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Aug 27 - Sep 02 , 2001

High oil revenues spur Bahrain construction boom

Political stability and higher oil revenues have spurred a construction boom in Bahrain after years of stagnation, officials and economists said on Wednesday.

They said the government and the private sector planned to pour billions of dollars into tourism, infrastructure and housing projects across the tiny Gulf Arab island state over the next few years.

"The government is spending more on construction projects because of high oil prices," said Finance Ministry official Mahmoud Al-Khoohaji.

He said Gulf Arab investors planned to build three tourist projects worth around $2 billion, taking advantage of the social freedom and political stability in Bahrain following landmark reforms by Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Isa Al-Khalifa.

The island's proximity to Saudi Arabia, the Arab world's wealthiest country, makes it a popular destination for thousands of Saudis lured by its more permissive society.

A government body chaired by Crown Prince Sheikh Salman bin Hamad Al-Khalifa has been set up to oversee construction and investments.

Bahrain has recently awarded several projects to local and international firms, including a $300 million deal to France's Alstom Power to build a 700 megawatt power station.

It also plans to modernise its ageing oil refinery at a cost of around $1 billion, and expand the production capacity of the mainly state-owned Aluminium Bahrain (Alba) at a cost of $1.7 billion.

Economists say the projects are part of an ambitious plan unveiled by the government in June to spend 2.0 billion dinars ($5.31 billion) on housing and infrastructure projects over the next few years. The government gave no time frame.

"It's part of a long-term programme to boost the standard of living because Bahrain, with limited resources, cannot afford to spend such huge money in a couple of years," said economist Jasim Hussain Ali.

Gulf optical, ophthalmic products sales pegged at $2 bln

An estimated US$2 billion (Dhs 6.5 billion) is spent annually on sunglasses, contact lenses, frames and eye-care products in the Gulf region where harsh climatic conditions and high purchasing power keeps the demand forbranded optical and ophthalmic products high throughout the year.

The Middle East International Optical and Ophthalmic Exhibition, the biennial exhibition of the eyewear, eye-care and ophthalmic industry organised by the Dubai World Trade Centre (DWTC) is the largest trade show of its kind in the whole of Middle East. The 5th Middle East International Optical and Ophthalmic Exhibition (Optical Middle East 2002) will be held at the DWTC from February 14 to 17, 2002.

According to industry estimates the eyewear and eye-care industry business in the UAE accounts for an annual turnover of US $ 300 million which is about 15 per cent of the total demand from the GCC region. Saudi Arabia is the biggest market for optical products in the Gulf with annual sales turnover of more than US $800 million. The other GCC countries such as Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman and Qatar sell in the range for US $ 120 to 150 million annually.

"The Middle East region is a very huge market for optical products and demand for eyewear and eye-care products has been growing steadily. There are a large number of companies who manufacture optical products locally. Besides, almost all the leading international brands are represented in the market. Optical Middle East 2002 provides the trade with an opportunity to interact under one roof and also expand and explore business opportunities in the Middle East and the neighbouring regions," said Vijay Menon, international project manager, Optical Middle East 2002.

Optical Middle East 2002 targets a large number of multinationals and regional players in the optical and ophthalmic business who are looking at expanding their market presence in the Middle East.

Qatar's central bank cuts interest rate to boost economy

Qatar's central bank said Thursday it cut interest rates by 0.25 per centage points to 4 per cent to give a boost to the Gulf State's economy, the official QNA news agency reported.

The bank said the cut would stimulate the economy, as well as acting as a boost for the bourse and the real-estate market, QNA said.

The move followed closely on the heels of the US Federal Reserve's quarter-point interest rate cut to 3.25 points on Tuesday to stimulate the economy.

The last reduction in Qatari rates was by a quarter basis point in July.

Kuwait cut its discount rate by a quarter basis point to 5.25 per cent on Wednesday, maintaining its policy of staying line with measures implemented by the Federal Reserve.

Iraq says it received only $13 bln of its oil revenues

Iraq has received only 13 billion dollars out of a possible 47 billion dollars generated through oil revenues in a UN-supervised humanitarian programme, Oil Minister Mohammad Mehdi Saleh said Thursday.

The United Nations had deducted 16 billion dollars from revenues generated by sales of oil under the oil-for-food programme introduced in December 1996, Saleh said, quoted by the official INA news agency.

The deductions go towards financing UN activities in Iraq and paying compensation to the victims of the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1990.

Saleh said the remaining 12 billion dollars represent unrealized revenues from contracts Iraq signed with foreign companies but blocked by the US and British representatives on the UN sanctions committee.

Natural gas to help dispel Cairo's fumes

With more than a million cars spewing exhaust fumes into the air each day, the Pyramids and pollution have become the twin hallmarks of this ancient city in the Arab world's most populous country.

But some scientists say there is light on the horizon.

Advocates of natural gas promise to dispel the dreary haze that blankets Cairo with a new technology they say is safe, cheap and clean. They say compressed natural gas, or CNG, is the answer.

"CNG is a fully combustible, non-sulphuric fuel which is completely safe and environment-friendly," said Salah el-Hagaar, professor of mechanical engineering at the American University in Cairo.

Over the past five years, Egypt has become one of the main countries using CNG as a transport fuel.

Emirati GDP grows 20% in 2000

The Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) soared by 20.4 per cent in 2000 on the back of hiked crude prices, the central bank announced in report published Monday.

The report, quoted by the official WAM agency, said the oil and gas sectors of the UAE generated 22.3 billion dollars in revenue in 2000, up 64 per cent from the previous year.

Non-oil sectors generated 43.3 billion dollars in 2000, accounting for 66.1 per cent of GDP, against 41.1 billion in 1999, the report said.

The bank also said per capita GDP increased by 13.8 per cent over the same period to reach 21,253 dollars.

The UAE's balance of payments for 2000 boasted a 2.83-billion-dollar surplus in 2000, the report added.

The bank also said the federation's population jumped by 5.8 per cent in 2000 to reach 3.1 million inhabitants.

According to official estimates, 80 per cent the UAE's population are expatriates, mainly Asians.

Iraq-Egypt free trade agreement in force

The free trade agreement between Iraq and Egypt, which calls for the end to all customs barriers between the two countries, is now in force, Iraqi Trade Minister Mohammad Mehdi Saleh stressed Sunday.

"The free trade agreement, signed between Iraq and Egypt on January 18, came into effect in mid-August," Saleh said, quoted by the official INA news agency.

Iraq will also organise a trade fair in Cairo from September 15-25, a ministry official told Al-Rai weekly newspaper.

Relations between Baghdad and Cairo, which was part of the US-led coalition that ousted Iraqi forces from Kuwait, have greatly improved over the past two years.

Saudi bourse keeps rising

The bullish Saudi bourse climbed a further 0.9 per cent to close the week Thursday at its highest level since 1985 on the back of gains in the banking and cement sectors and high crude prices, Bakheet Financial Advisors (BFA) reported.

The NCFEI all-shares index closed at 2,570.51 points, up from 2,546.94 last Thursday. It is now 13.8 per cent higher than at the beginning of the year, Bakheet said.

Israel fires missiles at Gaza police post

Israel fired two surface-to-surface missiles at a Palestinian police station near the Khan Younis refugee camp in the Gaza Strip on Wednesday, wounding seven policemen, Palestinian police and medical officials said.

A police spokesman said the station belonged to Palestinian civil police.

The Israeli army confirmed the strike and claimed it followed "the launch of mortar bombs at the Gush Katif (Jewish) settlements" in Gaza.

Palestinian National Security Forces chief Abdel-Razek Al Majaydeh denied that mortars had been fired recently and branded the Israeli claim "completely false."

African countries launch Internet news agency

Seven African countries and Malaysia late on Monday launched a web-based news service which, they said, would help counter alleged misrepresentation of Africa in the international media.

The Smart News Network International (SNNI) was launched at a ceremony attended by the presidents of Uganda, South Africa, Tanzania, Burundi, Sudan, Malawi and Mozambique and the prime minister of Malaysia.

The leaders are in Uganda to attend a meeting of presidents, government officials and business people dubbed Global 2001 Smart Partnership Dialogue.

Kuwait bourse

Kuwait's stock market raced to a new year high in the week to Wednesday, rising 3.4 per cent as investors flush with cash tested new upper limits.

On Wednesday, the Kuwait Stock Exchange (KSE) index closed up 1.28 per cent at 1,784.8 points. It had crossed above the 1,700 mark for the first time in 2-1/2 years in early July.

Iraq, Yemen sign accord

Yemen and Iraq signed an agreement on Tuesday to set up a free trade zone, during a visit to Sanaa by Iraqi Vice President Taha Yassin Ramadan, an official said.

Ramadan, who later left Sanaa for Damascus, signed the accord with Yemeni Prime Minister Abdul Qader Bajammal following a meeting of the Iraqi-Yemen joint commission.

Bajammal said on Monday that a free trade agreement would broaden cooperation between the two countries and be part of wider efforts to create an Arab common market.

AAME Dubai show

Next year's seventh edition of Automotive Aftermarket Middle East Exhibition (AAME), Dubai's annual international trade show for automobile parts, accessories, tyres, batteries and garage equipment, will introduce a range of sophisticated B2B initiatives, in its drive to expand its reach and exceed this year's book orders of US$ 5 million.

Iraq claims 10 mln barrels a day oil capacity

Iraq could increase oil output to 10 million barrels per day (bpd) from its current capacity of three million bpd with the development of new fields, Oil Minister Amer Rashid said Tuesday.

"Iraq could boost production capacity to 10 million bpd as soon as it starts to develop its new oilfields, which are on top of the 74 fields already in operation," Rashid told Al-Rafidain weekly.

Rashid said on August 4 that Iraq was looking to raise output to six million bpd, a plan it says has been scuppered by the ongoing international sanctions imposed on Baghdad for invading Kuwait in 1990.

OPEC grants Sudan observer status

The Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) has given Sudan observer status at meetings of the oil cartel, Sudanese Energy and Mining Minister Awad Ahmed Al-Jaz said on Monday.

Jaz hailed OPEC's invitation to attend meetings from October as recognition of Sudan as an oil-producing country by an influential oil body.

Sudan started exporting oil in mid-1999 from oil fields in the centre of the country, which has been wracked by civil war, mainly in the south, for the past 18 years.

The minister said more oil had been discovered across the country and invited more companies to invest.