Middle East Business News Review – 24 October

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

UAE top Middle East country in terms of starting business

The UAE has been ranked as the top Arab country and 22nd globally in terms of starting a business, compared to 46 in 2012, a report said on Wednesday.

According to the Doing Business Report, moving higher up in the rankings is the sign of a successful outcome of the exemplary procedures being put in place by the UAE to facilitate doing business and enhance competitiveness. The findings noted that the World Bank has also adopted business registration and licensing procedures in Dubai as the standard for the ease of starting a business in the UAE and the Department of Economic Development in Dubai (DED) applies best practices to build on those procedures.

The report relies on 10 key indicators including the ease of starting a business. Business start-up in Dubai has witnessed steady growth during the past two years due to the various landmark initiatives progressively being launched by DED.

New Abu Dhabi debt policy aims to cut risks

An official document clarifying ultimate responsibility for new debt issuance by Abu Dhabi’s government-related entities aims to eliminate any risk of a Dubai-style debt crisis in the emirate.

The document introduces centralised mechanisms to manage debt and restraints on borrowing by quasi-sovereign bodies. But it does not change the level of state support available to Abu Dhabi’s key development vehicles, bankers and analysts said.

The document, dated Aug. 7 and delivered to state-owned entities by the Executive Council, which assists the ruler of Abu Dhabi, says the government will only be responsible for debt formally guaranteed by the council or Abu Dhabi law if the borrower is unable to meet its obligations.

Saudi Arabia’s oil revenues to exceed SR 1 trillion mark

Despite the prevailing global economic gloom, the Saudi economy continues on a solid growth path.

While this year expansion is not likely to match that of last year, it is more likely to register one of the highest growth rates among the G20 countries. Four factors have maintained a buoyant growth this year, namely the hydrocarbon sector, (ii) expansionary fiscal policy with a significant positive impact on the non-oil private sector, (iii) solid domestic consumption and (iv) supportive bank lending to the private sector, according to a report by Jadwa Investment.

WFP assistance programme serving 1.5m war-affected Syrians

A senior World Food Program (WFP) official said on Tuesday the agency provided food assistance to 1.5 million people in Syria in September, a massive increase from the original target of 50,000 people in December 2011.

Daly Belgasmi, WFP regional director for the Middle East, Central Asia and Eastern Europe, told a press briefing that although WFP has access to everywhere in the conflict-affected country through local partners, the condition of security and access is worsening and getting “more and more challenging.”

He said the cost for food and commodity is increasing in the whole region and food security situation is worsening. Belgasmi added that the cost and availability of fuel for cooking and heating in Syria might be an issue for winter.

Iran oil exports to China drop due to tanker delays, sanctions

Data emerging on Wednesday showed Iran’s crude oil exports to China dropped around a quarter in September from a year earlier due to delivery delays by Iranian tankers because of Western sanctions and a cut in condensate imports.

According to data from the General Administration of Customs, China, which is Iran’s top oil customer, bought 1.57 million tonnes of Iranian crude in September, equivalent to about 382,400 barrels per day (bpd), up 3% from 371,000 bpd in August. China imported 504,000 bpd of Iranian crude in September 2011.

Analysts believe disagreement between China and Iran over contract terms dented imports for the first nine months, totalling just 420,800 bpd, 22% below year-earlier levels.

World’s largest English proficiency index reveals Arab countries among lowest

EF Education First’s English Proficiency Index revealed on Wednesday that wide gaps exist in English skills across the world with women faring better at English than men.

The EF English Proficiency Index (EF EPI), the world’s most in-depth ranking of English ability, said that Swedes are the best English speakers of all based on a survey of 1.7 million adults in 54 countries and territories in five continents.

The survey also disclosed the widening gap between men and women in the Middle East and North Africa, where female scores are considerably higher. This highlights the fact that English could prove key to greater opportunities for women in developing nations.

Gas producer Egypt turns to Algeria, Qatar for more

Egypt, a gas producer and exporter, has agreed to import Algerian gas and is in talks with Qatar for a similar deal, the prime minister said on Wednesday, a move that may help Egypt meet its own export contracts while domestic demand rises.

Egypt has two liquefied natural gas (LNG) plants and a pipeline to export gas, but energy industry sources say the government has been diverting some gas contracted for export to the domestic market, which suffered fuel shortages and electricity cuts in the summer.

Egypt’s Mobinil losses widen to $15.4m

Egyptian Co. for Mobile Services (EMOB.CI) said Wednesday its loss in the first nine months of the year widened to 94 million Egyptian pounds ($15.4 million), from EGP76.04 million a year earlier.

Nine-month losses per share were EGP0.94, up from EGP0.77 in the same period of 2011, Mobinil said in a statement posted on the Egyptian Exchange website. Nine-month total revenue however inched up 1.2% on year to EGP7.74 billion.

Mobinil , in which France Telecom is a major shareholder, swung to a loss of EGP47 million in the third quarter from a net profit of EGP9.72 million a year earlier, according to Zawya Dow Jones calculations.

$450m Turkish bid to build power plant in Sinai

The Egyptian industry ministry’s Industrial Development Authority (IDA) has received a USD 450 million bid from a Turkish investor to establish a power plant in Jabal Al Mahghara, Northern Sinai, using as feedstock coal extracted from the mountains, a top IDA executive told Zawya.

The plant will have a capacity to produce 200 MW, which will go toward resolving the power shortage in the area, said IDA chief executive Ismail Al-Nagdi.

Egypt produces 23,000 MW of electricity annually, while the demand exceeds 25,000 MW. This forces the National Grid to effect an alternating blackout across different Egyptian governorates.

Algeria earmarks $400m for tourism projects in the south

The Algerian government has designated $400 million to build two tourism villages and revamp 10 public hotels before the end of 2013, an official told Zawya.

“The government has allocated USD 240 million to renovate hotels and another USD 80 million for building a tourism village in Oued Souf and another USD 80 million for building a tourism city in Biskara Province, South Algeria,” said Mohamed Chawey, a marketing manager at an affiliate company of the Algerian tourism ministry.

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