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CURRENCY BUYING

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US Dollar 59.9 60
Bahrain Dinar 158 158.1
Canadian $ 50.85 50.95
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Japanese Yen 0.508 0.51
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Last updated: Friday 23 Dec, 2005-12.30 P.M (PST)

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3 DAYS FORECAST
In oC

CITIES MIN MAX

HUM%

FOR.

KARACHI
Today 12 26 38 Sunny
Tomorrow 11 27 38 Sunny
Day after 11 28 38 Sunny
LAHORE
Today 1 20 87 Sunny
Tomorrow 2 20 87 Sunny
Day after 2 21 87 Sunny
ISLAMABAD
Today 0 18 59 Sunny
Tomorrow 0 18 59 Sunny
Day after 0 21 59 Sunny
HUM%: Humidity In %
FOR.: Weather Forecast
updated: Fri - Sun 23-25 Dec, 2005

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KARACHI         - 021 LAHORE          - 042 ISLAMABAD    - 051 FAISALABAD   - 041 MULTAN          - 061 PESHAWAR    - 0521 CANADA          - 1 KUWAIT           - 965 INDIA               - 91 IRAN                - 98 U.K                   - 44 U.A.E                - 971 U.S.A                - 1

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  REPORTS FROM GULF & MIDDLE EAST
 
 
 

 

 

Oct 31 - Nov 13, 2005

BIRD FLU: SAUDIA RESTRICTS BIRDS, EGGS IMPORT

Saudi Arabia has imposed a temporary ban on the import of live birds and eggs from Turkey, Romania and Iran as part of precautionary measures to keep bird flu out of the country.

Muhammad Al-Sheiha, deputy agriculture minister for animal resources, said the action was taken on the basis of World Health Organization reports, which confirmed that the deadly strain of H5NI avian flu had appeared in Turkey and Romania.

"The ban on bird imports from Iran was based on a WHO report of Oct. 14 following the deaths of large numbers of ducks which were affected by an unknown disease in the country," the official said.

Scores of migrating birds have been dying in northwest Iran but Iranian State veterinary officials yesterday ruled out the presence of bird flu in the country although the cause of the deaths has not been determined.

The Gulf region is at risk from the threat of bird flu, a Bahrain official warned , following an emergency meeting of the Gulf Cooperation Council in Riyadh, which drew up joint strategies to combat the deadly virus.

Individual GCC states have adopted measures to prevent the spread of avian flu, including banning the import of birds, poultry and their products from countries in Asia and Europe where cases are known to exist.

Dr. Yaaqub Al-Mazroue, assistant deputy health minister for preventive medicine, said the Kingdom had taken all precautions to prevent the outbreak of bird flu in the country and had allocated SR25 million for the purchase of anti-viral drugs.

"The agency for preventive medicine has developed a comprehensive plan to deal with the problem," Mazroue said, adding that the ministry's labs and blood banks have taken measures to ensure quick detection of avian flu cases.

Experts fear the H5N1 virus, which has killed more than 60 people and caused the deaths of millions of birds in Asia since 2003, could mutate and spread to humans, creating a pandemic that would kill millions of people. Fears of a bird flu outbreak this year have forced Saudi officials to take extra precautions ahead of a large influx of pilgrims from around the world for Haj.

Meanwhile Thousands of UAE falcon hunters, who traditionally travel to Asian and North African countries, are giving up the sport following the outbreak of bird flu in Asia and parts of Europe.

The hunters are being advised to forget about the sport at least for this year, as the birds may be carrying the deadly avian virus.

The Environment Agency-Abu Dhabi has advised falcon-hunters not to hunt the houbara bustard and other birds during the hunting season, which began last month and would last until late April.

The migratory birds mainly come from the affected parts of Asia and could carry the bird flu virus without showing any apparent symptoms. UAE falconers were initially thinking about going to Iraq, Libya, Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia or Mauritania during the falcon-hunting season.

Earlier, Pakistan and Kazakhstan were on top of the list of Asian destinations for falcon-hunters from the Gulf region. UAE falconers are banned from hunting in the country due to fauna-protection rules.

CROSS BORDER GAS PIPELINE TALKS

The second meeting of Iran-India working group for the construction of Iran-Pakistan-India gas pipeline was held in Tehran last week.

Speaking at the end of the session, Iran's deputy oil minister for international affairs Hadi Nejad-Hosseinian said that Indian oil and gas officials were willing to finalize the construction of the Iran-India gas pipeline as soon as possible.

Nejad-Hosseinian added that the Indians offered a report of their negotiations with the Pakistani side. The report points out new agreements between the two states, including an agreement over gas prices.

The deputy oil minister said that if India and Pakistan reach an agreement over the transit fee, many problems would be solved.

PTI reported that India's 22-billion dollar deal to import 5 million tons of LNG from Iran is in trouble after General Electric of U.S. is believed to have refused supply of crucial equipment needed to make LNG to Tehran.

GE has refused to supply compressors, a crucial link in converting natural gas into liquid for transportation in ships, to Iran, industry sources said.

German firm Linde had also refused liquefaction technology to Iran. As such Iran cannot access commercially proven LNG liquefaction technologies due to U.S. sanctions on Tehran. The only two commercially proven LNG liquefaction technologies are of U.S. origin and the sanctions preclude U.S. based firms to associate with projects in Iran.

Sources said Iran was banking on yet to be commercially tested 'MFC' process of Linde and 'Liquefin' process of Axens (a wholly owned subsidiary of IFP of France) for liquefaction of natural gas produced from gigantic South Pars fields in the Persian Gulf.

While the French liquefaction technology is the only hope for Iran, Tehran is now talking to Ukrain for their sourcing compressors. Ukrainian compressors are however not very energy efficient and may push up liquefaction cost.

Trouble in sourcing technology may delay the first LNG to India by at least two years to 2012, sources said. National Iranian Oil Co. (NIOC), which owns the South Pars gas field, was to approve the LNG export deal to India within three weeks of signing of the Sales Purchase Agreements (SPAs) between Iran's gas export firm NIGEC and India on June 12 but is yet to give its stamp of approval.

Sources said NIOC approval for the 22-billion dollar deal was to come by July 5 but it has sought more financial details of the proposal while considering it. Tehran is pitching for the French technology by awarding a huge block in South Pars field to French firm TOTAL for production of liquefied natural gas (LNG) and export.

India wants to import 5 million ton per annum of LNG beginning 2009-10 from Iran to supplements its domestic natural gas production, which barely meets half the current demand.

In June, three separate SPAs were signed between National Iranian Gas Export Co. (NIGEC) and GAIL India LTD (2 million tons per annum), NIGEC and Indian Oil Corp (1.75 mtpa) and NIGEC and Bharat Petroleum Corp LTD (1.25 mtpa).

IRAN TO SET UP NATIONAL OFFICE FOR ECONOMIC SECURITY

At a gathering of high-ranking judiciary officials, Judiciary Chief Ayatollah Hashemi Shahrudi said that a national office would be established to guarantee both the soundness of investments and the security of assets.

The office, which is a joint initiative of President Mahmud Ahmadinejad and the Judiciary chief, will be tasked with dealing with measures that could harm the economic security of the country, he added.

"We will no longer let certain public organizations threaten the security of a competitive investment in the country through the presentation of false reports. The Judiciary will take measures to support free investments and the security of assets in the region," Shahrudi explained.

He also expressed gratitude for President Ahmadinejad's participation in the initiative and stated that the new office would severely deal with anyone whose actions threaten the economic security of the country and would also endeavor to reduce hindrances discouraging economic investment.

Pointing to the fact that the Judiciary is the forerunner in responding to economic corruption, Shahrudi noted that many cases of economic corruption were investigated and a great number of potential sources of tension were dealt with at a recent meeting attended by the heads of the three branches of government.

He added that creating economic security and supporting legal investments are of great significance, saying that Iran's economic structures and methods should be reformed since their complexity and excessive red tape are having a negative impact on national interests.

Elsewhere in his remarks, Shahrudi said that the government should not monopolize all economic affairs and, in allocating some economic affairs to the private sector, should not act in a way to continue its monopoly over the national economy.

He expressed the view that Iran has a vulnerable economic system, adding that after the eight years of the Iraqi imposed war on Iran, some economic activities were supposed to be privatized, but the plan was not implemented because the government was actually reluctant to lose some of its resources and facilities.

He went on to say that the government should respect the assets of the people, adding that when private assets and their development are neglected, the national economy suffers.

The government should establish security for the private assets of individuals so that they will be encouraged to invest in the country; otherwise, investors will take their assets to foreign countries, which will not only inflict damage on the national economy and resources but will also promote the economic development of those foreign countries, Shahrudi said.

He called Iran's complicated economic regulations in the banking and customs systems another factor creating economic problems for the country and defined economic corruption as the insecurity of the private sector, capital flight, and excessive economic red tape.

In conclusion, Shahrudi said that some of the reports in the media and elsewhere about embezzlement by high-level managers are incorrect and thus will not only do nothing to help fight economic corruption but will also create economic insecurity and frustration, which may in the long run lead to capital flight, which is the leading cause of the country's economic problems.

RENEWABLE ENERGY

More than 10 domestic private companies have taken the lead to invest in new and renewable energies, acting director of Energy Ministry Hamid Chitchian said. The activities in this field in Iran are focused on scientific and research aspects, and research part is aimed at reduction of capital required for exploitation of related resources, he added.

The second step is to work research results into scientific dimension of this field for practical means, i.e. establishing electricity power plants. Due to recent advancements in wind energy, many investors in the country have become interested in investing in this type of energy. At the moment, projects assuming 130 MW of wind power plants are underway, of which, 25 MW is operational, the director stated.

Based on the planning in the 4th Socioeconomic and Cultural Development Plan (2005-2010), private sector is expected to have a share of at least 270 MW in renewable energies. However, it is the government's duty to take the first step for investment in biomass and solar power plants; private sector may then play its part once the infrastructures to this end are laid out, Chitchian continued.

At the moment, a 250-KW plant is under construction in Shiraz and two more geothermal units with 5 and 50 MW capacities will follow. Moreover, two biomass and solar energy plants, standing at 10 MW and 17 MW respectively, are of other upcoming projects.

DUBAI GOLD AND COMMODITY EXCHANGE

Dubai Gold and Commodities Exchange (DGCX), the first such marketplace in the Middle East, will commence trading on November 22 with the opening of the gold futures market.

From day one, DGCX will offer an uninterrupted trading window of more than 13 hours to provide arbitrage opportunities against Far East, European and American markets. "It is remarkable that DGCX will go live with its trading operations within a year from the launch of the concept," said Framroze Pochara, chief executive of DGCX.

DGCX opened its membership last June, receiving more than 270 applications in two months. Of these, roughly 200 have been approved in principle and 50 have been formally admitted. "We estimate that we will have around 100 members trading on the DGCX markets on day one.

This critical mass of members will ensure that the first day of trading will be meaningful, and will see active participation from across the globe," Pochara said. Confirmed members include Mashreq Securities, National Bank of Dubai, Standard Bank, Goldas (Turkey), Supama International, and Swiss Gold.

BMW

Abu Dhabi Motors, the exclusive importer for BMW, MINI, ALPINA and Rolls Royce vehicles in Abu Dhabi and Al Ain, has successfully completed the BMW Quality Management Assurance program with a score of 96.1 percent, the highest ever achieved in the Middle East. QMA is a voluntary quality assurance scheme designed for BMW importers that provides a framework of business standards to improve internal communication and efficiency of processes to enhance customer loyalty and profitability. Arno Husselmann, general manager of Abu Dhabi Motors said: "This was a quality performance from a quality team that demonstrated the highest standards of professionalism. The QMA program has been developed and refined at BMW dealerships around the world over a number of years and is differentiated from other quality assurance programs by its cross-departmental applications and approaches for achieving greater business efficiency."

HYDERABAD PROPERTY SHOWS

Investment opportunities in real estate projects for the Indian expatriate community were highlighted in a series of Hyderabad property shows held across Saudi Arabia recently. Jeddah alone had two such presentations, which reflected the "tremendous interest" the community had in investing in real estate projects, Mohammed Abdur Raheem, chief executive officer of Mars International, a Hyderabad-based multi-activity company, said. "The presentations aimed to highlight the emergence of Hyderabad as one of the major Asian metropolises and the prospects the southern Andhra Pradesh state capital holds for real estate investment," said Raheem, who worked in the Kingdom's travel trade for 20 years. He was the regional manager of STTB for the Central Province in Riyadh before he chose to return home and set up the consultancy firm.

In his presentation held at Salt N Pepper restaurant, Raheem said the company he founded was in constant touch with major builders, architects and entrepreneurs and was in a position to offer advice and guidance to investors. "Hyderabad has high potential, as it has already become a hub for IT, biotechnology, and aviation. It has already been attracting foreign investments in great measure, and multinational companies are relocating their offices there," he said. "By 2008, Hyderabad will have one of the most modern international airports to be able to handle seven million passengers in its first year and over 40 million after the completion of all phases of the project," he added.

REAL ESTATE BUSINESS BOOMING IN SHARJAH

Real estate business is booming in Sharjah due to cheaper prices of apartments that attracting buyers mainly are from India, Pakistan and Iran.

Earlier, homebuyers had to get power of attorney from the building's owner. Now anyone can purchase a flat and register it in their name with Sharjah Municipality. A freehold ownership is also being anticipate to be introduced soon that has also fuelled the rush for homes. If it is allowed naturally, apartment prices will shoot up, as Sharjah will have to provide resident visas to the owners. The prices are expected to shoot up by 20 per cent, hence the current investment in real estate is a speculative trade. Riding on the upsurge, a home finance company has set up office in Sharjah and is offering finance for apartment purchases at Al Dana residential tower on the Buhaira Cornice, and Ali Mousa Tower 1 and 2 in Al Majaz.

Its interest rate for five years is 8.98 per cent.

It may be mentioned that prices in Sharjah are still affordable for first-time buyers at Dh300 to Dh400 per square ft, compared to Dh 700 to Dh 2,000 in Dubai. A two-bedroom flat in a one-year or 18-month old building will cost about Dh450, 000. A two bedrooms flat will cost between Dh500, 000 to Dh600, 000 and the purchase can be financed over a 20-year period.

EU, GCC ON TRACK TO CONCLUDE TRADE DEAL

The European Union and the GCC are on track to conclude a long-delayed free trade agreement by the end of this year, said officials from both sides, after a fresh round of talks in Abu Dhabi.

The next round of negotiations will take place in Brussels on November 24 and 25.

"Our aim is to finalize the agreement by year-end, and this round of negotiations has begun very well," said Holger Standertskjold, chairman of the EU delegation to the negotiations.

Talks have moved forward, said Hamad Al Baazi, chairman of the GCC delegation, because both sides are willing to consider the other's demands.

"I see it as an encouraging start," said Dr. Hamad Al Baazi, chairman of the GCC negotiating team. "Each side should come out with comments and answers and we are not far from that." Standertskjold told reporters that there are some outstanding issues to be resolved, however, before the talks conclude.

"They include market access not only in goods but in services and investments and government procurements. These are the most important elements in the current round of negotiations that need to be discussed further," he said.

Al Baazi added that there is a need for more coordination between both sides on issues relating to the services and investments sector.

The GCC also is critical of high taxes levied by the EU on Gulf refined oil products and aluminum, as well as with its $17 billion trade deficit with Europe.

"The aluminum and petrochemical issues are on the agenda and we hope to resolve that," Al Baazi said.

The GCC states want preferential treatment for aluminum and petrochemicals.

He said most of the political issues have been resolved and denied rumors that disagreements persist among GCC states.

"There was a meeting in Riyadh on October 10 and we agreed on most of the political issues. There are no disagreements but different points of view and this is common in negotiations of such nature," Al Baazi said.

He emphasized that both the EU and the GCC will benefit greatly from a FTA due to growing levels of trade and investments.

Standertskjold said free trade agreements between the United States and the GCC were irrelevant to the current discussions.

"That is something for the GCC to look at," he said. "But we will emphasize regional integration and the GCC as an organization."

 
 

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