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 5. TRADE  6. GULF



Feb-25 - Mar- 10, 2002

US sends official to Riyadh on peace plan

Official reaction to the Saudi peace plan has been circumspect, but the Bush administration on Thursday despatched a senior State Department official to Saudi Arabia to discuss the plan with its author, Crown Prince Abdullah.

The administration's move was welcomed by Palestinian President Yasser Arafat, who told The New York Times in an interview that the plan needed a "very strong and very quick push from outside."

The Saudi proposals, which envisage Arab normalization of relations with Israel once it pulls back to the 1967 border, have been welcomed by the European Union and Russia, but the United States has so far described them as "interesting" and worth following up. Secretary of State Colin Powell has said the Bush administration was prepared to aggressively pursue several peace openings in the Middle East, but insisted that the onus for curtailing violence and moving forward remained on Mr Arafat.

Mr Powell suggested in an interview with the Times that the plan needed to be fleshed out more before "we declare we have a solution. It isn't a solution in and of itself. It just adds something to the equation." He noted that a formulation such as a withdrawal to the pre-1967 borders was "easily said, but a very difficult concept to get total agreement on." Administration officials had previously described it as being more of a vision at this stage than a concrete plan.

Observers say sending Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs William Burns, a frequent negotiator with both Israel and the Palestinians, to Saudi Arabia was an indication that the administration did not want to give the appearance that it was not seriously pursuing the Abdullah initiative. President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt is due to visit Washington this weekend, and the issue would no doubt be gone over with him.

Fresh violence claims 12 Palestinian lives

Violence exploded in the Middle East on Thursday, with 12 Palestinians and an Israeli killed, overshadowing a new round of joint security talks and dashing hopes raised by a Saudi peace initiative.

As the Palestinian intifada entered its 18th month, six Palestinian police officers and a 64-year-old civilian were killed in gunbattles during an Israeli incursion into the Jenin refugee camp, in the northern West Bank, Palestinian security sources said.

An Israeli soldier and four Palestinians were also killed in fighting in the Balata camp near Nablus, which also left 135 Palestinians injured, Israeli military and Palestinian hospital sources said. Security sources on both sides said the army had full control over the camp without occupying it completely.

Abu Dhabi oil output touches 2m bpd

Abu Dhabi's oil production has peaked at nearly 2 million barrels per day as it pushes ahead with multi-billion dollar plans to expand capacity.

The output of nearly 1.99 million bpd in 2000 was higher by 16 per cent over 1990's 1.7 million bpd, according to the Abu Dhabi Planning Department's annual report.

The bulk of the increase was at onshore fields, where production surged to 1.015 million bpd from 774,000 bpd in the same period. Offshore production rose to 975,000 bpd from 942,000 bpd.

Abu Dhabi Co for Onshore Operations (Adco) remained the top producer in the emirate, with output of around one million bpd, nearly half of the total production.

Abu Dhabi Marine Oil Co (Adma) produced 440,000 bpd, overtaken by Zakum Development Co (Zadco), which boosted its production capacity from around 340,000 to 460,000 bpd. The remaining came from Adoc, Albunduq and others.

Said an Abu Dhabi based oil executive, "Capacity is set to rise further as more investments are planned to maintain existing capacity and expand other fields." By end-2000, Abu Dhabi had 2,816 drilled wells, of which 1,200 are producing, the report showed.

It put the emirate's recoverable crude reserves at 92.2 billion barrels, unchanged from 1990 reserves despite the increase in production. Cumulative production over the past 11 years totalled around eight billion barrels and a similar quantity was produced in the previous 15 years.

Experts said reserves are not affected because of the introduction of advanced technology, which helped increase extraction rates. They cited horizontal drilling which yields as much as three times the vertical technique.

Experts estimate Abu Dhabi's total oil output capacity at around 2.2 million bpd and expected it to exceed 2.5 million bpd in the coming 10 years. The UAE as a whole has a sustainable capacity of around 2.5 million bpd.

GCC, EU inch closer to deal (2nd Box)

The EU and Gulf states inched closer to a free trade pact. Ministers talked about locking up a trade agreement before the end of the year, although European officials saw some stumbling blocks such as the EU's six per cent duty on imports of aluminum and the freedom of EU-based companies to hire service sector employees in GCC countries.

"At the same time we are negotiating with the GCC, we are negotiating with Chile, with (the South American trading bloc) Mercosur and others. If it is humanly possible we will end the negotiations in a good time," European External Affairs Comissioner Chris Patten said.

The next free-trade meeting with the GCC will take place on March 20 and 21 in Brussels.

Travel and tourism sector almost ready

The travel and tourism sector is in the final phase of preparation to host the Dubai Shopping Festival (DSF).

The festival attracted 2.5 million shoppers last year, and the number is expected to surpass that figure this year.

The tourism industry attributes this growth to the range of events lined up for the festival.

"Since the inception of the DSF in 1996, the travel and tourism sector has reaped tremendous benefits," said Samir Androwas, general manager of Airlink.

"Tourists from all over the world come to Dubai to enjoy the events and in the process witness the extensive development that Dubai has achieved in communications, finance and business.

"This year, Emirates has reported a significant increase in the number of tourists coming to Dubai. There are 59 airlines coming to the emirate and all of these are reporting 100 per cent reservations.

"Most airlines offer 10-20 per cent discount during the DSF. Europeans and other GCC residents form the major portion of travellers."

"Each and every trade establishment in Dubai reaps the benefits of Dubai's international reputation created by the Dubai Shopping Festival. Airlines and hotels also play a critical role in promoting Dubai," said Monzir Hilal, general manager of Al Nabooda Travels.

"This year, visitors from the GCC and Europe constitute the highest percentage of tourists to Dubai. Most hotels are booked fully till March 15, and we are confident that all will have 100 per cent reservations for the whole of March."

Mohammed Radi, sales director of Gulf Air, said, "For the last six years, we have recorded a steep growth in the number of visitors coming to Dubai, a result of constant innovation in the activities in Dubai. The DSF is also a very good example of the successful co-operation between the private and government sectors.

Scratch and win with Al-Futtaim

The Al-Futtaim Group, one of the key sponsors of the Dubai Shopping Festival 2002, will have a shop-and-win promotion for their customers during March.

The group will offer discounts on products at their retail outlets. On purchases of Dh200, the customer will receive a scratch card that could win a discount on the next transaction.

The group has under its umbrella the likes of Marks & Spencer, Toys R Us, Ikea, Ace Hardware, Al-Futtaim Watches & Jewellery, Oman National Electronics, Al-Futtaim Electronics Sanyo, Al-Futtaim Elec-tronics Toshiba, Alcatel, Aftron, Afcomp, Plug-ins and Hertz Rent-a-car.

Chirac backs Saudi peace plan

Welcoming Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres to the Elysee Palace for a series of talks over settlement of the Middle East conflict, President Jacques Chirac let it be known that he backed the peace plan proposed last week by Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia.

"His proposals are strong and courageous," said Mr Chirac, who also revealed that he had telephoned Prince Abdullah over the weekend to personally inform him of France's decision to support his peace plan.

Karzai seeks close relations with Iran

Afghan interim leader Hamid Karzai, on the second day of his first official visit to Iran, on Monday called for Tehran and Kabul to work together to create peace and stability in their troubled region. "Today we come to our brother's home," Karzai said in an address to Iran's parliament where he was greeted with warm applause.

"We and you are in need of peace and stability in the region. At the start of this new century we can silence the guns to create a focus of beauty, friendship and cooperation."

Emirates orders GP7000 engines

Emirates selected the GP7000 engine from General Electric and Pratt and Whitney (GE P&W) to power its Airbus A380s, expected to be in the skies in 2006.

EU supports UAE stand on islands issue

The European Union supports the UAE's stand calling for a peaceful solution to Iran-occupied islands of Greater and Lesser Tunbs and Abu Moussa either through direct negotiations or referring the issue to the International Court of Justice (ICJ), said a senior official.

In remarks at the end of a meeting of Gulf Cooperation Council and EU foreign ministers in the Spanish city of Granada, Ambassador Abdullah Rashid Al Nuaimi, Assistant Undersecretary for Political Affairs and head of the UAE delegation to the meeting, said the EU welcomed Saudi Crown Prince Abdulla bin Abdulaziz's Middle East peace initiative.

New use for lake salt found

An enterprising businessman has successfully created a niche market for common salt found in the lake on the Ras Al Khaimah-Umm Al Quwain Road.

Ibrahim Hassan Bulbaid, who bought the rights to produce salt from the lake from the Umm Al Quwain Municipality, found himself in a quandary when laboratory tests showed that the salt was unfit for consumption.

Instead of being disheartened, he found a market for nearly all of his production by supplying salt to builders of traditional ovens which have to withstand high temperatures.

Bahrain bodies deplore bid to provoke crisis

Political associations in Bahrain warned of "suspicious attempts to provoke political crisis and inflame the security situation" in the island, reaffirming in the meantime their objections to "the mechanism by which the constitution was amended" recently by a governmental committee.

"There are elements in Bahrain who are trying very hard to reverse the positive changes and the reforms introduced (in the island by the His Majesty Sheikh Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa)," said a joint statement by the main five political associations of Bahrain.

Arbift posts Dh40.2m profit

The Arab Bank for Investment and Foreign Trade (Arbift) has reported a net profit of Dh40.2 million for 2001 compared to the previous year's Dh107.7 million.

Israel plotting to secularise Islamic world

Israel's agenda is to secularise the Islamic world, said Dubai's Police Chief, and he urged Arabs to unite in the face of adversity.

Addressing intellectuals and foreign dignitaries at a press conference held at the Juma Al Majid Centre for Culture and Heritage on Tuesday, Maj Gen Dhahi Khalfan Tamim, Dubai Police Chief, delivered a lecture entitled The Israeli Strategy.

In a move to back the peace proposal recently issued by Saudi Crown Prince Abdulla bin AbdulAziz, Maj Gen Dhahi reiterated that any future visits conducted by Arab leaders to the occupied territories should be made upon a Palestinian invitation rather than an Israeli one.

Dh750m road projects completed

Dubai Municipality's Roads Department completed road projects worth nearly Dh750 million last year.

Nasser Ahmed Saeed, the director of the department, listed some of the most important and the most expensive of them.

These included the Dh68.6 million Ring Road third phase; the new Dh47.4 million vegetable and fruit market roads at Al Aweer; the Dh40.1 million interchange at Al Mamzar; the Dh25.5. million Port Saeed road network; the Dh24 million renovation at Al Mamzar Corniche; the Dh23.2 million road network at Za'abeel; and the road work at Al Khawaneej that cost Dh21.2 million.

Muscat civic body gets new members

His Majesty Sultan Qaboos has appointed new members to the Muscat's Municipal Council, representing various ministries and public authorities, in recognition of the council's key role in developing the Sultanate's fast-growing capital, known for its impeccable cleanliness.

According to a Royal Decree the new members comprise representatives of various government authorities such as the ministries of Health, Commerce and Industry, Agriculture and Fisheries, Transport and Telecommunications, Housing, Electricity and Water, Regional Municipalities, Environment and Water Resources, Manpower, Muscat Governorate and the Royal Oman Police.

New cargo village being established

A new cargo handling facility adjacent to Abu Dhabi International Airport is being developed to meet growing air cargo volumes. Phase one of the Abu Dhabi Airport Cargo Village will be ready by August this year, senior officials confirmed.

Stage set for mega event

Final preparations for the Emirates International Forum (EIF) which opens on Saturday in Dubai, have been completed. Nearly 500 delegates from the Gulf have confirmed their participation at the two-day event.

In its ninth year, the event will have the New Economy's future and the challenges as its primary theme.

Some of the main speakers, including Robert Lees, secretary general of the Pacific Basin Economic Council, has already arrived in Dubai. Others are expected to do so within the coming 24 hours.

Arbift hopeful of asset defreeze

The Arab Bank for Investment and Foreign Trade's (Arbift) assets frozen in the U.S. and U.S. banks abroad according to current valuation are Dh443 million. Arbift is hopeful the embargo will be lifted soon.

The bank's vice-chairman, Khalid Ali Al Bustani confirmed: "Despite the bank being subjected to U.S. sanctions, Arbift overcame many odds to achieve a sustained growth through prudent policies and strategies and the support of investors.

Since 1992, the bank has been subject to an embargo imposed by the U.S. Treasury Department which resulted in freezing some of the bank's assets and tracking of its dollar operations.

Lebanon's VAT to hit IT sector hard

Lebanon's recent move to bring in a 10 per cent value-added tax (VAT) will impact significantly on the IT sector in the key regional market, according to a senior source.

The decision took effect early this month. Lebanon's move on VAT effectively neutralises the country's decision in the last quarter of 2001 to have zero per cent on IT products.

Mideast IT mart set for consolidation

Consolidation is imminent in the Middle East's highly-fragmented IT retail sector, much along the lines of what happened in Europe, according to a senior industry source.

"A situation has been reached where the main IT vendors would like to reduce the number of channel partners they deal with. Their preference is increasingly for partners who can provide more services to customers than just move boxes," said Vimal Kochar, general manager for finance and administration at A'ayan Magirus, the regional operations of the German IT distributor.

"In Europe the process has already started, and it is coming to the Middle East."

Woman bomber attacks Israelis

A Palestinian woman has blown herself up at an Israeli checkpoint in the West Bank, wounding two Palestinians accompanying her and at least three Israeli policemen.

The attack occurred late on Wednesday on a road between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, near the Jewish settlement of Maccabim, Israeli security sources and medical officials said.

One of the Israeli officers was seriously hurt, the sources said. Two Palestinians with the woman were said to be seriously injured. One report said they had died.

Poll says Muslims angry at US

Most Muslims do not believe that Arabs carried out the 11 September attacks on the United States, according to a poll of nearly 10,000 Muslim residents from nine countries.

The Gallup poll also found widespread dislike of the United States and President George W Bush, and most of those asked disagreed with the campaign in Afghanistan.

Among the countries included in the survey, Lebanon had the most favourable opinion of the US with Pakistan at the other extreme.

The poll is believed to be the most comprehensive survey of public opinion in the Muslim world following the attacks on New York and Washington.

Algeria sets poll date

The Algerian Government has announced that parliamentary elections are to be held on 30 May.

In a cabinet statement President Abdelaziz Bouteflika said consultations would begin with political parties and other groups to ensure the poll proceeds without any irregularities.

He expressed his determination to respect the sincerity of the vote and guarantee a free choice for Algerians; the last elections were marred by widespread opposition.

The current Algerian National Assembly was elected in 1997 and includes representatives from secular and moderate Islamic parties.

Algerian forces have been engaged in a 10-year civil war with Islamic militants which began after an Islamic party was prevented from taking power following parliamentary elections.

It's estimated that more than 100,000 people have been killed in the past 10 years of violence.

Turkey to clear mines on Syria border

The Turkish army is to start mine clearance along the country's border with Syria. Once mine clearance is completed, cotton will be planted on the land.

The two countries are also close to signing an agreement on military cooperation. Turkey's south-eastern border with Syria is its longest, running for more than 870 kilometres (545 miles). It is not public knowledge how many mines were laid by Turkey on the border. But the loss of good farm land is keenly felt.

Iraq aid programme in 'deep trouble'

The United Nations' humanitarian programme aimed at easing the effects of sanctions on Iraq is in "deep trouble" financially, a senior UN official has warned.

Benon Sevan, the UN undersecretary-general in charge of the Iraqi oil-for-food programme, said political deadlock between UN Security Council powers over the sanctions regime threatened to bring the initiative to a standstill.