Dec 18 -
Jordan to 'pinch' citizens with 2001 budget
Jordan's projected 2001 state expenditure aimed
towards narrowing a chronic deficit to help IMF-directed reforms
rejuvenate the economy, Finance Minister Michel Marto said Wednesday.
But Marto told parliament the 2.3 billion dinar
($3.24 billion) state expenditure in 2001 entailed a controversial
gasoline price increase to offset partially a 180 million dinar
shortfall due to higher world oil prices.
"This proves to people, who may have wondered
about our ability to not only invest capital, but to make good returns
on it, that we can, indeed, do that," he said.
"(Higher oil prices) entail raising petroleum
prices, but taking into consideration lessening the impact on low
income groups and industries," Marto said.
The new gasoline prices would be decided soon and
would come into effect early next year.
Total state spending in 2001 was projected to rise
around 14 per cent from an readjusted 2000 budget figure, with most of
the expansion in capital investments to spur growth.
The government earmarked 470 million dinars for
capital investments, a 50 per cent increase on 2000 to spur growth.
The 2001 budget targets reducing the deficit,
excluding foreign aid to 380 million dinars — or 6.0 per cent of
gross domestic product (GDP) compared with 6.8 per cent this year.
Grants from donor countries, traditionally used to
cover some of the budget shortfalls, would reduce the budget deficit
target to around 2.2 per cent of GDP.
"Reducing the deficit to six per cent is very
important and would vindicate our structural reforms," Marto told
But a sharp rise in world oil prices has strained
the budget finances despite a favourable deal with Iraq that supplies
the kingdom with most of its energy needs at concessionary rates,
Arafat, Israelis meet as bloodshed continues
Palestinian and Israeli leaders discussed how to
rescue Middle East peacemaking and stop the worst Israel-Palestinian
violence in years, saying afterwards contacts would go on but giving
little sign of a breakthrough.
Neither side ruled out an eventual resumption of
full peace negotiations after a meeting between Palestinian President
Yasser Arafat and Israeli Foreign Minister Shlomo Ben-Ami that ended
early on Friday, but indicated that more work lay ahead before the
stalled process could be firmly back on track.
The latest casualty was a Palestinian killed by
Israeli soldiers in Gaza on Thursday. Islamic activist said his death
was the latest in a series of Israeli assassination of Palestinian
In Jerusalem, Israeli police planned to be out in
force near the Al-Aqsa mosque, where Muslims are to pray on the third
Friday of the holy month of Ramadan. A Palestinian was killed on the
second Friday after prayers at the site.
The site has been a focus of a wave of Israeli
attacks against Palestinians in which at least 300 Palestinians have
Arafat met Ben-Ami and Prime Minister Ehud Barak's
senior aide, Gilead Sher, for four hours starting late on Thursday at
the Erez Checkpoint on the Israel-Gaza border amid stepped up
international pressure to revive peace talks.
Ben-Ami and Sher have helped steer peace
negotiations during Barak's 18 months in office.
"You cannot say the talks were good or
bad," senior Arafat aide, Nabil Abu Rdainah told Reuters.
"The meeting was a part of the contacts to try to establish a
ground to rescue the peace process and to talk about the future of
that peace process".
Israeli army radio said the sides agreed to renew
talks next week and resume security cooperation that had mostly broken
Bahrain body proposes two parliament chambers
A newly-appointed Bahraini committee has
recommended the setting up of two parliament chambers including an
elected one in the Gulf Arab state, newspapers reported on Thursday.
They said the recommendations were made by the
46-member Supreme National Committee appointed by Bahrain's Emir
Sheikh Hamad bin Isa Al-Khalifa to draw up a national charter as part
of promised political reforms in the conservative state.
The English-language Bahrain Tribune said the
committee recommended that the "parliament in Bahrain should be
made up of two chambers — the Shura (consultative) Council with
appointed members and a parliamentary council with elected
OPEC cut a real option
Concerned about slipping oil prices, the OPEC
cartel will review its production ceiling at the extraordinary meeting
it has called for Jan. 17, Kuwait Oil Minister Sheikh Saud Nasser al-Sabah
said on Thursday, adding a cut of around one million barrels per day
(bpd) was an option.
"The question is why are we meeting on Jan. 17
before the ordinary meeting in March? The idea is that forecasts
indicate a weakness in price in Q1 2000, therefore (OPEC) resolutions
must be taken (in January) to safeguard oil prices and their
stability," the minister told Reuters in an interview.
"If prices continue to fall, then any decision
is possible and all options are available," added Sheikh Saud who
is seen as a price hawk. When pressed for a figure, he said "it
could be a million bpd or more than a million according to market
needs." OPEC's export price has plummeted by 20 per cent to $25
per barrel over the past two weeks, as fears of a heating oil shortage
in the United States this winter have subsided.
Lebanon, Egypt, Syria to initial gas deal
Egypt, Lebanon and Syria will sign an initial
agreement Friday for exporting Egyptian natutral gas to the other two
countries, officials told AFP on Wednesday.
The deal will be sealed by Lebanese Oil Minister
Mohamad Abdel Hamid Beydoun and his visiting counterparts, Egypt's
Sameh Fahmi and Syria's Mohamad Maher Al-Jammal, they said.
Officials said earlier this week that the deal had
been due to be signed Thursday by the Egyptian and Lebanese ministers,
in the presence of Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri.
On Monday, the Jordanian official news agency Petra
reported that Amman was examining the possibility of joining Lebanon
and Syria in the regional scheme to import gas across the
Hariri, during his trip to Cairo last month,
reached a deal to import gas from the Egyptian coastal city of El
Arish to the port of Tripoli in north Lebanon, before re-exporting it
to Syria and Turkey.
Saudi offers financing to boost non-oil exports
Saudi Arabia is to offer trade financing of up to
85 per cent and other facilities to boost non-oil exports to help
diversify its petroleum-dominated economy, the Saudi finance minister
said on Tuesday.
Under newly approved rules, the state-funded
facilities would be offered for Saudi exports comprising a minimum of
25 per cent value added locally, the official Saudi Press Agency
quoted Minister Ibrahim al-Assaf as saying.
Assaf said priority would be given to Saudi
companies with a high per centage of Saudi personnel and to export
operations with larger financial and economic returns, the agency
The minister expressed "hope that the
programme would contribute to developing and spreading Saudi exports
in world markets, and help Saudi exporters increase their sales and
expand trade activities overseas".
Saudi Arabia's non-oil exports, including
petrochemicals, rose to 5.9 billion riyals ($1.6 billion) in the
second quarter of 2000, up 10 per cent year on year.
Syria settles most of its foreign debts
Syria's foreign debts are under control and the
government which took power in April has been servicing them
regularly, Minister of State for Planning Issam Al-Zaim said on
Tuesday. He told Reuters in an interview the total debt due to Arab
and foreign governments and funds that is handled by his ministry —
about two thirds of total debt — stood at $3.384 billion on June 30
Giving the first detailed account about the status
of Syria's foreign debts and loan servicing, Zaim said around 27
billion Syrian pounds ($586 million) were allocated in the
government's budget this year to service foreign loans. "We have
now controlled the foreign debts and are servicing our loans in a
regular way. This has greatly improved our economic status image
abroad. It paved the way for international monetary institutions to
deal with us and to resume supplying us with new loans and
grants," he said.
Tunisia to grant a private GSM licence
Tunisia will award its first private GSM mobile
telephone licence to foreign operators during the first half of 2001
in a bid to liberalise the telecommunications sector, a minister said
"The operation of granting the private GSM
licence to foreign investors would be completed in the first half of
2001," Economic Development Minister Abdellatif Saddam told a
The country's only global system for mobile
communications (GSM) licence is held by state-owned Tunisia Telecom
firm which is enjoying a monopoly in the sector.
Tunisia Telecom's GSM network has a capacity of
around 50,000 subscribers since it started operating the mobile
telephone service in 1996.
Microsoft Gulf and Eastern Mediterranean (GEM)
announced that it will continue to play a leading role in the
development of the IT industry in Jordan by opening a local office in
The announcement was made at a press conference,
attended by Deputy Prime Minister of Jordan, His Excellency Doctor
Mohammad Halaiqa, and marks the beginning of a series of initiatives
designed to foster a dynamic and thriving information technology
industry in the country.
Iraq okays UN deal extension
Iraq agreed on Monday to another six-month
extension of an oil-for-food deal with the United Nations and prepared
to resume exporting its crude.
Iraq's official notification to the UN of its
approval ended weeks of speculation over the humanitarian programme
and the fate of Iraqi oil flow to world markets.
An Iraqi oil official said oil exports were ready
to roll once weather permits in the southern port of Mina Al-Bakr.
Kuwait oil earnings top $8b
Kuwait's oil revenues in the first five months of
the 2000-2001 fiscal year have reached 8.29 billion dollars, 32 per
cent more than estimates for the entire nine-month year, a think-tank
Egypt, Iraq to set up free trade zone soon
Sanctions-hit Iraq will sign a deal
"soon" to set up a free trade zone with Egypt as part of
wider moves towards removing tarrifs in the Arab world, government
newspapers said on Saturday.
Egyptian Prime Minister Atef Ebeid, who was quoted
making the announcement, gave no details on the bilateral deal, but
Arab League sources said last week that Egypt, Iraq and Libya intended
to set up a trilateral free trade zone.
Lebanon borrows $400m eurobonds
Lebanon raised 400 million dollars in four-year
eurobonds Thursday, the first major financial transaction by Prime
Minister Rafiq Hariri since he formed his government at the end of
October, Minister of Finance Fuad Saniora said on Friday.
Saniora said the government raised 100 million
dollars more than it had initially expected.
The financial institutions, J.P. Morgan and Credit
Suisse-First Boston, loaned the money at a 9.5 per cent interest rate,
4.1 percentage points higher than the standard US market rate, said
The cash injection will help Lebanon restructure
its public debt, of which 65 per cent is shouldered by Lebanese banks,
25 per cent by Middle Eastern banks and 10 per cent by European
Lebanon, Iraq agree to reopen oil pipeline
Lebanon and Iraq have agreed to reopen their oil
pipeline via Syria which had been shut for 20 years, Finance Minister
Fouad Siniora was quoted as saying on Friday.
The Lebanese daily Al-Mustaqbal, affiliated with
Prime Minister Rafik Al-Hariri, quoted Siniora as saying Lebanon and
Iraq had reached a "preliminary agreement" to reopen the
pipeline which stretches between Kirkuk in northern Iraq and the port
city of Tripoli in northern Lebanon.
Siniora, at a news conference after a one-day visit
to Baghdad, also said Lebanon was working to boost its economic
cooperation with Iraq within the UN oil-for-food programme.
He said the Syrian part of the pipeline between
Kirkuk and Homs in Western Syria had already been repaired.
Syria, Iraq and Lebanon were in talks to
rehabilitate the pipeline between Homs and Tripoli, he said.
Yemen sees new era
Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh said on
Thursday his country's relations with its rich northern neighbour
Saudi Arabia were set for a major improvement that would include joint
Saleh was speaking a day after the Saudi-Yemeni
Cooperation Council (SYCC) held its first meeting in 13 years on
Wednesday and announced that Saudi Arabia had agreed to reschedule
Yemen's $331 million debts to it and extend $300 million in fresh
Sainsbury's to pull out of Egypt
British retailer Sainsbury's, which opened its
first supermarkets in Egypt last January, has decided to pull out of
the Egyptian market and sell its shares to an Egyptian investor, the
state-owned daily Al-Gomhuriya said in its Sunday issue.
Sainsbury's-Egypt, a company where 20 per cent of
the capital is held by partner Arab Group, opened 114 chains in a year
in the Greater Cairo area.