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Feb 07 - 13, 2000

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

Mideast peace problems chill Moscow talks

Arab reluctance to integrate Israel into the Middle East before it concludes peace with its neighbours may keep next week's multilateral talks in Moscow as glacial as the Russian winter.

Setbacks in Syrian-Israeli talks and painfully slow progress on the Israeli-Palestinian track are clouding the February 1 meeting, the first of its kind in more than three years.

Syria, one of Moscow's closest Middle East allies in the Soviet era, is staying away, along with its client Lebanon.

Egypt says it will attend only to stress that bilateral peacemaking must precede region-wide talks.

Jordan and the Palestinians say they cannot afford to be left out of any discussions that affect them, especially in such vital areas as water and Palestinian refugees.

Faisal Al-Husseini, heading the Palestinian team to the talks, said the Palestinians had always viewed the multilateral track as a showcase — but only for paying customers.

He said over-eager Arabs also needed reminding that solving the core of the Middle East dispute must take priority.

Russia, co-sponsor with the United States of Middle East peace negotiations, sent out invitations to the Moscow gathering just days before a third round of talks between Israel and Syria last week was delayed due to disagreements over the agenda.

The United States has tried to chivvy its Arab friends into showing up for the meeting in the Russian capital.

Egypt, the first Arab state to sign a peace treaty with Israel in 1979, clearly believes the effort is premature.

Water-short Jordan hosts about 1.2 million Palestinian refugees and is keen to show its people an economic dividend from the peace treaty it signed with Israel in 1994.

George W. Bush lectures OPEC

In what seems to be a steadily increasing stream of both official and non official US statements regarding OPEC's oil policy, Texas Gov. George W.Bush, the top Republican in the race for the White House, said on Wednesday President Bill Clinton should urge OPEC to produce more crude oil and drive world oil prices lower again.

Speaking during a debate among Republican presidential candidates, Bush said he supported a decision by Energy Secretary Bill Richardson not to draw down the national Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR) to help cover market shortages and push prices lower.

But he said the real problem was production cuts agreed by the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC).

Dubai frees up trade for Gulf Arabs

The UAE emirate of Dubai has decided to allow other Gulf Arab citizens to carry out general trade activities, giving them the same rights as UAE nationals.

An order issued by Dubai's Crown Prince and United Arab Emirates (UAE) Defence Minister Sheikh Mohammad bin Rashid al-Maktoum gave citizens from Gulf Arab countries "the same rights and responsibilities to practice trade activities in the emirate like those being enjoyed by UAE nationals".

The order was carried by the official Emirates News Agency (WAM) and was published in local newspapers on Thursday.

Foreigners in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) cannot own property and need UAE sponsors who must always own a majority stake in any business venture. Dubai is one of the seven emirates of the UAE and is a major regional trade and business centre.

Iran: Qatar seeks joint energy consortium

Qatar seeks a joint consortium with Iran to carry oil and gas from the Gulf to Europe, the official Iranian news agency IRNA said on Wednesday.

"Qatar is interested in implementing joint ventures with Iran and to establish consortiums to transfer Persian Gulf oil and gas to Europe," IRNA quoted visiting Qatar's Minister of state for Foreign Affairs Abdullah bin Khalifa Al-Attiyah as saying.

It said Attiyah had conveyed the message in talks on Tuesday with Iranian Foreign Minister Kharrazi.

Saudi, Oman knocking on WTO door

Saudi Arabia and Oman, the only Gulf Arab states outside the World Trade Organisation (WTO), will boost their investor appeal by joining the group and encourage much-needed economic liberalisation, analysts say.

Both countries expect their bids for membership to be successful soon and in Oman's case, membership could be imminent, trade officials said.

The country derives more than 70 percent of its export earnings from oil.

Egypt privatisation to spur exports

Egypt, nearly midway through its privatisation drive, needs to push on with reform and retraining to compete in world export markets, its privatisation chief said.

"We have to increase our exports," said Public Enterprise Minister Mokhtar Khattab, who took office in October after his predecessor, Atef Obeid, became prime minister.

"It's not easy or possible until we expand our production base, improve our quality and decrease our cost and prices through modernisation and upgrading our capacity in industry," he told Reuters.

Kuwait, Jordan to sign investment agreement

Investment Promotion Corporation IPC Director General Reem Badran on Monday said Jordan and Kuwait will this week sign an agreement for investment protection and promotion between Jordan and Kuwait.

Badran's remarks came in a statement to Petra following talks between Jordanian and Kuwait officials on the draft of the agreement. The agreement will help expand mutual investment opportunities, Badran said.

She pointed out Jordan has received positive gestures on the willingness of Kuwaiti investors to establish investments in the country in the fields of tourism and information technology.''

Egyptian, Saudi bourses shine in bad week for Arab markets

The Egyptian and Saudi stocks markets bucked the trend in a bad week for Arab bourses, Bakheet Financial Advisors (BFA) reported Saturday.

The best performer was the Hermes Financial Index in Egypt which shot up 5.3 percent to 14,577.30 points, on the back of a fall in interest rates, BFA said.

At the other end of the scale was Bahrain's BSE index which lost 2.5 percent to slide to 2,151.79 points "on technical selling ahead of dividend payments." The winner in the Gulf was the stock market in oil giant Saudi Arabia, where the NCFEI index rose 2.1 percent to 2,105.11 points, fuelLed mainly by electrical utilities which climbed on news of upcoming restructuring.

But Qatar's CBQ index was the only positive performer elsewhere in the oil-rich Gulf, rising a modest 0.6 percent to 228.91 points following an announcement that the market will be opened to foreign investors this year.

Kuwait's KSE index, the second largest in the Arab world after the NCFEI, fell 1.7 percent to 1,388.00 points.

Oman's MSM went down 1.4 percent to 247.04 points, while the NBAD index in the Emirates closed at 2,914.16 points, down 0.7 percent on the week.

Also down was the Tunindex in Tunisia which shed 1.4 percent to close at 1,300.02 points on the back of profit-taking.

Lebanon's BLOM index was up slightly, adding 0.3 percent to reach 719.84 points, while the Jerusalem index of the Palestinian territories lost 0.3 percent to slip to 241.29 points.

In Jordan, the AFM index fell 0.8 percent to 162.67 points, while the CSE index in Morocco closed at 775.94 points, down 0.5 percent.

Deal for new Airbus

Dubai carrier Emirates has signed a financing deal to buy a new Airbus A330-200, valued at 81.9 million dollars, the official WAM news agency said early on Tuesday.

The deal was guaranteed by Britain's Export Credit Guarantee Department, Germany's Hermes and France's COFACE. The long-haul aircraft is due to be delivered January 29 and is one of 18 such planes ordered in 1996.

First Islamic

Bahrain's First Islamic Investment Bank on Tuesday said its profits increased 33 percent in 1999 to 16 million dollars, and it was proposing a 10 percent dividend worth 11.2 million dollars.

Urges bank mergers

The Union of Arab Banks warned on Friday that small Arab banks face the risk of going under unless regional monetary authorities force them to merge or strengthen their financial position.

"Arab central banks should mobilise, not remain lax about small banks which are lacking in capital, supervision, administration and technology," Adnan El Hindi, general secretary of the Union of Arab banks, told Reuters.

Saudi British Bank

Saudi British Bank profits rose eight percent in 1999 to 661 million riyals (176 million dollars), the bank said in a statement Tuesday.

US Eximbank pledges loans to Algeria

The US export credit bank, Eximbank, chairman James Harmon told Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika the bank board of directors has approved an expansion of its activity in Algeria and an unspecified amount of long term loans, state-run radio said.

"I'm happy to notify you that the Eximbank board of directors endorsed on Monday the expansion of our programmes in Algeria. The Eximbank is now able to grant Algeria long term loans without setting up an upper limit to their amounts," the radio said, quoting a letter from Harmon to Boutelfika.

Iraq, Jordan sign oil deal

Iraq will provide Jordan with 4.8 million tonnes of oil this year, half of it free just like last year, under an agreement signed here Saturday.

Jordan will not have to pay more than 300 million dollars for the 35 million barrels of oil it will receive from Iraq, Jordan's Energy Minister Wael Sabri told reporters at the ceremony where he signed the accord with Iraqi Oil Minister Amer Al-Rashid.

Iran echoes winds of change towards US business relations

The head of Iran's special economic district on Kish Island has suggested his free zone could play host one day to an official US presence - seen as unacceptable on the mainland.

In an interview published on Sunday, Mohammad Reza Yazdan- Panah said he would be prepared to support any such move by the American side. No request has been made, he said.

"The Americans, like any other nationality, can come to Kish without visas," Yazdan-Panah told the daily Abrar-e Eqtesadi. "Except for Israeli nationals, there is no limitation on anyone."

US investment and trade

US investment and trade in the Gulf region is set to reach new heights in the coming years with Bahrain playing a key role in market accessibility and partnership, said the visiting US Department of Commerce Deputy Assistant Secretary, Molly Williamson, according to the daily Bahrain Tribune paper dated January 23rd.

Molly was speaking at a press conference at the Diplomat Hotel joined by the US Ambassador to Bahrain Johnny Young and other American Embassy officials, the paper said.

The senior American official is in a major tour of Gulf countries to update and meet the key commerce and business leaders, according to the paper.

Iran, Kuwait sign MoU on trade

Kuwait and Iran signed a memorandum of understanding to promote bilateral trade, it was reported.

The MoU was signed at the end of meetings of the joint Kuwaiti-Iranian trade committee. The Iranian deputy trade minister, Abdelhussein Wahji, who signed the MoU on behalf of Iran, had arrived in Kuwait last Monday for the joint committee meetings.

The MoU is related to expansion of trade between the two countries. The volume of trade between Kuwait and Iran witnessed an improvement last year when it exceeded $100 million dollar mark. The Iranian deputy trade minister attributed this increase due to the vigorous efforts of both public and private sectors in the two countries.

Saudis 'to open up insurance' (Gulf

Saudi Arabia's medical insurance market worth billions of dollars will be opened up to foreign companies, the kingdom's health minister said in a newspaper report.

Ossama Shobokshi said the market would be opened up in response to a law making it compulsory for the six million expatriates living in Saudi Arabia to take out health insurance, Al-Hayat reported.

The insurance sector is currently monopolised by the state-run Saudi National Insurance Co whose subscriptions total three billion riyals ($800 million).