SAUDI ARABIA BECOMES 149TH WTO MEMBER
Saudi Arabia formally joined the World
Trade Organization (WTO) last week, and has become the trade body's 149th member
and is well set to stage for the Kingdom to play a significant role in global
The Kingdom's formal WTO accession came
a month after it was admitted by its member governments on Nov. 11, following 12
years of intense negotiations, and just two days before a key summit in Hong
WTO Director General Pascal Lamy hailed
the membership of Saudi Arabia, which is the world's 13th largest merchandise
exporter and 23rd largest importer.
"This is a historic event for the
WTO," said Lamy, adding that Riyadh's membership would pave the way for a
stronger multilateral trading system.
A high-level Saudi delegation led by
Commerce and Industry Minister Hashem Yamani has arrived in Hong Kong to attend
the WTO ministerial meeting as a full member. The team includes Transport
Minister Jabara Al-Seraisry; State Minister Abdullah Alireza, who is deputy
chairman of the Saudi negotiating team; Abdul Wahab Attar, the Kingdom's
permanent representative to WTO in Geneva; and Prince Abdul Aziz ibn Salman,
assistant minister of petroleum and minerals, who played a leading role in
The General Council Chair, Ambassador
Amina Mohamed of Kenya, congratulated members for approving the accession of
Saudi Arabia. "It is a great honor for me to witness the constructive
spirit in which these negotiations have been completed. Members have taken not
only a major step toward better international economic cooperation but have also
allowed the WTO to become more universal," she said.
Saudi Arabia has been negotiating its
membership since July 1993. As a result of the negotiations, the Kingdom has
agreed to undertake a series of important commitments to further liberalize its
trade regime and accelerate its integration in the world economy, while offering
a transparent and predictable environment for trade and foreign investment in
accordance with WTO rules.
Saudi Arabia will eliminate any
non-tariff measures that cannot be justified under WTO rules while maintaining
the right to restrict the import and export of a certain number of goods and
services for reasons that include protecting public morals, the life and health
of the population and national security interests. It has also agreed to review
the list of banned imports on an annual basis.
In accordance with the agreement, the
Kingdom will allow foreign insurance companies to open and operate direct
branches in the country. A three-year transition period will be given to
existing foreign insurance providers to convert to either a Saudi cooperative
insurance company or to a direct branch of a foreign insurance company.
Commercial presence of banks will be
permitted in the form of locally incorporated joint-stock companies or as
international bank branches. The foreign equity cap for joint ventures in
banking will be increased to 60 percent. Within three years from accession,
Saudi Arabia will allow up to 70 percent foreign equity ownership in the
Faisal Alsayrafi, president & CEO
of Financial Transaction House, said the WTO membership was a reward for the
economic reforms and structural adjustments carried out by the Kingdom in the
"Becoming a member of the global
community will present various benefits and challenges to all sectors of the
Kingdom," he added, saying that WTO membership will help bring more
domestic products to the global marketplace. It will also result in less
dependence on the oil industry, increased inflow of foreign direct investments
and preparing the Saudi riyal for free float, thus decreasing the pegging
subsidy, he said.
"WTO accession is perceived to be
a strong driving force to enhance the efficiency and development of private and
government sectors. Achieving such international standards will lay the
foundation for Kingdom's future development and prosperity of its upcoming
generations," Alsayrafi said.
Riyadh-based international business
consultant Salim Ghalayini said international competition would encourage
national firms and local expertise to become more qualified and competitive.
"Business disputes resulting from operations in Saudi Arabia are still a
concern to multinational firms," Ghalayini said. "This move will
dilute such concerns. The bottom-line is an excellent move that Saudi Arabia
cannot afford to lose, but we have to be patient during the initial teething
stage," said Ghalayini.
Air pollution has gripped Tehran to the
extent that the cabinet was forced to declare two working days as holidays in
the capital last week in order to reduce the suffocating smog blanketing the
Health officials have reported that an
average of 700 people per day have been hospitalized because of the air
The lack of wind for many days and the
fact that Tehran is surrounded by mountains has allowed a thick layer of smog to
hover over the city.
Yet, it is unprecedented that Tehran
should be brought to a halt because of pollution. Even though the climatic
conditions have intensified the pollution, this problem has been lingering for
years and years.
The lack of proper urban planning has
caused a population explosion and massive traffic congestion in Tehran. However,
this is not the main cause of pollution. The problem lies with the
decision-makers. Pollution is not just a problem for Tehran. Other large cities
like Mashhad, Shiraz, Isfahan, Ahvaz, and Arak are also grappling with air
pollution and heavy traffic.
The roots of the pollution problem and
the solution to it are very clear. Gasoline is heavily subsidized and this has
led to extravagant use of petrol. A large percentage of the cars plying the
streets are dilapidated jalopies, which experts say burn 2 to 2.5 times more
fuel than the international standard. In addition, the lax enforcement of
traffic regulations, the fact that people are not properly trained to use cars,
and, perhaps, most significantly, the lack of an efficient public transportation
system, are magnifying the problem.
The solutions are clear: develop an
advanced transport system; end petrol subsidies; and introduce a strict traffic
But so far there has been no strong
will to end this dilemma. The Majlis still approves billions of dollars to
import gasoline. Automakers are still producing substandard cars. For example,
after some years, the Ministry of Industry and Mines discontinued production of
the Paykan, but it is still using the same engine for the Peugeot RD.
Technically, this new model causes more pollution because the engine is not able
to handle the heavier car.
Catalytic converters should be added to
the exhaust systems of cars to reduce harmful emissions. Laws requiring car
owners to install these devices have helped to significantly reduce air
pollution in many Western cities, but it seems that the idea is not even on the
agenda of the Iranian government.
Construction of the Tehran Metro should
also be accelerated. There are currently no subway connections on some of the
city's busiest transportation routes. The hours of service of the metro and
other public transport should also be extended. There is no late night subway
service and there are very few night buses, which forces people to use taxis and
personal automobiles, exacerbating the pollution problem. Other major cities
around the world have 24-hour subways and buses, and such a system would clearly
be helpful for the megalopolis of Tehran, where over ten percent of the Iranian
However, whenever there is a debate on
air pollution or high petrol use, officials immediately argue that there are
insufficient funds to expand and upgrade the subway system and the rest of the
transportation fleet and to replace the old cars with new ones.
But they never explain why both
reformist and conservative majority parliaments have allocated billions of
dollars for petrol subsidies over the past few years if there is a shortage of
On Sunday, the Majlis speaker expressed
concern about the rising level of air pollution in Tehran, but when MPs approve
"dollars for combustion", he and other influential parliamentarians
don't object, but instead bring up some pretexts and leave the problem to fester
The officials act like isolated islands
and do not coordinate their activities. All relevant bodies, like the Department
of the Environment, the health and industry ministries, and the Tehran
Municipality, as well as the executive branch of the national government and the
Majlis, are responsible for the current situation.
For God's sake, stop the waste of
national resources and save the people from this slow death in Tehran.
BIRDFLU PREVENTION DURING HAJ
Saudi Arabia has taken adequate
precautionary measures to prevent any outbreak of bird flu in the country ahead
of the annual Haj.
"No bird flu cases have been
reported so far in the Kingdom," said Dr. Khaled Marghalani, a spokesman
for the Health Ministry. "We are following up the progress of the disease
on the international level," the Saudi Press Agency quoted him as saying.
He said the ministry had already purchased an adequate quantity of antiviral
drug Tamiflu and has signed a memorandum of understanding with the drug
manufacturer to ensure its adequate supply.
Dr. Sahl Al-Sabban of the Haj Ministry
said his ministry had taken measures to protect pilgrims and prevent any
outbreaks of bird flu during the Haj. "We have informed all foreign
governments about the health conditions to be fulfilled by their pilgrims,"
Sabban said, adding that the pilgrims would not be allowed to bring foodstuffs
into the Kingdom. He said the ministry would closely monitor pilgrims on arrival
and take any suspected cases of avian flu infection to hospitals.
"We will also closely monitor the
catering companies which supply food to the pilgrims and ask them to comply with
health requirements," he added. He said the Haj Ministry would assign field
teams to its emergency and operations departments, the Tawafa organizations and
other related pilgrim service agencies in order to monitor safety measures.
"We'll mobilize all our resources to carry out health instructions and
preventive measures," he added.
Sabban's assurances came amid fears
that the more than two million pilgrims who gather in Makkah for the annual Haj
would risk creating the conditions in which a pandemic could develop.
The deadly virus cannot pass from
person to person as ordinary seasonal flu does, but experts fear it could mutate
and then be transmitted from person to person. The risk of mutation would
increase if anyone with bird flu came to Makkah and mingled with people
suffering from ordinary seasonal flu.
Meanwhile, the Ministry of Health will
launch a major campaign to educate foreign pilgrims on the preventive measures
that should be taken during their stay in the holy cities of Makkah and Madinah.
"As part of the program, the
ministry will distribute 1.6 million pamphlets in 10 languages to carry its
health message among Haj pilgrims during this season," Hamad K. Al-Khowailed,
the director of health education and supervisor of Healthy Cities Program in the
Ministry of Health, told Arab News yesterday.
He added that the ministry has chalked
up a comprehensive program to inform the pilgrims to follow basic health rules.
The pamphlets are being printed in English, Arabic and many foreign languages.
Al-Khowailed said the ministry is displaying posters at public places within
Makkah and Madinah and at pilgrim entry points to pass on the health message.
Arrangements have also been made for
the arriving pilgrims at the Haj Terminal to listen to the health messages in
"Such messages are relayed among
different nationalities in their respective languages," the director said,
adding that this is being done through loudspeakers fixed to the carts at the
The handout would advise the pilgrims
on their personal cleanliness, environmental health and their general conduct
when moving in crowds. Pilgrims are told to wash their hands before they take
their food, put waste into proper receptacles and to cough or sneeze covering
their mouth and nose with tissues or handkerchiefs. They have also been asked to
wash fruits before they eat and are advised not to shave with used blades.
The Health Ministry has mobilized more
than 9,000 doctors, nurses and technicians for Haj duty this year, according to
Dr. Khaled Al-Sumairy, health director in Makkah. He said a good number of
visiting consultants and nurses will also take part in Haj service. "We
have readied all hospitals and health centers in Makkah to provide services to
pilgrims," Sumairy said.
There are seven hospitals and some 70
clinics in Arafat and Mina in addition to seven government hospitals and 98
medical clinics in Makkah, and eight hospitals and 34 clinics in Madinah. A
fleet of 145 ambulances will be deployed in the holy sites.
On instructions given by the Ministry
of Health, the Kingdom's foreign mission checks vaccination certificates when it
issues Haj visas. Al-Khowailed said arrangements have been made at all entry
points to the Kingdom for pilgrims to get vaccinations if necessary. The
ministry also broadcasts special Haj programs for pilgrims on radio and
INDIAN MOVIES IN GULF
Dubai's second international film
festival opened yesterday with movies aimed at bridging the differences between
East and West.
The 800-plus VIP guests at the Madinat
Jumeirah Arabian Resort included a contingent of Hollywood film stars led by
veteran actor Morgan Freeman, Greek-French director Constantin Costa-Gavras and
a group of Arab stars headed by Egyptian icon Adel Imam.
British activist and musician Bob
Geldof is attending the gala dinner to raise money for the Nelson Mandela fund
for aid to Africa, according to organisers.
One of the main films featured in the
festival is Albert Brooks' satirical Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World. The
film makes fun of the ignorance of Americans about the Muslim world.
The festival opens with the
controversial Palestinian movie Paradise Now about a suicide bomber in the
The one-week festival is divided into
13 themed programs, including Arabian Nights, Cinema from the Subcontinent and
Insights from Asia.
The festival, which is being held under
the patronage of Dubai Crown Prince and UAE Defence Minister General Sheikh
Mohamed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, was opened by Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed al-Maktoum,
president of the department of civil aviation and chairman of the Emirates
"Dubai has always been a
crossroads, a place where the rest of the world comes to meet and do
business," said Dubai International Film Festival director and chief
executive officer Neil Stephenson.
"Starting tonight, it will also be
a place where the rest of the world comes to share their love of film and talk
about important world issues," Stephenson said.
RETRIAL FOR NON-PAYMENT OF DUES
The Supreme Federal Court has ordered
the retrial of a company that refused to pay Dh50,000 as dues for a worker on
its payroll. The court also quashed the verdict of the Court of Appeal, which
Labour Court ruling that ordered the
firm to pay the dues. The worker, Khalid A., filed a lawsuit at the
Sharjah Labour Court against Al Asrar
General Enterprises Company demanding the payment of his gratuity.
In his plea, he said he had been
working with the company for two years, and it ceased paying him his Dh6,000
basic monthly salary for five months. The Labour Court ordered the company to
pay the amount, but the company failed to pay and appealed against the verdict
before the court of Appeal, which called for rejecting the verdict. The
complainant, however, contested the verdict at the Supreme Federal Court, which
quashed the judgment of the appeal court afresh.
The Supreme Federal Court argued that
the verdict issued by the Labour Court was appropriate since it was based on
sufficient evidence and reasons, which entitles the complainant to get the
benefits he demanded. The apex court ordered the retrial of the company by a
different panel of judges, and also asked the firm to pay the fee, expenses, and
Dh2,000 as lawyer charges the complainant had incurred.
EID FESTIVAL IN DOHA
An action-packed program of fun and
entertainment to mark Doha's 2006 Eid al-Adha celebrations is in the final
stages of planning.
Qatar Tourism Authority (QTA) and Qatar
Media Services are planning an exciting five-day Eid festival, possibly starting
on January 10.
It will include a wide range of
entertainment at numerous venues across Doha, and will also include Wakrah and
Al-Khor, involving hundreds of performers and entertainers.
QTA will once again be working together
with the National Council for Arts, Culture and Heritage to create traditional
Qatari cultural activities specially for the Eid festival .
QATAR'S BUSINESS OPPORTUNITIES
Qatar Financial Centre's (QFC)
high-powered team, led by HE the Economy and Commerce Minister Sheikh Mohamed
bin Ahmed bin Jassim al-Thani, is now in Hong Kong to attract banks and
financial institutions in Asia.
After covering London, the delegation
is now showcasing Qatar's business opportunities, worth over $130bn to global
leaders who are attending the WTO meeting in Hong Kong.
The minister, who will also address the
WTO meeting, is accompanied by QFC Regulatory Authority's Phillip Thorpe and QFC
Authority chief executive officer and director general Stuart Pearce, with an
aim to put Qatar and the QFC before the leading global bankers and to explain
the QFC's role in the country's major reform and diversification programme.
"Qatar is offering huge
opportunity to banks and financial services organisations in Asia," Sheikh
Mohamed, who is also QFC chairman, said addressing top officials of financial
He stressed that Qatar wants to create
a progressive partnership to develop its natural wealth and invest it in order
to create a diverse, free market economy.
"In return, we offer new sources
of business and revenue streams for banks and other financial
institutions," he said.
"This visit, like the one last
week in London, supports our efforts to attract leading international banks to
join us in our reform and development programme and to help us build a stronger
financial services sector with a deep capital market," he added.
The minister is also addressing the
on-going World Trade Organisation summit in Hong Kong on the Doha Declaration ñ
the proposals for trade reform hammered out at the WTO meeting hosted by Qatar
A central pillar of the reform plans
driven by HH the Emir is to create an internationally credible financial capital
market to be the engine of economic growth.
Accordingly, QFC was set up in May to
be a supportive, familiar and trustworthy partner for top-tier international
banks who want to participate in Qatar's ambitious investment plans.
Highlighting that Qatar has more than
100 years supply of natural gas at the current maximum extraction rates, he told
international banks and financial institutions "we are on course to become
the worldís biggest exporter of natural gas".
With an estimated 900tn cu ft of
natural gas in the country's North Gas field, Qatar is on way to become the
Gas-to-Liquids' capital of the world, Second Deputy Premier and Industry
Minister HE Abdullah bin Hamad al-Attiyah had said.
Sheikh Mohamed said the energy projects
will attract public/private investment in a region which has hitherto been a
large net exporter of capital.
"The QFC will be a catalyst for
economic and social development not only in Qatar but in the wider region —
perhaps the world's most dynamic emerging market at present," he added.
Presenting a large and diversified
programme of projects in Qatar, Sheikh Mohamed said the country will finance
over $30bn in new infrastructure projects, $15bn in airport and tourism
projects, with eight new luxury hotels being built in Doha and raise over $50bn
for oil and gas development.
The QFC has been established so that
top financial institutions will have the comfort of operating in a centre with
laws and regulations drafted in English, based on best practice in London, Hong
Kong and New York ñ and independently regulated by internationally respected
Thorpe said for the international
player, the distinguishing feature of the QFC is that the laws are familiar,
transparent and enforceable and the regulations are independent and impartial.
"The aim is to give international
financial institutions the confidence that they operate in an environment that
can be trusted," he said.
Pearce added QFC has put in place a low
risk, low cost and low tax environment.
QFC has already granted three year
tax-holiday for firms till 2008 and after that there will be a flat 10% tax only
if the entities registered in it made profits. However, there will be no
transaction, withholding or personal income taxes and there will be
participation exemption for capital gains and dividends.
For many multinationals such tax paid
in Qatar will be creditable against (hence reduce incidence) paid in their head
Top officials of 15 national oil
companies from Asia, Europe, Africa and South America are meeting for three
days, under the aegis of Gas Task Force of National Oil Companies Forum, to
exchange expertise on technology, commercial dealings, regulations and
The meeting, which started yesterday
and hosted by Qatar Petroleum (QP), will feature field trips to natural gas and
petrochemicals projects in Ras Laffan and Mesaieed Industrial cities, where they
will be briefed about QP's achievements in natural gas.
In the opening session, Abdullah
Hussein Salatt, senior advisor to the Second Deputy Premier HE Abdullah bin
Hamad al-Attiyah, briefed on four major issues linked to natural gas industry
development like technology, market, regulation and international applications
on gas business.
The meeting was chaired by QP and
co-chaired by Norway-based Statoil, a QP release said.
The Gas Task Force will next meet in
Algeria, which will be followed by a final assessment meeting in China in June
2008, the release added.
IPOs restructuring of family-run
businesses, Qatar's stock market is slated to witness 10 initial public offers (IPO)
in the year 2006 and investment products like Islamic private equity and
mortgage-backed securities, Amwal managing director Sheikha Hanadi Nasser bin
Khalid al-Thani has said.
"With 10 IPO's slated for FY 2006,
numerous advisory opportunities in real estate and restructuring of family
groups, the deal flow for investment banking is very robust," Sheikha
Hanadi, a leading economist, told the Arab Business Forum that concluded
The role of investment banking is a
crucial component for increasing the efficiency of Arab economies, she said.
Observing that "business
opportunities are endless and the capital market is reflective of it," she
said the country's stock market capital that represents nearly 300% of Qatar's
GDP (as of September 2005), has risen over five-fold in the past three years and
is poised for further growth."
Going ahead, Qatar aims to consolidate
its leadership position through further capital injection. Nearly $100bn is
earmarked for investment up to 2010 and GDP projected to grow at more than 10%
per annum, Sheikha Hanadi said.
"Economic infrastructure is poised
for increased efficiency, while liberalisation of the economy and a greater role
for private sector are expected to help attract foreign direct
investments," she told the forum comprising 600 financial and political
On the asset management side, she said,
there is tremendous demand for investment products such as the IPO funds,
Islamic private equity and real estate securitisation opportunities that offer
diversification catering to the varying risk-return profile of investors.
Under the visionary leadership of HH
the Emir, Qatar boasts of being one of the fastest growing economies in the
world. Its GDP has doubled in five years, setting a new record in 2004 with an
increase of 20% over 2003 to reach $28.5bn, she said.
"Qatar has leapt ahead to becoming
the nerve centre of the Arab economy's internationally recognised economic
performance," Sheikha Hanadi said.
"Against the backdrop of fast
improving macro-economic conditions, enhanced regulatory environment facilitated
by the formation of the Qatar Financial Centre and the continuous development of
the Qatari capital markets, Qatar's financial industry is taking the country to
greater milestones this decade," she added.
Sheikha Hanadi lauded the role of
platforms like the Arab Business Forum that help showcase the potential of Arab
economies to the international audience. She hoped that Amwal's association with
the Qatar Business Foundation in hosting the business meet this year will help
induce capital flow into the country.
COST OF SHIPPING CRUDE DECLINES
The cost of shipping crude oil from the
Arabian Gulf to Asia on 2mn barrel tankers fell as oil companies and traders
finished booking vessels for the month and waited for producers to notify them
of January loading dates. Most oil exported from Middle East suppliers such as
Saudi Arabia, the world's largest, and Iran is sold on annual contracts.
Suppliers confirm loading dates of
cargoes a month in advance so buyers can make shipping arrangements. "I
expect rates to ease further as I doubt there'll be much activity this week,
especially with the holidays around the corner," said Per Mansson, a broker
at Stockholm-based shipbrokers Nor-Ocean Stockholm. Most cargoes scheduled to
load in December have been matched with tankers, he said.
Rates on the benchmark route to
Singapore were assessed at WS 175 on Tuesday, data from London's Baltic Exchange
show. Transport costs are $1.75 a barrel.
Worldscale points are a percentage of a
nominal rate, or so-called flat rate, for a specific route. Flat rates, quoted
in US dollars a metric ton, are revised annually by the London-based Worldscale
Association to reflect changing fuel costs, port tariffs and exchange rates.
Ship owners charge higher rates to move
oil from the Arabian Gulf to India because they prefer to book vessels on
long-haul routes to countries such as Japan and South Korea.
There were no new VLCC bookings on the
benchmark routes to Japan, which were assessed at WS 171 on Tuesday. Costs for
the voyage are about WS 160 yesterday following Reliance's booking, Mansson
Freight rates for VLCCs have fallen 24%
from an 11- month high more than three weeks ago. Charterers delayed booking
vessels in anticipation of a drop in shipping costs, allowing the supply of
ships to build.
RELIEF GOODS FROM QATAR
TWO relief flights carrying the
much-needed aid for victims of October's devastating earthquake in Pakistan
leave Doha for Islamabad in what is considered the first major step by the
recently-launched "Reach Out to Asia" charity to help those in need.
HE Sheikha Mayassa bint Hamad bin
Khalifa al-Thani, daughter of HH the Emir, will be heading a delegation of
officials from Reach Out to Asia and other Qatar-based charities on one of the
The flights - a Qatar Airways aircraft
and charter plane - are scheduled to leave Doha International Airport this
morning, carrying several tonnes of aid, comprising blankets, sleeping bags and
During her visit to Pakistan, Sheikha
Mayassa will meet earthquake survivors as well as government officials and
education authorities to discuss the rebuilding efforts of the worst-hit areas.
She is also due to meet Sehba Mushrraf, wife of Pakistan President Pervez
The earthquake struck in northeast
Pakistan claiming the lives of more than 90,000 people. Several thousands have
been left homeless. International aid agencies are worried about further loss of
life, primarily due to exposure to the cold weather.
Their priority now is to shelter the
homeless from exposure to the mountainous winter weather that has begun to set
in. Aid agencies around the world have been working round-the-clock to assist
families of victims by providing food, water and shelter.
Since Reach Out to Asia was launched as
a charity in Qatar three months ago, more than $20mn has been raised through
individual contributions, company donations, as well as a charity auction gala
dinner in Doha.
The November 16 charity event was
attended by more than 500 guests, including former US president Bill Clinton,
Virgin Group founder Sir Richard Branson, Saudi Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal,
former gymnast and Olympic gold medallist Nadia Comeneci and Canadian rock star
The charity, launched by Qatar
Foundation, Qatar Airways and the Doha Asian Games Organising Committee (DAGOC),
aims to raise funds for the underprivileged and disadvantaged across Asia.
The charity's first major task is to
convert some of the money raised into practical aid for the Pakistan earthquake
victims and for survivors of last year's tsunami disaster in southeast Asia that
killed more than 200,000 people.
Sheikha Mayassa said: "These are
desperate times for the people of Pakistan. Having gone through so much turmoil
following the earthquake, hundreds of thousands of people are facing the
onslaught of one of the worst winters on record."
"The people of Qatar and from
around the world have donated generously to the Reach Out to Asia campaign and
we are delighted that the efforts of those involved will turn into much-needed
physical aid for the Pakistan earthquake victims."