May 14 -
Four Arab states agree on free trade zone
Egypt, Jordan, Morocco and Tunisia agreed on
Tuesday to set up a free trade zone ahead of the 2010 target for trade
barriers to end in the Euro-Mediterranean area.
"Morocco, Jordan, Tunisia and Egypt have
decided to work to set up a free trade zone including Arab
Mediterranean countries which would also be open to other Arab
countries," Moroccan Foreign Minister Mohamed Benaissa told
The agreement was signed by the four countries'
foreign ministers at a ceremony in the southern city of Agadir. A
Royal Palace spokesman said the accord was signed following an
intiative by King Mohammed who attended the ceremony.
"Today's event is a first step towards setting
up the Great Arab Free Trade zone. We are now in a new era ... ahead
of the 2010 deadline for a free trade zone in the Euro-Mediterranean
area," the spokesman said.
"We hope that our drive will not be limited
only to accords.
We hope it will translate into reality," the
Benaissa said the four-state free trade zone would
"be ready in the short-term probably by the end of the
He compared the document announcing the free-trade
zone between the four countries to Rome's 1958 Steel and Coal Pact,
which eventually grew into the European Union.
Libyan Foreign Minister Mohammed Abderrahmane
Chalgam told Reuters the accord would change the way Arab countries
deal with their main trading partner, the European Union.
"When Arab countries negotiate with the EU,
they talk to a bloc, while they look on Europeans as bits and
pieces," he said.
Benaissa added that a team of experts from the four
countries would meet periodically to define the technicalities of the
"The free trade zone will be extended to the
six other Arab countries," he said in reference to Algeria,
Libya, Mauritania, Syria, Lebanon and the Palestinian Authority.
LNG exports reshaping Qatar's economy
OPEC member Qatar is starting to reap dividends
from its massive hydrocarbon investments and is pushing ahead with gas
development despite heavy debts, officials and bankers said on
The Gulf Arab state has invested around $28 billion
in its oil and gas sector over the past six years, concentrating
mainly on tapping the North Field — the largest single concentration
of natural gas in the world — and setting up a cluster of industries
centred on gas.
"The six years of investments have begun to
yield returns and the economy is entering a new era where gas and
allied industry will gradually replace oil as the principal source of
state income," said a Finance, Economy and Trade Ministry
"LNG (liquefied natural gas) is changing the
face of our economy and is going to be the future provider for
us," the official told Reuters.
Last year, Qatar earned more than $2.5 billion from
LNG sales, which accounted for 27.7 per cent of total export income.
It earned an additional $1 billion from condensates
(ultra light oil) and other products extracted during gas production.
Fundamentals seen strong despite debts Bankers said
Qatar's investment programme has saddled the country with massive
debts, which stood at $13.1 billion at the end of 2000 — 89.7 per
cent of gross domestic product (GDP).
But they are not alarmed at the magnitude of the
"With the development of gas, (Qatar's)
fundamentals are strong and the majority of debts are tied to the
revenues of gas-related project," one Western banker said.
In March, US ratings agency Standards and Poor's
upgraded its long-term foreign currency ratings on Qatar to BBB+ from
BBB, citing the "prospect for continued fiscal prudence which,
together with high oil and gas prices, is resulting in further
declines in the public external debt burden".
Buoyed by the positive outlook, Qatar has
intensified efforts to exploit its gas reserves, the third largest in
Saudi Arabia needs $116b investments
Opec giant Saudi Arabia needs investments of more
than $116 billion in its electricity sector over the coming 23 years
to match increased demand from a rapidly growing population, a top
economist said on Saturday.
Said al-Shaikh, chief economist of the National
Commercial Bank, said current electricity production capacity of
23,438 megawatts was projected to more than double by 2023 to over
More than half of the required investments will be
needed for generation (54 per cent), 29 per cent for transmission and
17 per cent for distribution, he said. Only Saudi nationals can invest
in the transmission and distribution sectors, but generation, which
will require an annual investment of $2.74 billion annually for the
next 23 years, is open to foreigner investors.
Missiles strike Palestinian
Israel pounded Palestinian security and Fatah
headquarters in Gaza City with missiles Thursday, injuring some 20
people and starting a fire, after a bomb blast killed two Romanian
workers elsewhere in the Gaza Strip.
Smoke rose from a Palestinian security compound,
hit by three surface-to-surface missiles, in the heart of Gaza City.
Another missile struck offices of Palestinian
President Yasser Arafat's Fatah faction near the beach.
Hospital officials said four Palestinian policemen
and eight civilians were wounded.
The compound, surrounded by residential buildings,
contains offices of Palestinian Public Security, Military Intelligence
and General Intelligence. Witnesses said only a one-storey building
housing a research department was hit.
Arab Oil & Gas Show 2001
The UAE Ministry of Petroleum and Mineral Resources
will support the show, which is organized by International Conferences
and Exhibitions (IC&E) and held every two years.
Exploration, extraction, processing, storage and
transportation of oil and gas are but a few of the topics that will be
discussed over the 4-day event.
The show aims at oil, gas and petrochemical onshore
and offshore industries serving the Arab Gulf States.
Targeting the public and private sectors; more than
40,000 invitations are sent out to major GCC oil and gas producers and
an additional 20,000 sent out to the exploration, engineering and
contracting private companies in the region.
In addition, invitations are also sent to GCC based
companies who provide equipment and services including maintenance,
safety and rescue, fire fighting and corrosion protection.
Saudi eases regulations for Gulf imports
Saudi Arabia on Monday eased regulations to allow
imports of goods from fellow Gulf Arab states under preferential
tariffs, as part of steps towards a unified Gulf market, the Saudi
Press Agency reported.
It said the cabinet, at a meeting chaired by King
Fahd, agreed to drop a requirement that imports must be made by firms
owned by Gulf citizens in order to qualify for preferential treatment
in the Gulf Cooperation Council's tariff regime.
Instead, it decided that products imported into the
kingdom from fellow Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) members must have
at least 40 per cent local added value to enjoy preferential tariffs.
The six-nation GCC — which also includes Kuwait,
Oman, Bahrain, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates — agreed in 1999
to drop the regulations requiring goods to be produced by firms with
majority ownership by Gulf citizens.
Egypt pharmacists seek Lilly boycott
Egypt's pharmacists' union has called on its
members to boycott drug maker Eli Lilly and Co to protest against what
the group considers a bias towards Israelis to the detriment of
The Syndicate of Egyptian Pharmacists accused Eli
Lilly of granting medical aid to Holocaust survivors in Israel while
ignoring the suffering of Palestinians fighting against Israeli
"They have helped the victims of the Germans
and refuse to help the victims of Israel," syndicate
secretary-general Mahmoud Abdel-Maqsoud told Reuters on Wednesday.
A Lilly spokesman said the company was disappointed
by the boycott, saying the drug maker sought to help people all over
the world regardless of their background.
Saudi to slash foreign labor
The foreign workforce in Saudi Arabia must be
slashed to one million from the current seven million within the next
30 years to make way for Saudi job-seekers, the labor ministry said in
a report published Tuesday.
By 2030, the ministry said in a report carried by
Al-Riyadh newspaper, the labour market will offer a total of 13.5
million jobs while the Saudi workforce will swell from the 3.2 million
at present to 12.5 million.
That would leave one million jobs for expatriate
To achieve the target, the labor ministry said the
government and private sector would have to join forces to replace
expatriates with Saudis. The number of expats must be cut by more than
150,000 a year.
The National Bank of Kuwait (NBK) has announced the
launch of the Al Kawthar Murabaha Fund in US dollars which invests
according to the Islamic Shariah.
This fund is another cooperation between NBK and
the National Commercial Bank of Saudi Arabia (NCB).
Mr. Isam Jassem Al Sager — Deputy Chief Executive
Officer at NBK — stated that this new fund aims to provide
investment in the form of Murabaha, which invests specifically
according to the Islamic Shariah.
The monthly income gained from participating in
this fund is in US dollars and is deposited on a monthly basis, in
addition both the subscription and the redemption to the fund can be
done on a monthly basis. Al Sager added that one of the main features
of this new Murabaha fund is that all investments will be short term,
and will not exceed one month in duration in order to minimize risk.
Iranian interest rates
Iran's Economic Affairs and Finance Minister,
Hossein Namazi announced a cut in banks' interest rates across the
board in order to stimulate the domestic economy, Iranian television
Namazi said "this initiative aims to create
jobs and to augment the growth of interior production" to Iranian
Interest rates for loans to the agricultural and
mining industries will drop by one per centage point to 14-15 per cent
and 16-18 per cent respectively.
For property loans, the interest rates will be
lowered from 18 to 17 per cent. And for the export sector, interest
rates will be cut from 22 to 18 per cent. Short term rates for savings
accounts were lowered from eight to seven per cent and long term rates
were sliced from 17 to 13 per cent.
Iraq Trade Minister Mohammad Mahdi Saleh and his
Jordanian counterpart Wassef Azar studied ways Sunday to put in place
a duty-free zone on the countries' shared border, the official INA
The two ministers examined "the general
structure" for the zone, which was included as part of a trade
protocol signed by the two countries on February 7.
President Saddam Hussein called on Saturday for
domestic manufacture of key oil-production equipment to improve crude
output by the dilapidated industry, the state news agency INA said on
INA said Saddam met Oil Minister Amir Muhammed
Rasheed and senior ministry aides to discuss "methods to improve
the oil sector.