Jan 22 -
OPEC approves big output cut
OPEC on Wednesday agreed a substantial reduction in
crude supplies that aims to keep oil prices afloat near $25 a barrel.
Ministers backed a proposal from Saudi Arabia for a
cut of 1.5 million barrels a day that lowers limits for 10 members to
OPEC adopted the policy despite fears among major
importing nations that it could spell trouble for the slowing
economies of the West by raising energy costs again.
The United States and the European Union had urged
producers to make only a modest reduction.
After the deal US light crude eased 54 cents a
barrel to $29.75. London Brent blend lost 51 cents to $25.00.
"This agreement will keep oil prices stable
and not harm producers or consumers," said Libya's OPEC
representative Ahmed Abdulkarim. Organisation of the Petroleum
Exporting Countries Secretary-General Ali Rodriguez said the group had
been determined to stem a swift decline in oil prices from a recent
10-year high of $35.
"Stocks are increasing and in the second
quarter we saw a sharp fall in prices coming," he said. "We
wanted to maintain the stability of the market and of course of
prices." "This is significant because it is the first time
that OPEC has cut production to defend the new higher price level of
$25 a barrel," said Gary Ross of US consultancy PIRA Energy.
"This deal should do the trick but there are
risks that the economy slides out from underneath them."
OPEC last year was blamed for stirring inflation by
moving too slowly to restore output curbs put in place after the price
collapse of 1998.
Inventories of crude and petroleum products slipped
to record lows in 2000 and consuming nations are worried that OPEC's
new cutbacks will prevent stocks rebuilding.
Egypt plays the Iraqi card through free trade
Vice President Taha Yassin Ramadan, the highest
ranking Iraqi to make an official visit to Egypt since the 1991 Gulf
War, arrived in Cairo by plane Tuesday to sign a free trade accord.
It was only the third time since UN sanctions were
imposed on Iraq for its 1990 invasion of Kuwait that an Iraqi official
had flown out of Baghdad, testing a UN air embargo.
Ramadan, accompanied by the ministers of trade,
transport and agriculture, is expected to sign a free trade agreement
between Egypt and Iraq, and to meet with Egyptian President Hosni
Mubarak on Wednesday.
Quoted by Baghdad's official INA news agency as he
began his flight, Ramadan "welcomed the level of economic and
commercial relations between the two countries despite the unjust
embargo imposed on Iraq." Iraq was giving "priority to Arab
countries in the framework of the (UN) oil-for-food programme,"
under which Baghdad exports crude in exchange for imports of food,
medicine and other essential goods, he said.
Baghdad broke off diplomatic ties with Cairo after
Egypt joined a US-led coalition that evicted Iraqi forces from Kuwait
in the Gulf War that began 10 years ago Wednesday.
Ramadan said his "extraordinary visit and the
first of its kind" was a sign of a restoration of relations
between the two countries.
Egyptian government newspapers reported in December
that Iraq would sign a deal to set up a free trade zone with Egypt as
part of wider moves toward removing tariffs in the Arab world.
Egypt, Iraq and Libya intend to set up a trilateral
free trade zone, according to Arab League sources.
The Arab world, which has plans to set up a
region-wide free trade zone by 2007, has been warming to Iraq
increasingly in recent months with moves to boost trade and resume
flights despite a decade of UN sanctions.
UAE reserves right to impose duties
Although the UAE is commitment to Gatt agreements
since it joined the World Trade Organisation in 1996, the country
still has the right to impose special customs duties on imports to
protect the national industrial production against the dumping of
cheap imports in the local markets, according to Shaikh Fahim bin
Sultan Al Qasimi, Minister of Economy and Commerce.
"The UAE has removed all obstacles in the
trade of industrial products. The country, in accordance with the WTO
rules, has reserved its right to intervene in the market to protect
the country's industrial production by puting restrictions on the
entry of products that harmed the local industry...," he said.
Shaikh Qasimi's statement came in his reply to a
question by Mohammed bin Khadem, member of the Federal National
Council, during the FNC's session on Tuesday.
He assured the FNC members that the country still
had the right to intervene in the trade of industrial products if it
suffered a severe imbalance in the balance of payments situation.
Arafat, Ben-Ami, Mubarak in talks
Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and Israeli
Foreign Minister Shlomo Ben-Ami held talks with Egyptian President
Hosni Mubarak aimed at ending violence and reviving a moribund peace
But Israeli government sources in occupied
Jerusalem played down chances of a breakthrough , as US President Bill
Clinton prepared to leave office in three days after having offered
last-ditch peace proposals in December. The talks here took place
against a backdrop of violence in the Palestinian territories and
reservations both the Israelis and Palestinians have over Mr Clinton's
proposals for a final settlement. The talks were being held at one of
Mr Mubarak's palaces in northern Cairo, the Israeli embassy said
without specifying what issues were discussed.
In occupied Jerusalem, an Israeli foreign ministry
source said the meeting "was initiated by President Mubarak"
to see where the two sides agree and disagree, but he "did not
expect anything dramatic to happen." Egypt plays a key role in
trying to bridge the gap between the Palestinians and the Jewish
Iran drops visa requirements for Gulf states
The Iranian government has dropped visa
requirements for citizens of member states of the Arab Gulf
Cooperation Council (AGCC) coming to the country for three months or
less, Iranian television reported last night.
The measure, which the report said was approved at
a recent cabinet meeting, is to take effect on Saturday.
The lifting of visa requirements falls within a
policy of detente adopted by Iranian President Mohammad Khatami
towards the Gulf states.
Earlier this month, Mr Khatami launched a call for
the creation of an economic bloc among the countries of the Gulf,
saying the Gulf states are on the way to becoming a unified economic
powerhouse that could also give them expanded political influence
across the globe.
Bahrain to allow foreign firms to own land
Bahrain has taken a landmark decision of allowing
foreign firms to own land for setting up and carrying out business
from the country.
The Amir, His Highness Shaikh Hamad bin Isa Al
Khalifa, issued a decree in this regard, facilitating ownership of
property by non-Bahraini commercial and industrial firms, as well as
financial establishments and banks, which are owned fully by
Foreign firms will be allowed to own land and
construct property for the purpose of establishing permitted economic
projects in the country, it said.
The Amiri decree opens a new chapter in Bahrain's
economy as foreign firms will feel more secure and confident in the
country's economic process, said leading Bahraini businessman of
Indian origin Mohamed Dadabhai, who is also a member of the Shura
Council's finance and economy committee.
Syria phosphate reserves up
Syria's known phosphate reserves have more than
doubled in the last three years to reach 1.7 billion tonnes as a
result of exploration and survey work, a senior official said on
Talal Ballani, general director of the geology and
mineral resources department at the oil ministry, told Reuters that
annual production was running at 2.65 million tonnes.
He said in an interview that output was expected to
increase to 3.85 million tonnes in two years with the completion of a
1.2 million tonne phosphate washing and drying plant.
"Syria is rich in phosphate reserves which are
mainly located some 170 kilometres north east of Damascus. The proven
reserves are estimated at 1.7 billion tonnes," Ballani said.
"Syria is one of the largest world phosphate
exporting countries exporting around two million tonnes per year
through annual contracts to European, Asian and American
countries." "Syria and Togo are exchanging third and fourth
places as biggest exporters after Morocco and Jordan," he said.
Lebanon opts for sales tax
Lebanon plans to introduce a sales tax on consumer
products and not value added tax (VAT) as had been planned by the
previous government, Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri said Wednesday.
"We are planning, this year if possible, to
introduce the system of sales tax. For our country it is easier, less
complicated than VAT," he said during an interview with AFP.
The plan to introduce VAT had been developed by the
former government of Salim Hoss (1998-2000).
Oman bourse delists four firms
Oman has stopped four firms from trading on the
Muscat Securities Market (MSM) to protect investors after they lost
more than 75 per cent of their capital, a bourse official said on
Wednesday. The officialfrom Capital Market Authority (CMA), which
oversees the bourse, named the companies as National Carpet Company,
Gulf Plastic Industries Company, National Packaging Co and Marina
Bander Al Rawdah.
Egypt has chalked out a comprehensive plan to
attract more tourists from all over the world.
Talking to a delegation of Dubai-based mediamen and
representatives of travel and tourism agencies at his office in Misr
Travel Town in Cairo, Minister of Tourism Dr Momdouh El-Beltagui said
that Egypt, a cradle of civilisation that represents one of the
world's oldest-recorded history which is visible in the Pharaonic,
Greco-Roman, Coptic, Islamic and modern monuments, has plans to set up
a complex, which will accommodate artefacts about revealed religions.
AHI drydock opens
Arab Heavy Industries (AHI) officially opened its
30,000 dwt drydock in Ajman. Built within a year with an investment of
Dh72 million, Al Zora drydock is equipped with modern facilities for
enhanced operations and improved flexibility, a Press release from AHI
Lebanon has $3.4b budget deficit
The Lebanon's finance ministry has released its
long-awaited draft 2001 budget, giving the first clear indication as
to how the new government will manage the public finances.
The budget has projected total spending of $6.6
billion and revenues of $3.2 billion. That leaves a deficit of about
$3.4 billion, equivalent to 50.87 per cent of spending, the ministry
said. The deficit in the first 11 months of 2000 was equivalent to
more than 52 per cent of spending, underlining the tough task the new
government has in controlling the public finances.
The draft budget, which will be discussed by the
Cabinet Friday before it goes to Parliament for final approval,
suggests that the new government of Prime Minister Rafik Hariri is
emphasizing economic growth rather than fiscal austerity.
First Islamic Investment Bank
Bahrain-based First Islamic Investment Bank (FIIB)
said on Tuesday it made a net profit of $20.5 million in 2000, up 28.1
per cent from 1999's net of $16 million.
Orascom Telecom said on Monday it will pay $171
million in four instalments over two years for a further 10.51 per
cent stake in Egyptian mobile phone holding company MobiNil.
The Egyptian and Jordanian Red Sea resorts of Sharm
el-Sheikh and Aqaba will be linked by sea for the first time on
Tuesday in a bid to bolster regional tourism, travel officials said on
Jordan has postponed a controversial rise in
domestic gasoline prices, due to have taken effect this month to
bolster state finances, officials said on Sunday.
They said Prime Minister Ali Abu Al-Ragheb took the
decision because of concern that a large price rise would aggravate
popular anger with government policies and could lead to civil unrest.
Bahrain will embark in March on a
one-billion-dollar tourism project to build a string of artificial
islands northeast of the Gulf state, a newspaper reported on Saturday.
Saud Kanoo, chairman of the Gulf property firm
Ossis, told Al-Ayyam that the six-year venture called the Salman
Islands would be "the first integral investment project in the
Gulf." The project spread over five islands will comprise nine
five-star hotels, a zoo and a number of homes, apartment blocks,
recreation facilities, commercial complexes and sports centres, he
The Egyptian government is not planning to let the
Egyptian pound float free, despite its sliding value against the
dollar, Prime Minister Atef Ebeid was quoted as saying by newspapers
The pound, which for years was fixed at 3.40 to the
dollar, is now selling at 3.77 to the dollar in banks and nearly four
pounds in street exchange booths after the government began to let it
slide last year.