Today’s top business and economy news from the Middle East and North Africa:
Dubai has once again emerged as one of the most popular holiday destinations on the planet as new figures suggesting that tourists continued to flock to the emirate in September.
According to Dubai Airports statistics, passenger traffic rose by 12.8% during the month of September compared to the same period in 2011. The city’s year-to-date visitor numbers posted an impressive 42.5 million passengers landing at the airport.
Dubai attracts a large number of both business travellers and holidaymakers, thanks to several high-profile international conferences and exhibitions that are held in the city throughout the year.
Abu Dhabi Ports Company (ADPC) said on Wednesday it has seen a 16 percent increase in vessel movement at its ports during the first nine months of 2012.
The number rose from 19,434 between January and September last year to 22,477 in the same period in 2012.
The largest increase was for roll-on-roll-off (RORO) traffic, vehicles driven on and off ships either as trucks carrying goods or vehicles being imported for sale within the UAE. Traffic in this area increased by 41 percent over the last year, ADPC said in a statement.
Abu Dhabi’s Advanced Technology Investment Co (ATIC) expects to earn its first profit by 2015 as it scales up operations overseas, but plans to set up a chip manufacturing facility at home remain on hold, its chief executive said on Wednesday.
ATIC, owned by Abu Dhabi’s official investment fund Mubadala and founded in 2008, is part of the emirate’s drive to diversify its economy away from oil into technology sectors such as semiconductors.
An Afghan minister announced on Tuesday Saudi Arabia will build a major Islamic centre in Afghanistan which will include a university and a mosque.
AFP quoted Dayi-Ul Haq Abed, the acting Hajj and religious affairs minister, as saying that the ”grand and unique” project, named after Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz, will cost up to $100 million, and will be located at the centre on a hilltop in central Kabul. Up to 5,000 students will live in the seminary accommodation.
The pilgrimage season is the backbone of the commercial and industrial sector in Makkah generating 70 percent of its total annual revenue.
Talal Mirza, chairman of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry in Makkah, said the pilgrimage season contributes to increased financial activity in the holy city, in the areas of real estate, industry, trade, and the hospitality industry.
Mirza said this season is particularly important to the inhabitants of Makkah who rely heavily on it, even though there has been a remarkable increase in sales in recent Umrah holidays.
Governments of the Gulf Arab states are working on plans to establish a long-distance rail transport in the region and extend it across the Arabian Peninsula, a report published by Reuters said on Wednesday.
According to official figures, around $100 billion may be spent by 2020 on laying over 6,000 kilometres of track for both inter-city and a national line that will link all the states in the Gulf Cooperation Council: Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Qatar, Oman and Bahrain.
The project faces technical difficulties of a colossal scale, such as making six national rail systems compatible and building on the shifting sands of remote deserts.
Japan’s crude oil imports from Iran in September dropped more than a third from a year earlier amid deepening Western sanctions, data released by the trade ministry showed on Wednesday.
Tehran is under intense financial pressure from US and the EU which accuse the Islamic Republic of working on developing ‘weapons of mass destruction’.
Japan, the world’s third-biggest oil consumer, imported 891,300 kilolitres (186,870 barrels per day) of Iranian crude last month, compared with 1,395,238 kl a year earlier and 497,961 kl in the previous month.
EU sanctions on Iran’s natural gas have unintentionally also brought its exports of liquefied petroleum gas to a near halt, industry sources say, starving Tehran of yet more dollar revenue and threatening to push European winter fuel bills yet higher.
LPG, which comprises propane and butane, comes mainly from oil rather than natural gas, but shippers and insurers are steering clear of Iranian supplies due to uncertainty over the scope of the new European Union sanctions.
The Egyptian pound inched to its weakest in almost eight years on Wednesday as the government resumed negotiations for a $4.8 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund.
Traders said that by letting the pound slip, the government seemed to be signalling to the IMF it is prepared to be flexible over the value of the currency, which many analysts say is substantially overvalued against the dollar.
The mood among Middle East retailers and local franchisees has been “overwhelmingly positive” in 2012, according to a new report by CB Richard Ellis.
CBRE said most retailers in the region have reported increased sales turnover and the outlook for consumer demand appears to be “highly promising”. The report also said tourist numbers are also up across the region, with a particular buzz around the UAE.
CBRE’s view backs up similar comments made by rating agency Fitch earlier this week in which it said Dubai’s prime retail and hospitality sectors have performed well this year and are well placed for 2013.