all summer.

Omanis vote in first direct polls

Omanis voted for a new advisory council on Thursday in the Gulf sultanate's first direct polls, with 21 women candidates standing for office in a new test of the democratic process.

At Chamsa al-Khalili school in Old Muscat, men and women queued separately in orderly lines, the men in white dishdasha robes and turbans, the women headscarved and in black.

The voters filled in their names and signed or added a fingerprint as well as writing down the name of their choice, which in the case of the illiterate was done by an election official.

"Who says there is no democracy in this country just because nobody goes around carrying banners? We have started slowly and it has to be done in a stable manner," said Barka al-Bakri, a hospital human resources manager, after casting her vote.

Bakri said she helped her candidate running in Al-Ghubra, near Muscat, education ministry planning director Rahila al-Riyami, ensure that people registered and turned out to vote.

"I've told all my friends that she's the best candidate because she's been promoting education for the past 18 years," said 21-year-old medical student Marwa al-Riyami, a niece of the candidate.

After a morning rush and uninterrupted flow at several polling stations, voting eased off in the afternoon heat.

An expanded electoral college of about 114,000, compared to only 51,000 in the last ballot of 1997, was electing a new 83-seat Majlis al-Shura.

The 21 women candidates were among a field of 550 runners, while a president of the council is appointed by the state's veteran ruler, Sultan Qaboos.

Apart from widening the voter base in Oman, where only about 600,000 of the 1.6 million people eligible are over the voting age of 21, a 30 per cent share of participation was this time fixed for women.

OPEC fails to agree on new secretary general

OPEC failed on Monday to agree on a new secretary-general, postponing a decision until November, Iran's oil minister said.

The failure was seen by analysts as a reflection of continuing political differences within the group of oil producing nations, notably between US-friendly kingpin Saudi Arabia and other smaller members. The second three-year mandate of current Nigerian secretary-general Rilwanu Lukman ends this year, and candidates from Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Iran are standing to succeed him.

The issue has caused political tensions within the 11-member Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), notably sensitive as it seeks to present a unified front to stabilize world oil prices.

GCC trade ministers to meet EU

The trade and economy ministers of The Gulf Cooperation Council are to meet their counterparts from the European Union in Dubai in October "to study ways of strenghening economic relations" between them, the official WAM agency reported Sunday.

The GCC Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates is eager to get a free trade agreement with the EU, giving its important petrochemical and aluminium industries complete access to the European market, but the EU has made this conditional on the establishment of a customs union within the GCC.

During their last meeting in Dubai in November, the two sides agreed to step up their efforts to achieve the free trade agreement "as soon as possible." The GCC warned at its summit last December that its customs union would not come into being until March 2005, four years later than orginally planned. Once in existence, it will create an import market worth more than 80 billion dollars.

Canada, Jordan mull multi-billion oil project

Canada and Jordan are currently negotiating what could be "the biggest single economic project in Jordan," Jordanian King Abdullah II said Tuesday.

Although he did not go into details, one aide who declined to be identified suggested the project would be a multi-billion dollar oil extraction operation.

Canada has one of the world`s most advanced land-based oil industries and has managed to export the technological know-how it has developed in the oilfields of Alberta.

Negotiations about the Canadian project in Jordan have been going on for more than a year, according to another official who also declined to be identified.

That official said a final agreement involving both the Canadian government and a consortium of Alberta-based oil companies could be announced "within weeks."

Kuwait can't meet oil quota

Kuwait's oil minister said Thursday that his country does not have the capacity to produce as much oil as it promised under OPEC's new quota agreement announced last Monday, raising doubts about whether the oil cartel's pledge to boost global supply is a realistic endeavor.

"The capacity of OPEC to increase production is very limited," Kuwaiti Oil Minister Saud Nasser al-Sabah's said in an interview with pan-Arab daily newspaper al-Hayat in Paris. "We have reached our maximum production capacity," he said, adding that only Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have a margin of extra production capacity.

Oil hits $36 a barrel

Crude oil prices in New York hit 36 dollars a barrel on Friday the highest level since the 1990 Iraqi invasion of Kuwait before closing at 35.92 dollars.

Morocco's tourism

Morocco's tourism receipts rose 12 per cent to 11.26 billion dirhams ($1.02 billion) in the January-July period compared to the same period in 1999. The state-run trade regulatory body Office de Changes said in a report that tourism receipts at the end of the January-July period of last year stood at 10.05 billion dirhams.

Morocco expects some 2.5 million foreign holiday-makers by the end of 2000. Most of them come from France, Spain and Germany.

Jordan, Palestine trade

Jordan and the Palestinian territories will engage in door-to-door trade from October 1 with trucks rolling in and out past Israeli controls without having to transship their loads, Jordan's transport minister said Tuesday.

"The new door-to-door system will go into effect October 1 and will reduce the cost of transporting merchandise and help promote trade between Jordan and the Palestinians," said Mohammed Al-Kalaldeh, quoted by Petra news agency reported.

Egypt to initial EU partnership deal soon

Egypt will soon initial a long-delayed partnership agreement with the European Union, Prime Minister Atef Obeid said on Tuesday.

"We will sign very soon the initialisation of the partnership agreement with the European Union," he told reporters after meeting Italian Industry and Foreign Trade Minister Enrico Letta.

Obeid said Egypt was waiting for the EU to respond to its request for clarifications on European aid for an industrial modernisation programme that forms part of the package.

Iraq seen exporting over $10 b oil

A senior United Nations humanitarian official said on Tuesday Iraqi oil exports during the present phase of the six-month oil-for-food plan could exceed $10 billion if prices stay at current strong levels.

Tun Myat, the UN coordinator and in charge of the oil-for-food programme in Iraq, also told reporters an acceleration of approval of oil spare parts was expected when a new panel of experts began work.

Saudi prince invests

Saudi Prince AlWalid bin Talal said Monday he had agreed to invest a further 50 million dollars in priceline.com, the Internet service provider, bringing his total Internet investments to more than 1.4 billion dollars.

BG makes energy find off Egypt

Exploration and production company BG International reported a "significant" energy discovery off Egypt on Monday with its 50-50 partner Edison International.

The Sapphire-1 well 65 km (40 miles) northeast of Alexandria tested at a rate of 35 million standard cubic feet (mmscfd) of gas a day and 1,100 barrels of condensate per day, with the flow rate constrained by testing equipment.

Maroc Telecom

Morocco's Maroc Telecom, which is slated for privatisation by early 2001, said on Monday its net profit rose by 48 per cent $114 million in the first half compared with same period in 1999.

Iran to deliver generators to Lebanon

Iran will next week deliver the first of two mobile generators built specially for Lebanon after Israeli warplanes bombed its power stations, an Iranian official said Monday.

The second of the generators, which cost a total of nearly two million dollars to construct, will be delivered in October, said the official, cited by the state IRNA news agency.

Iran, Egypt and a number of other Arab and European countries have sent technicians, equipment and financial aid to help Lebanon repair its power grid after Israeli air-raids in February and the previous June.

Kuwait denies airport expansion plans

Kuwait's civil aviation authority Sunday denied that it had embarked on a huge project to expand the emirate's only international airport, as contractors had announced.

An official of the general management of the aviation authority played down the importance of the work, started in July, saying it covered only "the construction of a carpark, restaurants, shops and airline offices," the official KUNA news agency reported. Earlier Sunday, the managing director of Kuwait United Construction Management, Hussein Al-Sayegh, told AFP that the project was worth 39 million dollars and would double the airport's capacity to six million passengers a year.

Syria mulls billion-dollar employment plan

The Syrian government is considering a billion-dollar plan to create 440,000 jobs in the economically troubled country, the official newspaper Tishrin said Sunday.

Syria, which has an active population of 4.5 million, officially has an unemployment rate of 9.5 per cent, but economic experts believe the rate is closer to 20 per cent.

The plan, which would start next month and last until September 2005, also calls for annual growth of six per cent to accommodate up to 300,000 new workers in the market each year, Tishrin said.

Amman to hold intensive capital markets course

Atlas Investment Group (AIG) and Amman Stock Exchange (ASE) are sponsoring an intensive, 4-day International Capital Markets course in Amman in cooperation with the reputable Euromoney Training (London).

The programme is designed to give a broad exposure to all areas of capital markets. The course will provide an intensive practical training with computer-based case-studies, and workshop sessions.

This programme is designed to give a broad exposure to all area of capital markets. It is thus equally suitable for relatively new entrants into investment banking and corporate finance, experienced professionals transferring into capital market areas, consultants, lawyers and other specialists providing service to capital markets firms.

Private Arab firms urged to be bolder

Companies need to be bolder and more aggressive in order to end the marginalization of the Arab market in the world economy, Lebanese Finance Minister Georges Corm urged Tuesday.

Saying it was too easy to blame war and state-controlled economies for the problem, Corm said "what is more preoccupying is the attitude of the private sector vis-a-vis globalization."