Middle East Business News Review – 14 November

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Today’s top business and economy news from the Middle East and North Africa:

UAE invests $200 million in Azerbaijan projects

The UAE Deputy Economy Minister Mohammed Ahmed Bin Abdul Aziz Al Shihhi said during a joint business forum in Baku on Wednesday his country’s investments in Azerbaijan’s economy exceeded $200 million.

“There is great potential for development of cooperation between the two countries, and trade turnover between the UAE and Azerbaijan, which increased by 24%, does not meet the existing potential,” Al Shihhi said.

Azerbaijan’s Economic Development Minister Shahin Mustafayev commended the UAE’s investment in the country and said non-oil sector, tourism, agriculture, and industry as priority areas of cooperation. According to the Azerbaijani statistics, trade turnover between the two countries increased by 57% compared to last year.

Qatar, Total ink new deal on offshore oil field

Qatar said on Wednesday that it has signed another 25-year agreement with France’s Total to oversee a major offshore oil field.

Dr Mohammed bin Saleh Al Sada, Qatar’s Minister of Energy and Industry and chairman and managing director of Qatar Petroleum, and Yves-Louis Darricarrère, Total’s president, Upstream, signed the deal for the Al Khalij field.

Located about 130km east off the Qatari coast, Al Khalij field was discovered by Total in 1991 and commenced production in 1997. An Exploration and Production Sharing Agreement (EPSA), which was signed in 1989, is due to expire in early 2014.

Kuwait signs deal for $2.6bn bridge project

A Kuwaiti company has signed a contract with South Korea’s Hyundai Engineering & Construction Co. to design, build and maintain a major bridge in the Gulf state, a stock exchange filing said on Wednesday.

Kuwait’s Combined Group Contracting Co will own a 21.5 percent stake in the Sheikh Jaber al-Ahmad al-Sabah project, it said.

The statement did not give the value of the contract, but state news agency KUNA reported earlier that the bridge project as a whole was worth KD738m ($2.6bn) and would take five years to complete. The bridge will be built over Kuwait Bay and connect Shuwaikh port with Subiyah, an area in the northern oil-producing part of the OPEC state. It will help reduce congestion around the port, KUNA said.

Gulf states among world’s most armed – study

Three of the six Gulf states have topped the world’s top ten most militarised nations, according to the latest Global Militarisation Index by the Bonn International Centre for Conversion (BICC).

The Middle East is the most militarised region in the world with all of its countries ranked among the top 40, according to the index. Kuwait is considered the most militarised in the GCC in seventh position globally followed by Bahrain (9th) and Saudi Arabia (10th).

Israel topped the global index ahead of Singapore, Russia, Syria and Jordan. Bahrain, which last year was forced to bring in troops from Saudi Arabia and the UAE to shore up security amid a wave of anti-government protests, made its first entry into the top ten.

Lack of spectrum holds up Iraq’s 3G expansion

Iraqi telecommunications operators have warned that government plans to charge for the extra spectrum which they need to launch long-awaited 3G services could slow Internet adoption and economic growth.

The uncertainty over the spectrum illustrates the difficulties of doing business in Iraq, where rivalries between officials and agencies in the fractious government can complicate regulatory issues that in other countries would be considered relatively simple, technical matters.

Iran says Turkmen gas supplies cut in row over terms

Supplies of gas from Turkmenistan to Iran have been halted due to a dispute over purchasing terms, Iranian Oil Minister Rostam Qasemi said on Wednesday, while a Turkmen government official denied flows had been stopped.

Iran, which supplies gas to Turkey, relies on gas from Turkmenistan to supply the cold north eastern region winter. Qasemi called on oil products distribution companies in the region to help ensure alternative fuel supplies over winter.

WFP providing assistance to more than 300,000 Syrian families amid security challenges

World Food Program (WFP) said it is distributing food assistance to more than 300,000 affected Syrian families each month amid some security and funding challenges.

“We started with a small project in Syria about 18 to 19 months ago and now on monthly bases the World Food Program in Syria provides food assistance to … approximately 300,000 families,” Muhannad Hadi, country director of WFP branch in Syria, said in a recent interview with Chinese state news agency Xinhua.

Hadi said WFP activities in Syria are facing direct challenges due to the security situation as fighting between the military and rebels escalate in several cities and towns across the country. The UN food program is operating in Syria’s 14 governates.

Jordan lifts fuel subsidies, sparks protests

Jordan lifted fuel subsidies on Tuesday, aiming to reduce the budget deficit and secure a US$2bn IMF loan, but sparking public protests as gasoline and other prices soared.

More than 1,000 people hit the streets in the capital Amman and small protests erupted in several provincial towns after Islamist and tribal opposition groups said they would demonstrate. Authorities increased security measures across the country.

EU grants Egypt aid worth $6.3bn despite anti-austerity protests in Europe

The European Union announced on Wednesday it has approved a €5 billion ($6.3 billion) ‘support package’ to Egypt over a two year period to be disbursed through the European Investment Bank (EIB) and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), each providing €2 billion ($2.54 billion).

Egypt will receive the remaining €1 billion ($1.27bn) from various European countries.

The announcement was made after a meeting between Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi and Catherine Ashton, the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy took place on Wednesday morning.

Tunisia central bank takes bold step with loan crackdown

Tunisia’s central bank has clamped down on a consumer loan boom – a step that may be prudent economically but risks angering many Tunisians struggling with unemployment and poverty, and could have political implications.

Since last month the central bank has required commercial banks to hold back reserves equal to the amount of new consumer credit they provide – effectively making it more expensive for the banks to extend such loans.

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