May 07 -
Sharp drop seen in US rice imports to Saudi Arabia
US long grain parboiled rice has lost market
dominance in Saudi Arabia in favour of raw and aromatic rice from
India, Pakistan and Thailand, a key regional buyer said on Sunday.
"The market share of US long-grain parboiled
rice has been shrinking for some years now," Adel Al-Saleh,
General Manager of Al-Muhaidib Grain, told Reuters on the sidelines at
an aromatics rice conference in Dubai.
Saleh, whose firm imports about 22 per cent of the
kingdom's 600,000 metric tonnes of rice per year, said Indian and
Pakistani Basmati rice now accounts for 70 per cent of Saudi Arabia's
total rice imports.
Out of the 602,000 metric tonnes of rice imported
to Saudi Arabia in 2000, imports of Indian Sella (non-aromatic
Basmati) rice stood at 225,000 tonnes, Indian White (aromatic Basmati)
rice at 123,000 metric tonnes and Pakistani Basmati at 82,000 metric tonnes.
Saleh said imports of US long-grain parboiled rice
to Saudi Arabia stood at 120,000 metric tonnes in 2000.
"Asian exporters have been very fast and
aggressive in introducing their product to the region with consumer
education campaigns and promotions," Saleh said.
"In the 1970s, the only two types of rice
known to Saudis were the American long-grain and the Pakistani
Pishawer rice," he said, adding that there were some 158 rice
importers in the kingdom trading in various types of rice.
Traders in Bombay have said that India's aromatic
Basmati rice exports were expected to decline this year because its
main buyer, Saudi Arabia, had sufficient stocks.
Saleh said rice traders were facing the challenge
of demand for rice surpassing supply.
Russian firms jostle for Iraqi oil
Russian oil companies are jostling to grab chunks
of Iraq's huge oil reserves before the United Nations lifts sanctions
on the Arab country and Western firms move in.
Russian oil firms, bolstered by Moscow's close ties
with Baghdad, are keen to expand their supply base and tap into the
second largest reserves in the world.
"Of course we are keen to expand our reserve
base abroad and Iraq for us is a good option, not only in itself but
also as a platform for the region as a whole," said Dmitry Dolgov,
spokesman for LUKOIL, Russia's largest oil company.
LUKOIL was one of the first Russian firms to get
involved in Iraq, agreeing in 1997 to invest $4 billion over 23 years
into the huge West Qurna oilfield with total reserves of six billion
tonnes. But work there has not progressed because of sanctions.
While some Western firms such as TotalFinaElf, with
exclusive negotiating rights for the Majnoon and Bin Umar fields, are
interested in Iraq, those projects too are frozen.
But last December Russian firm Zarubezhneft became
the first company to win long-awaited UN approval to drill in Iraq to
help Iraq maintain output under the UN oil-for-food programme.
It got the go-ahead for an $8 million contract to
drill 45 wells while another firm Tatneft this year received a $4.8
million deal to drill 33 wells.
Slavneft said this week it would sign in May a deal
to drill in the Suba field with reserves of up to 110 million tonnes
(800 million barrels).
"We plan to boost our output to 20 million
tonnes (400,000 bpd) by 2005 from 12 million tonnes today. A
considerable part of this growth will come from our overseas fields
including Iraq," said Slavneft spokeswoman Yekaterina Arkusha.
Media reports say Gazprom-affiliated Sibur and
Stroitransgas are also getting into the act, while a slew of companies
supply oil industry equipment. The UN approval to Zarubezhneft already
opened the door for other foreign firms to apply for similar ventures.
Dawn coming for Egypt's insurance
Great expectations surround the privatisation of
Egypt's state-owned insurers as potential investors hope untapped
potential will spell big business.
Egypt — the largest country in the Arab world
with more than 65 million inhabitants and a burgeoning middle class
— is in the process of liberalising its insurance sector, long
dominated by four state-held insurers.
The government said in early April it had a
shortlist of international firms interested in buying a stake in one
of the Big Four which control the lion's share of the market: direct
insurers Misr, National and el-Chark, and reinsurer Egypt
Although no deadline has been set for their
privatisation, time is of the essence since Egypt's membership of the
World Trade Organisation requires it to complete the liberalisation of
its insurance market by 2003.
US oil falls as Saudis reassure on supply
US oil prices slipped on Friday as Saudi Arabia's
Oil Minister Ali al-Naimi said leading oil producers would not allow
record-high gasoline prices to spin out of control.
As gasoline futures set a fresh all-time high on
the New York Mercantile Exchange (NYMEX), al-Naimi said Saudi Arabia
and fellow members of the Opec oil cartel will ensure US supply needs
are met during peak summer driving demand.
The US is the most important client for the sale of
oil. If there is a need, as sellers we have to take care of the
client, he told reporters in comments translated from Arabic.
Naimi, oil minister for the world's biggest
producer, was speaking as he arrived for his first face-to-face
meeting with US Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham.
Concerns over a shortfall during peak summer
vacation driving demand on Friday pushed NYMEX gasoline futures up
more than 2 cents a gallon to a new all-time high of $1.127.
Israel awaits Syrian move in Lebanon
Locked in battle with the Palestinians, Israel
appears to have bought itself a measure of quiet on the northern front
with last month's air strike against a Syrian radar base in Lebanon.
The question no one in Israel can answer is how
long will the Lebanon lull last? In words that came as no surprise to
Israeli strategists, Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad said in an
interview published in Spain's El Pais newspaper on Wednesday that a
retaliatory Syrian strike, at least for now, would be counter
"It doesn't look at the moment that the
Syrians are going to react vehemently in a military way," a
senior Foreign Ministry official said after the April 15 Israeli air
raid, which killed three Syrian soldiers. But he said Syria would
eventually have to act.
Iraq blames US, Britain for delaying talks with UN
Iraq has blamed the United States and Britain for
delaying a second round of high-level talks with the United Nations to
resolve an impasse on sanctions and arms inspectors.
Deputy Prime Minister Tareq Aziz said that the
talks, which were scheduled to be held in May, had reached a deadlock.
"America and Britain are to blame for making
the talks reach a deadlock because of their aggression on Iraq,"
Aziz, who is also acting Foreign Minister, told reporters late on
Security Council sources said last month that UN
Secretary-General Kofi Annan had told Baghdad he was delaying an
expected May meeting on the deadlock over weapons inspections and
sanctions for at least a month because of deep divisions in the
Israel: New immigration
The Jewish Agency, the body charged with
supervising immigration to Israel, hopes the next wave of newcomers
will be from South America, Argentina and France, its president Salai
Meridor said Thursday.
"We are concentrating our action on
encouraging immigration to Israel by members of Jewish communities in
developed western countries and South America, notably Argentina,
South Africa and France," he told Israeli radio.
In the last 12 years, 900,000 immigrants came from
the former Soviet Union and 40,000 from Ethiopia, but "these
reservoirs are beginning to dry up," he said.
Ericsson wins contract
Ericsson AB and the Palestine Cellular
Telecommunications Co on Thursday signed a 12-million-dollar contract
to double the number of mobile telephone lines avaiable in the
Palestinian territories, an official said. The contract, which also
covers technology transfer and training, will increase the number of
available numbers to 220,000. It was signed in the West Bank town of Ramallah.
Kuwait rules out Egypt-Israel refinery deal
Kuwait said on Monday that it was not interested in
buying a stake in an Egyptian oil refinery in which Israel is a
Egyptian Oil Minister Sameh Fahmy, whose country
made peace with Israel in 1979, discussed offering OPEC-member Kuwait
a share in the Middle East Oil Refinery (MIDOR) during a trip to the
Gulf state last week.
Kuwait, like many Gulf Arab states, has no direct
links to Israel and Kuwaiti Oil Minister Adel Al-Subaih said that his
country was not interested in the offer.
"Kuwait will not enter into a project in which
Israel is participating, directly or indirectly, and no matter how
financially rewarding it is," Subaih told journalists in
parliament. "We have concluded that we are not interested in
participating in this project."
Syria urges speedy Arab economic integration
Syria on Sunday urged speedy efforts to achieve
economic integration among all the Arab states whose combined annual
Gross Domestic Product (GDP) stands at over $650 billion.
Prime Minister Mohammed Mustafa Mero, addressing a
seminar on banking on behalf of President Bashar Al-Assad, said delay
would make realisation of this objective more difficult.
Mero urged Arabs to follow the example of the
15-member European Union which achieved economic unity despite the
differences among its countries.
Emirates to float first bond issue
Emirates is to float a 150-million-dollar bond
issue in the airline's first venture into the bond market, the Dubai
government-owned company's chairman announced on Wednesday.
Sheikh Ahmad bin Saeed al-Maktoum told reporters
the bonds would be issued later this year, but he gave no details on
the Libor-based rates of the bonds to be listed on the fledgling Dubai
Financial Market. The airline posted a 24 per cent rise in net profit
to 144 million dollars in 2000, a year that also saw a 19.8 per cent
jump in passengers to 5.7 million and a 24.2 per cent increase in
cargo to 335,194 tonnes.
Accor to add 10 new hotels
French hotel giant Accor plans to build 10 new
hotels in the Middle East by 2003 to meet growing demand from leisure
and business travellers to the region, a senior company executive said
Christophe Jeannest, Accor's senior vice-president
for world-wide sales, said the group would focus on more affordable
brands as the region was becoming "over-saturated with five-star
Three of the hotels would be built in the United
Arab Emirates, two in Egypt, two in Yemen and one each in Saudi
Arabia, Lebanon and Bahrain.
IDB approves $151 mln in financing
The Islamic Development Bank (IDB) said on Tuesday
it had approved $151 million in new financing to several member
A statement from the Jeddah-based bank said the
financing included $41.5 million for Egypt and $31 million for Syria
to help finance power projects in both countries.
Pakistan would get $24.8 million to help finance a
railway project and Algeria will receive $20.3 million for a power
project, it added.
Oman Air to take loan
Oman Air, the national airline of the southern Gulf
state, is to raise 80 million dollars from local banks to finance a
fleet modernisation plan, the company told AFP on Monday.
Oman Air General Manager Abdulrahman Al Busaidy
said the winning bank or consortium from among 10 groups, including
foreign banks, will be announced within two weeks.
As part of the plan, Oman Air will acquire five
next-generation Boeing 737s, of which three aircraft will be on lease.
The airline has signed a purchase agreement with
Boeing for two 737s and a lease agreement with International Lease
Finance Corp. for delivery from December 2001.
Gaza refugees sift rubble
Red-eyed from tears and lost sleep, Palestinian
residents of the Brazil refugee camp in the southern Gaza Strip sifted
through the rubble of homes and farm buildings flattened by Israeli
bulldozers on Wednesday.
Many jumped from their beds in the early hours as
they heard the rumble of Israeli armored bulldozers and tanks
approaching from an Israeli-controlled corridor separating Gaza from
"I was asleep when the invasion started, but
when I recognized the noise of the tanks and bulldozers...I ran in my
pajamas from the house. Soon the house vanished," said
Palestinian farmer Mahmoud Hassan, 61.
Hassan lost his four-room dwelling and a
greenhouse, along with his dream of establishing a home in Rafah for
his family, who live across the border in Egypt.
Gulf Arab leaders to meet in Bahrain
Gulf Arab leaders are due to hold a one-day summit
in Bahrain on May 14, a Bahraini official said on Tuesday.
"The Gulf Arab consultative summit will be
held on May 14 in Bahrain," the official told Reuters.
The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) alliance groups
Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Oman and
Kuwait. The six states include some of the world's biggest oil
Gulf Arab leaders have since 1999 been holding two
summits instead of one to help forge closer cooperation.