Middle East Business News Review – 29 August

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Photo – Vahid Salemi/AP

Qatar global GDP share to almost double by 2030

Qatar’s economic diversification aided by hydrocarbon revenue will help increase its share of global GDP at market exchange rates to 0.4% in 2030, almost double the 2010 level, the Economist Intelligence Unit said in a country report.

The report added that the country’s population will hit around 4.3m in 2030, largely through immigration. The country’s population stood at 1.71mn in July, Statistics Authority data show.

Government expenditure will continue to rise, the report said with projects related to the 2022 football World Cup beginning during the forecast period (2012-16). However, increased hydrocarbons production will ensure that the fiscal account remains in surplus.

Saudi Aramco admits “Shamoon” malware attack, says services restored

Saudi Aramco claimed on Wednesday it had put its network back online on Saturday, 10 days after a malware attack knocked off 30,000 workstations at the oil giant.

In a statement, Saudi Arabia’s national oil firm said that it had “restored all its main internal network services” hit by a malware outbreak that struck on 15 August. The firm also added that its core business of oil production and exploration was not affected by the attack, which resulted in a decision to suspend Saudi Aramco’s website for a period of a few days, presumably as a precaution. Corporate remote access services were also suspended as a result of the attack.

Saudi Aramco vowed to improve the security of its network to guard against fresh assaults. Oil and production systems were run off isolated network systems unaffected by the attack, which the firm has pledged to investigate.

Saudi Arabia, Egypt to proceed with Red Sea bridge project

Egyptian Transportation Minister Mohammed Rashad announced on Wednesday Saudi Arabia and Egypt are going ahead with plans to build a causeway that will link the two countries at an estimated cost of $3 billion.

A technical committee will meet in late September to discuss the causeway, the pan-Arab Al Hayat daily said. Political differences between both the Arab countries were the project’s major obstacle in the past. Observers believe the recent visit to Riyadh by Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi and discussions with Saudi King Abdullah over the Red Sea link helped ease the concerns.

Meanwhile, environmentalists have raised an alarm over the plans for the 32km bridge linking Egypt and Saudi Arabia, claiming it will destroy Red Sea coral reefs and endanger wildlife in a national park.

Hundreds of websites in Jordan observe blackout over SOPA-style govt internet bill

Jordan, tipped as the would-be “Silicon Valley of the Middle East”, on Wednesday witnessed a SOPA-inspired media blackout to protest a piece of legislation activists say could threaten that freedom in the future.

Reports said hundreds of sites have gone dark in support of #BlackoutJo — a protest against a draft bill to amend the Press and Publications Law. If approved, critics believe it could restrict Internet freedom in the country by blocking international sites, and allowing the government to moderate and potentially restrict online commenting and social media in the country.

Yemen says Saudi Arabia to deposit $2 billion in its central bank

Minister of Planning International Cooperation Mohammad Al Saadi said on Wednesday the Saudi Development Fund is to deposit $2 billion in Yemen’s Central Bank.

In a press conference held in Sana’a on Wednesday, Al Saadi confirmed that Yemen and the Saudi Development Fund will sign an agreement of depositing the money in the Central Bank of Yemen.

Al Saadi spelt out that the deposit is designed to support Yemen’s national currency and beef up the government’s efforts to develop the state economy. He added that Yemen is also persuading other states to take similar measures and help the country’s ailing economy.

Nakheel repays $57m as part of debt deal

Dubai developer Nakheel said on Wednesday it has repaid AED211m ($57.4m) to lenders as part of its debt restructuring programme. “The payments were due at the end of August 2012 in accordance with the restructuring commitments,” the company said in a statement.

It added: “The timely discharge of the committed payments signals the successful execution of the restructured operations by Nakheel and cements the company’s commitments towards successfully implementing the agreed operating plan following the completion of one of the largest and most complex restructuring in the Middle East in August 2011.”

The indebted state-owned developer said last month that its first-half profits jumped 36 percent, buoyed by property handovers on several projects.

UAE hotels ranked among best in world

A selection of hotels in the UAE have been ranked among the most luxurious in the world as part of a new report.

Travel booking site Expedia’s Insiders Select List, which ranks the 650 best hotels for 2012, included 13 UAE properties. The list is generated based on 500,000 verified reviews posted on the website in 2011 about the 150,000 properties which it lists.

The UAE was the only country in the Middle East to have any hotels included – 11 of these being in Dubai, and the other two in Abu Dhabi.

Syrian inflation hit 36.1% in June as revolt goes on

Syria’s rate of inflation rose to 36.1% in June compared with the same month a year ago, as the cost of housing, water, electricity, gas and transport increased, the government’s Central Bureau of Statistics reported. Consumer prices increased 2.9% from the month before, the government agency said.

Housing, water, electricity and gas increased 31.54 percent, while transportation increased 19.76%. The price of meat fell 5%, fruits declined 27.5%, while the cost of vegetables dropped 47.4%.

Algeria signs new trade deal with EU

A trade accord signed by Algeria and the EU that delays the lifting of tariff barriers will allow Algiers to avoid an $8.5 billion loss in customs duties, the commerce minister said Tuesday.

Algeria announced last week that its trade agreement with the European bloc, due to come into force on September 1, will delay the lifting of tariff barriers on industrial products that the North African imports from 2017 to 2020. It also envisages a readjustment to preferential quotas for the EU on agricultural products.

The EU is Algeria’s largest trading partner, accounting for 57 percent of its international trade, with average annual imports of European products of around $20 billion (16 billion euros), Benbada said. Energy-rich Algeria is the EU’s third biggest supplier of natural gas.

Analysts raise oil price forecasts for 2012, 2013

Analysts have raised their oil price forecasts for this year and 2013 due to supply concerns and to expectations for a further round of monetary policy stimulus, which could improve prospects for economic growth, a Reuters poll found.

The Reuters monthly oil poll, based on forecasts from 28 analysts, forecast Brent at an average of $109.50 a barrel in 2012, up $1.20 from the figure in the July poll.

Brent has averaged about $112 per barrel so far this year, up from $111 in 2011.

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