Middle East Business News Review – 1 August

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Middle East Business News Review – A look at today’s important financial news and business updates from the Middle East and North Africa

UAE, Australia ink nuclear cooperation agreement

The UAE and Australia have signed a pact to work together on the peaceful use of nuclear energy and lay the groundwork for potential shipments of uranium to the Gulf nation, the country’s official news agency said on Wednesday.

The agreement – signed by UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan and Australian Foreign Minister Bob Carr, who is currently on a visit to the UAE – provides a framework for cooperation and will ease the “commercial exchange of nuclear materials and equipment,” the UAE’s state news agency WAM reported.

Australia is a major producer of uranium. The agreement stopped short of setting specific terms for imports. Sheikh Abdullah said the UAE was not considering projects for enrichment and for nuclear waste treatment for now.

Saudi, UAE may cut crude prices for Asia amid weak demand

Top world oil exporter Saudi Arabia will probably cut prices for most grades of crude oil sold to Asia in September, after two months of increases, due to weak demand, a Reuters poll showed on Wednesday.

The producer could cut the September official selling prices (OSPs) for Arab Medium and Heavy by up to $1 a barrel from the previous month, and the OSP for Arab Light and Arab Extra Light by 60 cents a barrel, a Reuters report said basing data on the median of estimates by six traders and refiners.

Abu Dhabi National Oil Co (ADNOC) is expected also to cut its OSP by about 10 cents a barrel while the OSP for Qatar Marine may be lowered by 60 cents a barrel, traders said.

GCC states lead in UN’s e-Readiness survey

Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) has successfully placed itself among Asia’s top 5 spenders on digital literacy, according to the latest UN eGovernment Readiness Survey.

In addition to its betterment in digital literacy, the report has also highlighted other significant achievements of the GCC countries. The UN readiness survey is carried out every two years to assess how countries in the world are moving towards achieving true eGovernment status. This year, apart from the GCC countries, many other countries have made it to the top list, adopting ICT across public sector in order to deliver efficient and transparent government to public.

Gulf countries, according to the survey, shine well in offering improved integrated systems that link well institutions and departments with general public.

Oil-rich Iraq struggles with funding shortfall despite record exports

Iraq lies in ‘critical’ ninth place on the latest Failed State Index – unchanged from 2011 – with key measures such as poverty and economic decline up, a Financial Times report said on Wednesday.

Quoting a paper issued by an Iraqi think tank, the FT report said the situation has become grave in the interim.

“The economy in shambles; save oil there is hardly an economy. Worst still, is the pursuance of the same age-old objective: enhancement of command and, by extension, distributive economy. With no strategy to rehabilitate the market economy, the prospects of reducing unemployment (now at 19% nationwide), and alleviating poverty (23% of Iraqis live below international poverty standards), let alone restoring much needed basic services (electricity, housing), seems bleak,” Iraq Institute for Strategic Studies said in its study.

Drought, low consumption growth take toll on Morocco economy

Morocco’s economy suffered a loss of around $90 billion due to drought and downfall in consumption growth, official data suggested on Wednesday. The North African nation’s economic growth also slowed down to 2.6% in the second quarter of this year from 2.8% the previous quarter, the report added.

GDP growth in the second quarter of 2011 stood at over 4%, charts showed in a statement issued by HCP, the country’s planning authority.

The authority said agricultural output fell 9.8% compared to a year earlier. It also noted a decline in the growth pattern of domestic consumption, a key engine of growth in this country, with cement sales falling an annual 1.7% in the second quarter while they were up 21.4% in the first quarter.

Emirates sees Qantas deal within six months

Emirates Airline’s planned alliance with Australia’s struggling Qantas Airways does not include a revenue-sharing agreement, the chairman of the Dubai-based carrier said on Wednesday.

“The objective is to eventually see Qantas fly through Dubai,” Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed al-Maktoum told reporters, saying talks centered on a code-share arrangement, where airlines share some flights.

“The deal is likely within six months,” he said. “We are not discussing revenue sharing.”

UAE is largest Arab capital exporter

The UAE has pumped more than $57 billion into foreign markets to emerge as the largest capital exporter in the Arab region, far surpassing the world’s dominant oil power Saudi Arabia, according to UN data.

The funds accounted for nearly 33 per cent of West Asia’s total foreign direct investment (FDI) outflow of nearly $173 billion, showed the figures by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD).

The UAE, the second largest Arab economy, also emerged as the second recipient of FDI in the region after Saudi Arabia, attracting nearly $85.4 billion.

Saudi Arabia starts to enforce smoking ban

Saudi Arabia said on Wednesday it will begin to enforce a royal decree to ban smoking in public places across the Gulf kingdom.

Interior Minister Prince Ahmed bin Abdulaziz announced that the ban will be effective immediately.

Under the official order, smoking, including shisha, is banned in all government facilities and most commercial areas, including restaurants, supermarkets, and shopping malls.

Kuwait to get nine new oil tankers in 2014/15 – paper

Kuwait Oil Tanker Company (KOTC) expects to receive a total of nine new tankers from South Korean companies in 2014/2015 as part of its announced US$1.75bn fleet expansion, the company’s chairman told a newspaper.

KOTC will get five crude tankers from Daewoo Shipbuilding & Marine Engineering and four more for petroleum products from Hyundai Mipo Dockyard chairman Bader al-Khashti told Kuwaiti daily al-Rai in an interview published on Wednesday.

This will be the third phase of its tanker expansion.

Suez Canal revenues surge by 3.6%

Revenue from Egypt’s Suez Canal rose 3.6 per cent in the financial year 2011/2012, ended 30 June, from a year earlier to $5.2 billion, the Suez Canal Authority said.

The waterway is a vital source of foreign currency in Egypt, along with tourism, oil and gas exports and remittances from Egyptians living abroad.

The Suez Canal Authority raised toll fees for all vessels passing through the strategic waterway by three per cent from March this year.

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