PDO to Develop New Geological Park in Oman

Oman's Ministry of Tourism has joined hands with Petroleum Development Oman (PDO) to set up a geological park in the Al Wusta governorate of the sultanate, given its natural biodiversity and geological diversity, said a report.

The agreement comes as part of the ministry's sustainable tourism development activities in Al-Huqf Nature reserve, reported Oman Observer.

The upcoming Neoglacial Park will include a number of geological activities, such as geological education tracks, and activities related to cultural, ocial and environmental heritage, stated the report.

This initiative aims to attract over 200,00 visitors and create 190 jobs for Omanis, it added.


DHL, Magento Partner to Help Online Merchants in MENA

Deutsche Post DHL Group, the world’s leading logistics company, announced its collaboration with Magento, the worldwide leader in cloud digital commerce innovation, as Premier Partner for Shipping. The partnership enables DHL and Magento to offer a broad range of shipping services to e-commerce merchants, small and medium enterprises (SMEs), start-ups and online entrepreneurs in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region.

A study by Gartner reports that only 15% of businesses in region have an online presence and 90% of online shopping involves product imports from outside the region.

The study findings illustrate the immense growth potential for e-commerce merchants and online retailers in the region. The study further identifies reliable delivery system as one of the key areas e-commerce players should focus on to drive business growth in MENA.

With the shift in trend towards consumer markets and growing use of e-commerce channels by SMEs in the MENA region, we see a tremendous potential in our partnership with Magento. We look forward to providing online merchants on Magento platform with reliable and flexible shipping options to help them deliver exceptional customer experiences,” said Nour Suliman, CEO, DHL Express Middle East and North Africa.

“Magento connects merchants and shoppers. DHL connects shoppers with their goods,” said John Pearson, CEO Europe and Global Head of Commercial, DHL Express. “Our collaboration will provide Magento merchants with industry-leading international shipping and value-added shipping features from DHL that easily and flexibly connect shoppers with their goods.”

Accepting the Magento partnership emphasizes again Deutsche Post DHL Group's intention to be the leading global provider in e-commerce logistics. The Group's divisions together comprise the most international company in the world, present in 220 countries and territories, allowing online merchants to leverage the Group's unsurpassed global reach to execute their e-commerce strategy.

Online retailers connected with the Magento platform will be able to select from a range of DHL shipping services, with the partnership expected to expand over time to include an increasing portfolio of parcel, express, freight and other logistics services provided by the different DHL divisions.

“Commerce is no longer just about the “buy button” and our merchants are looking to meet their customers when and wherever they want to engage, buy, and receive their purchases,” said Mark Lenhard, Senior Vice President of Strategy and Growth at Magento Commerce. “By partnering with DHL, our joint merchants will be able to offer improved customer experiences and grow their business by providing their customers with the fast, convenient shipping options they expect.”

As a Premier Partner, DHL will connect with merchants through strategic placement on Magento properties and the core product merchant administration panel. In addition, DHL will have the opportunity to educate merchants on shipping integration best practices and how to increase cross-border shipping via the Magento Community online, webinars, thought leadership pieces, events including Imagine and MagentoLive, and in one-to-one meetings. DHL will also have early access to Magento product roadmaps so as to improve integrations and the merchant experience.

“We’re particularly excited about the potential of Magento Shipping, and will integrate our most advanced shipping solutions there,” said John Pearson. “Deutsche Post DHL Group has a history of working with leading technology partners like Magento. We will maintain our global leadership position only by innovating and adopting new technologies. Magento is at the leading edge of e-commerce technology, and DHL is the global logistics leader. Our association is sure to benefit both organizations – most importantly our e-commerce customers.”

Magento’s Premier designation recognizes global leaders and brings close collaboration in key categories of interest to e-commerce merchants to deliver exceptional, end-to-end customer experiences.


ME Staff Productivity to Take Hit during World Cup 2018

Employers across the Middle East are set to witness a major productivity drop during June and July this year as a result of the 2018 football World Cup, according to a survey by online recruitment firm GulfTalent.

The tournament, due to be played in Russia from 14 June to 15 July, will run each day between 2pm to 1am UAE time (1pm to 12 midnight in Saudi Arabia).

Interest across the Arab world in this year’s FIFA World Cup is running high, as teams from an unprecedented four Arab countries have qualified for the international competition. The participation of Saudi Arabia and Egypt, including its star striker Mohamed Salah, has particularly heightened Arab interest in the games. The presence of large numbers of expatriates in the region, many from countries represented in the tournament, is further ramping up excitement.

The heightened euphoria around the games this year, combined with the fact that many matches will be played during Middle East working hours and can be watched by live streaming on smartphones, is set to make the impact on productivity particularly severe this year.

Based on GulfTalent’s survey findings, 92% of employees in the region plan to watch at least some of the games. On a gender basis, the percentage is slightly lower among women at 84%, as compared with 93% of men.

Of the employees surveyed across the region 28%, or more than one in four, admitted planning to watch some of the games during working hours. Of these, roughly one third expected that they would be given permission to watch the games, while a quarter said they would secretly watch the games by live streaming them on their computers or smartphones.

Other strategies employees reported they would use to watch the games during working hours, include requesting a full day of annual leave, leaving work early to watch the games, or simply calling in sick.

When comparing across different job categories, Accountants were found more likely than others to secretly watch the games at their desk. Customer Service professionals in comparison were more likely than others to take a day of annual leave, while Civil Engineers were more likely to leave work early to watch the games.

A further source of productivity loss identified in GulfTalent’s survey is late night game watching and after hours socializing. Almost two-thirds of professionals surveyed said they will watch the late matches even if it meant sleeping late. When asked how this would impact their work the next day, 74% of them said they will simply cut down on their sleep in order to get to work on time. A further 17% would go to work late, while 8% would take the next day off as annual leave, and 1% would call in sick.

Management Perspective

Interest in the games is not limited to junior employees. The survey found that many managers also intended to watch the games during working hours. Within this segment, senior executives and company directors registered the highest rate, with 32% of them planning to watch the games during working hours, as compared to an overall staff average of 28%.

Unlike the non-managerial staff who mostly resort to streaming on their phones, a sizeable number of senior executives plan to watch the games on company TV screens.

The survey also asked managers how much flexibility they would allow their subordinates to watch the games. Overall, 67% of managers said they would consider allowing their staff to watch some of the games, provided the workload was not too heavy.

The survey found that managers who were themselves inclined to watch the games were more likely to give flexibility to their employees to watch them. Moreover, they were more willing to give their subordinates time off on days when their own personal favorite teams were playing.

International Comparison

The threat to productivity is not confined to the Middle East. During the last World Cup, a survey involving 100 UK business leaders by telecoms and IT services provider Coms plc, estimated that the World Cup could result in a loss to British business of 250 million working hours. A separate survey by employment law specialists ELAS put the potential cost of the 2014 World Cup to Britain’s employers at £4bn in lost productivity.

According to GulfTalent, given the nature of this year’s World Cup, the potential productivity loss is particularly high and Middle East employers with poor or inadequate guidelines are likely to suffer a disproportionate amount of absenteeism and staff distraction.

However, only 16% of managers surveyed said their companies had a specific employee policy for the World Cup. Where policies had been setup and communicated, some consisted mainly of punitive measures such as stricter time and attendance monitoring, official warnings, potential salary deductions, and making up hours missed.

Others reported more accommodating policies, such as giving employees time off if targets had been achieved, an ‘allowance’ of up to 3 early departures or late arrivals, giving permission to watch the games whenever the employee’s national team was playing, or even providing for collective game watching on company TV screens as a team building initiative.

Survey Methodology

GulfTalent’s research was based on an online survey of 8,000 professionals based across ten countries in the Middle East and employed in different industries. Full details can be found on the company’s website: www.gulftalent.com.


Bahraini Investcorp Honored at EMEA Finance Event

Bahrain-based Investcorp, a leading global provider and manager of alternative investments, said it has won awards in four categories at the EMEA Finance Achievement Awards ceremony held in London, UK.

The recognition highlights the firm’s continued ability to deliver strong returns across a growing product portfolio to its global investor base, said a statement from the company.

Investcorp has won awards in the following categories: Best private equity house in EMEA; Best private equity investment in EMEA: Investcorp buys 3i Debt Management; Best private equity exit in EMEA: Investcorp sells Esmalglass; and Best private equity fund raising in the Middle East: Investcorp's fourth Technology Fund.

The awards, which recognise stand-out dealmakers and notable transactions in the region, are nominated by Investcorp’s peers and other active participants in the Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA) capital markets, it stated.

Mohammed Al Shroogi, co-chief executive officer, Investcorp, said: “These accolades reflect the consistent hard work of our EMEA team and the effort, skill and dedication of all our staff.”

“Whilst serving our clients is at the forefront of our business, it is fantastic to be recognized in this way as a leading player by other industry participants,” he stated.

Rishi Kapoor, co-chief executive officer, Investcorp, said: “Receiving these four awards is a great achievement for the firm and demonstrates our ability to deliver on key strategic international growth initiatives whilst producing robust results for our investors.”

“The past year was transformative for the firm and a year in which we continued to diversify our offering both geographically and product-wise. We are very proud of our people and look forward to many successes ahead in the coming years,” he added.


Saudi Aramco Eyes Partnerships Along With Petchem Refining Expansion

Saudi Aramco plans to boost investments in refining and petrochemicals to secure new markets for its crude, and sees growth in chemicals as central to its downstream strategy to lessen the risk of a slowdown in oil demand.

Aramco, the world's biggest oil producer, is expanding its footprint globally by signing downstream deals and boosting the capacity of its plants, ahead of an initial public offering next year - the largest IPO in history. The state oil giant is moving ahead with multi-billion-dollar projects in China, India and Malaysia and aims to finalize new partnerships this year, Abdulaziz al-Judaimi, Aramco's senior vice president for downstream, told Reuters.

Aramco plans to raise its refining capacity to between 8 million and 10 million barrels per day, from some 5 million bpd now, and double its petrochemicals production by 2030, he added. Aramco pumps around 10 million bpd of crude oil.

"Our strategy is very simple. We want to be at 8 to 10 million barrels per day of participated (refining) capacity ... (and) we are going forward by trying to be a top leader in chemicals by 2040," Judaimi said. "The market that we want to grow in ... has to be growing, a strong market, with good demand and of course these assets have to be integrated to the whole value chain of the downstream," he said in an interview at Aramco's headquarters in Dhahran.

To help it reach these targets, Aramco has entered a 50% joint venture with three Indian refiners to build a US$44 billion, 1.2-million-bpd refinery integrated with petrochemical facilities on India’s west coast. Aramco has said it may introduce a strategic partner to share its 50% stake in the Indian refining venture. Judaimi said Aramco was working with Abu Dhabi National Oil Co (ADNOC) towards securing a partnership. It would be the first time for the two national oil companies to join hands in an international venture.

"We are now finalizing the MOU (with ADNOC) that would cover certain commercial principles between us," he said, adding that the memorandum of understanding would be finalized this year. He said front-end engineering for the project could start by early 2019.

Apart from India, Aramco is also taking a 50% stake in Petronas' huge RAPID project in the southern Malaysian state of Johor.

Aramco hopes this will help it dominate supplies in India and Malaysia, two of the world's fastest-growing oil markets after China, and where growth potential is bigger than in other, more developed regions. Aramco is eyeing three separate refining and petrochemical projects in China, Judaimi said. "Asia has to have the lion's share ... We believe markets east of the Suez Canal will continue to grow, including the Middle East as well," Judaimi said, adding that the United States is "another market we want to grow in".

In April, Aramco said it was integrating a petrochemicals business into its subsidiary Motiva, the United States' biggest oil refinery. Aramco is strengthening its refining role in China, one of its biggest customers. It has a refinery joint venture with Sinopec and Exxon Mobil XOM.N and is in talks with CNPC to finalize the purchase of a stake in a 260,000-bpd refinery in Yunnan.

Judaimi said he expects to take a final investment decision on the Yunnan refinery, which is operational, by the end of this year. "We are in the final stage of negotiations. It's like building a house - the last touches take much longer."

Aramco plans to build a 300,000-bpd refinery with China's Norinco. Judaimi said he expects to finish front-end engineering for the Norinco project by mid-2019, following which the company will take its final investment decision.

Judaimi said Aramco had also started negotiations for a third refinery in China. "It’s a smart refinery with higher conversion of liquids into chemicals," he said, declining to give details.


Aramco has been integrating its refining with petrochemicals to help the company expand its market share and refined products portfolio. The company is betting on growing demand for fuel in India and Southeast Asia but also shifting more into petrochemicals in case those consumption forecasts prove too optimistic.

"In the long term, we are thinking of investing more into chemicals," he said. "We know the world needs chemicals ... as populations grow they need more plastic," he added.

One centerpiece of Aramco's push into chemicals is a project it is building at home with Saudi Basic Industries Corp (SABIC), the world's fourth-biggest petrochemicals company. The US$20 billion project with SABIC is to build a complex that converts crude oil into chemicals directly, bypassing the refining stage. Judaimi said Aramco would make a final investment decision by the end of 2019.

"This is a very critical program and we are going to do all we can to make it happen," Judaimi said. "We believe we are the last man standing in terms of energy supply. Our cost position on the upstream side, our reliability, our location and our infrastructure are all competitive advantages to us."


OPEC Cautious on Oil Outlook despite End of Global Glut

OPEC said the oil market outlook in the second half of 2018 is highly uncertain even though the producer group’s figures show a global glut has ended, suggesting talks next week on relaxing a supply cut deal won’t be straightforward.

OPEC, Russia and other non-OPEC producers have been cutting output since January 2017 to get rid of excess supply and boost prices. The deal’s goal was originally to reduce inventories in developed nations to that of the five-year average.

In a report on Tuesday (12 June), the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries said those inventories in April fell to 26 million barrels below the five-year average. That’s down from 340 million barrels above the average in January 2017.

With oil LCOc1 hitting US$80 a barrel this year, the highest since 2014, Saudi Arabia and Russia are discussing raising output. But Iran disagrees and Iraq has voiced restraint, pointing to a tough policy meeting on June 22-23 in Vienna.

OPEC in the report was cautious on the outlook for the rest of 2018, citing a faster-than-expected rise in non-OPEC oil production and the chances of global demand weakening.

“Recent developments in the oil market have led to pronounced uncertainty about the second half of the year,” OPEC said in the report.

“While oil demand in the U.S., China and India shows some upside potential, downside risks might limit this potential going forward.”

Oil LCOc1 pared an earlier decline after the report was released trading just above US$76 a barrel.


While the main goal of the supply deal was to reduce oil stocks to the five-year average, ministers have said other metrics should be considered, also suggesting they are in no hurry to end supply cuts.

The report said OPEC members were still cutting much more than needed, even though output in May rose slightly and top exporter Saudi Arabia is boosting supply.

OPEC output climbed by 35,000 barrels per day to 31.87 million bpd, OPEC said, according to figures it collects from secondary sources. That is almost 900,000 bpd less than the amount OPEC says the world needs from the group this year.

Figures reported directly by OPEC members showed some bigger rises in production. Saudi Arabia told OPEC its output rose to 10.03 million bpd, up 161,000 bpd from April, although this is still below Riyadh’s OPEC target.

Venezuela, whose plunging output due to an economic crisis has helped boost OPEC compliance with the deal, told OPEC production rose by 28,000 bpd to 1.533 million bpd. April’s figure was the lowest in decades.

Strong demand due to a robust economy has helped remove the glut. OPEC left its global demand growth estimate this year unchanged at 1.65 million bpd and said oil use would surpass 100 million bpd for the first time during the fourth quarter.

But the higher prices that have followed the OPEC-led deal have prompted growth in rival supply and a flood of U.S. shale. OPEC expects non-OPEC supply to expand by 1.86 million bpd this year, about 130,000 bpd more than expected last month.

OPEC said there is a “wide forecast range” of 1.7 million bpd in estimates of the amount of crude the group needs to pump in the second half, meaning demand could be significantly more or less than members’ current output.

“This outlook for the second half of 2018 warrants close monitoring of the factors impacting both world oil demand and non-OPEC supply that will shape the outlook of the oil market going forward,” OPEC said.


Saudi WFI Bags Key Intertek Certifications

Saudi-based Al Watania for Industries (WFI), a downstream manufacturing company, said it has won three globally recognized ISO certifications from Intertek, a leading total quality assurance provider to industries worldwide.

The three certifications include, ISO 9001:2015; ISO 14001:2015; and OHSAS 18001:2007, said a statement from the company.

The certifications were awarded to WFI for successfully meeting the international standard requirements for implementing integrated quality, environmental and occupational health and safety management systems across its main office in Riyadh, as well as in its five strategic business units (SBUs) in the kingdom, it said.

An official award ceremony was held at WFI and was attended by the company’s board of directors and leadership team. All certificates, accredited by United Kingdom Accreditation Service (UKAS), were presented by Samir Ahmed, general manager - business assurance for the GCC region at Intertek; to Sheikh Fahad Sulaiman Al Rajhi, WFI’s vice chairman; and Engineer Ibrahim I Behairi, WFI's chief executive officer, it added.

On the achievement, Behairi said: “Intertek’s high level of technical expertise and customer-focused approach ensured that the certification process was achieved in a smooth, efficient way.”

“Our sincere thanks go to the team at Intertek for demonstrating outstanding professionalism and for extending excellent support throughout the exercise,” he stated.

Intertek’s comprehensive range of auditing and certification services ensure that management systems are optimized to facilitate successful growth, lower costs, and add strategic value, he added.

Ahmed said the certification of WFI to the three most coveted international standards was indeed a great milestone for the company, following its implementation of integrated management systems.

“Completing these global management standards reflect the ability of WFI to streamline its processes in a way that will allow it to continually improve and enhance its performance,” he noted.

“The commitment of the top management to successfully implement this system across the company’s business units is also highly commendable. We thank WFI for choosing us as its strategic partner to achieve this excellence,” he added.


Rise in Oman’s May Inflation

Oman’s annual inflation, based on consumer price index, rose 0.78 % in May compared with the same period of the previous year, according to the statistics released by the National Centre for Statistics and Information (NCSI). The increase in May inflation was mainly due to higher prices in segments like education, transportation, and furnishing and household equipment. Price index for education jumped 4.9 % in May on year-on-year basis, while transportation and household equipment categories recorded price increases of 2.7 % and 0.78 %, respectively.

However, food and non-alcoholic beverages category remained steady without any change in price, the NCSI data showed. A marked fall of 9.42 % was witnessed in prices of vegetables, but price of fruits rose 3.32 % at the same time. Prices of fish and seafood increased 1.8 % and non-alcoholic beverages and milk prices rose 1.48 % in May on year-on-year basis. Annual inflation in May was 0.35 % higher compared to the previous month, mainly due to stable prices of several products.


Abu Dhabi to Distribute in Housing Loans

Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces and Chairman of Abu Dhabi Executive Council, has instructed provision of housing loans worth Dh4.27 billion (US$1.16 billion) in total, to 2,500 beneficiaries in the emirate of Abu Dhabi.

The move is consistent with keenness of Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan and His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan to ensure social stability and to provide decent living standards to the citizens, reported Emirates news agency Wam.

This is the first phase of an annual 5,000 housing loan package ordered earlier by Sheikh Mohamed for the citizens in the emirate of Abu Dhabi.

The 2,500 housing loans will be distributed across 1,300 construction loans at a total value of Dh2.414 billion (US$657.1 million), 700 loans for completion of existing houses, valued at Dh1.242 billion (US$338.09 million), as well as 75 loans for demolition and reconstruction, valued at Dh133 million (US$36.2 million), 100 maintenance and expansion loans, worth Dh89.750 million (US$24.4 million) and 325 additional loans, costing over Dh382 million (US$103.9 million).

Sheikh Mohamed also approved allocation of 696 residential plots and 798 government houses at a total value of Dh1.6 billion (US$435.5 million), in addition to 163 loans, worth Dh195.6 million (US$53.2 million), for citizens to buy ready houses in different areas of the Abu Dhabi emirate.

He also sanctioned projects to build government houses in different areas, including 306 in Al Sad, 204 in Suwaihan, and to execute an expansion program with 588 houses in Al Dhafra ranches, at a total value of Dh1.5 billion (US$408.3 million).


Trump, Iran Spar over Oil Prices ahead of OPEC Meet

U.S. President Donald Trump and Iran exchanged sharp words over oil prices on Wednesday, with Trump blaming OPEC for high oil prices and Tehran accusing him of stoking volatility after he withdrew last month from a global nuclear arms deal with Iran.

Trump sparked the latest back-and-forth when he renewed his attack on OPEC in a tweet that said oil prices are too high and that the cartel was “at it again.”

Oil prices have risen around 60% over the last year after the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and some non-OPEC producers, including Russia, started reducing supplies in 2017. The cartel meets June 22-23 in Vienna, and producers are seen as likely to raise production, perhaps before the limits are due to sunset at year-end.

Iran’s OPEC governor, Hossein Kazempour Ardebili, fired back at Trump in a statement to Reuters. “You cannot place sanctions on two OPEC founder members and still blame OPEC for oil price volatility,” he said, referring to his country and Venezuela. “This is business, Mr. President - we thought you knew it.”

The oil supply deal is set to continue through the end of 2018, but plans for its continuation were unclear. The calculus changed after Trump announced in May that Washington was pulling out of the 2015 deal that restricted Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for the removal of sanctions.

The U.S. move has pressured European and Asian clients to stop importing Iranian oil or doing business with the country. Saudi Arabia, Iran’s rival and OPEC’s largest producer, and Russia, the world’s largest producer and a party to the deal, have already increased supply. Saudi Arabia supported Trump’s decision to exit the Iran nuclear agreement.

“I think the Trump tweet makes the Saudis’ job of getting compromise at the OPEC meeting tougher,” said Joe McMonigle, senior energy policy analyst at Hedgeye Potomac Research in Washington.

Saudi production rose to 10.03 million barrels per day (bpd in May, in line with deal quotas, according to OPEC data. Russia’s production was 11.1 million barrels a day in the beginning of June, exceeding its quota, according to sources familiar with the matter.

The price of Brent crude peaked in May at US$80.50 a barrel, then pulled back, trading on Wednesday near US$77 at barrel, partly in anticipation that the deal may end. U.S. crude traded Wednesday near US$67 a barrel.

“Oil prices are too high, OPEC is at it again. Not good!” Trump wrote in his post on Twitter after last raising the issue in April.

The potential for OPEC to boost production has raised concerns about the cartel’s limited spare capacity, which could fall to as low as 2 million bpd. This would make it harder to respond to a supply shock, such as in Venezuela, where output has declined to a 33-year-low due to an economic crisis.

“OPEC has the lowest spare capacity ever right now,” said fund manager Pierre Andurand, in a tweeted response to Trump. “There is going to be a real issue,” he wrote, predicting prices above US$150 per barrel within two years.

In the United States, gasoline pump prices nationwide have risen to near US$3 a gallon during the peak summer travel season, still less than the US$4 a gallon during the 2007-2009 Great Recession. Gasoline demand has remained strong, rising to an estimated 9.9 million bpd as of last week, according to U.S. Energy Department data.

Trump sent his tweet hours after returning to Washington from a summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Singapore.

Separately, a bipartisan group of lawmakers in the U.S. House of Representatives was pushing legislation that would subject OPEC to U.S. antitrust law and fight what the group called artificial production controls.

The measure would have to pass the full House and the U.S. Senate before Trump could sign it into law. Past presidents have not supported similar bills when they have been proposed. - Reuters


Dubai International Financial Center, Saudi Bar Sign Agreement

Dubai International Financial Centre’s (DIFC) Academy of Law and the Saudi Bar Association (SBA) have signed a cooperation agreement to deliver joint legal training programs.

In view of Saudi Vision 2030 to encourage investment in infrastructure and diversified business sectors, the parties will focus on legal system and professional development.

Under the agreement, the SBA Academy and DIFC Academy will provide learning and development activities for legal professionals with various backgrounds, from experienced English language Common Law practitioners to newly qualified lawyers and those currently operating in Arabic speaking civil systems.

Since its inception in 2015, the DIFC Academy of Law has identified the legal needs of multinational corporations and found that broad competencies were required for lawyers to deliver value.

It has devised a strategy for filling gaps in traditional legal education by focusing on cross-training students and lawyers in civil and common law systems, providing international and comparative law perspectives, expanding access to knowledge by offering Arabic and English language courses, and teaching practical skills to help lawyers develop the competencies required to best serve the legal needs of international clients.

David Gallo, director, DIFC Academy of Law, said: ‘’This cross-border collaboration with the Saudi Bar Association demonstrates our shared vision of developing an integrated legal system as a robust platform for national and regional economic development. The Academy of Law looks forward to devising opportunities to help legal professionals in Saudi Arabia operate effectively in an increasingly complex commercial ecosystem.”

Baker Al Haboob, SBA secretary-general, said: “Signing the cooperation letter comes within the ongoing efforts to strengthen the SBA Academy programs that provide the international expertise to deliver professional qualitative training. Such programs contribute to raising the competency of Saudi lawyers and preparing them to work in international legal environments.”

The Academy of Law provides access to valuable legal education opportunities in the Middle East that have global value. Examples include New York and California bar exam preparation; Qualified Lawyers Transfer Scheme (QLTS) preparation to help foreign lawyers qualify as Solicitors in England and Wales; Common Law Practice for Civil Law Lawyers; In-House Corporate Counsel Certification; Legal English; and, Mediation Certification.


Algerian Sonatrach Chief Pushes for Swift Industry Change

Algeria’s oil and gas industry is changing quickly behind the country’s new business chief who looks to make important changes gains in the crucial hydrocarbons sector.

Since his appointment as chief executive officer of state-owned energy group Sonatrach in March 2017, Abdelmoumen Ould Kaddour has struck extensions and contracts with leading firms, including Total and ENI, worth billions of US dollars.

Ould Kaddour said Sonatrach had hired US law firm Curtis, Mallet-Prevost, Colt & Mosle and other American consultancies to help revise the country’s energy law to bring in much-needed investment and new technology.

Algeria, an OPEC member and major gas supplier to Europe, has worked to attract foreign investors but tough legal conditions, high taxes and red tape have been prohibitive. Competing visions of the country’s energy law, as well as the dominant role of Algeria’s old guard that is wary of a US presence, have stalled reforms.

Ould Kaddour, however, says reforms are needed to tap into huge shale reserves.

“The sooner we have an attractive law, the better,” Ould Kaddour said in an interview with Algerian daily Le Quotidien d’Oran. “Foreign firms want to know how much they will get when they will invest.”

Algerian experts said the lack of foreign investment and technology left Sonatrach to invest in its resources alone, with no significant discoveries to bolster reserves.

“Sonatrach had deployed all its resources to expand output capacities in the recent years in the absence of hoped-for foreign investors. This colossal work had led to the depletion of its resources namely since the decline of oil prices in 2014,” said Ali Tatouche, an instructor at the state-run Algerian Energy Institute.

“This is the main argument behind the push by government to change the law on hydrocarbons.”

Algeria is the third-largest oil producer in Africa and the largest natural gas producer in the continent. However, oil and natural gas production has declined in the past decade, pressuring the Algerian government to amend laws to attract foreign investment.

Analysts said Algeria’s leaders were betting on Ould Kaddour, who has links to the American energy industry, to bring in US firms that could help Algeria develop its shale industry and increase output from older fields.

Foreign companies have been reluctant to invest in Algeria’s energy sector because the law mandates Sonatrach maintain a 51% share in any joint venture involving exploration, production, transportation and refining activities, on top of taxes that increase with oil prices and revenues.

“The revised law will bring us foreign investors. Since the last law was enacted (in 2006), no new investor came,” said Ould Kaddour. “The majority stake for Sonatrach of 51% is not the problem for foreign investors. The fundamental aim for them is the fairness in sharing the gains.

“If we want to develop new reserves we need expertise and technology.”

The turn towards the United States is an indication of the industry’s vulnerability, analysts said. They cited Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s warning that, if the United States had a significant footprint in Algeria, it would have invaded the country, as it did Iraq.

“By picking Ould Kaddour in March 2017 as the head of Sonatrach, Algerian leaders underlined their willingness to draw closer to the Americans,” said Algerian analyst Mokrane Ait Ouarabi.

In 2007, Ould Kaddour was sentenced to two years in prison after being convicted of betraying Algerian economic secrets to foreign interests when he worked for an Algerian-US engineering venture owned by Sonatrach and oil services firm Halliburton.

“Like the Americans, Ould Kaddour advocated tapping shale gas despite the opposition of environment defenders,” Ait Ouarabi said. “Algerian leaders seek in their rapprochement the US umbrella for their future political and economic projects.”

Former Sonatrach CEO Abdelmadjid Attar said the share of oil and gas Algeria exports abroad will diminish by 2025, resulting in less revenue unless hydrocarbon reserves are renewed.

“Developing shale gas is no more a choice for Algeria. It is an obligation,” he said.

Sonatrach announced plans to invest at least US$70 billion by 2035 to produce some 20 Bcm of shale gas per year from 200 drill sites. However, demonstrations rocked Algeria’s southern desert town of In Salah in 2015 after Sonatrach said it had completed its first pilot drilling.

Environmentalists argue that the process, known as hydraulic fracturing technology — fracking — can contaminate ground water and cause small earthquakes.

Algiers shelved shale projects out of concerns about the country’s political stability.

Ould Kaddour’s efforts, however, point to a new era of energy in Algeria.

“Algeria has the third largest shale gas reserves in the world. This assessment is made by top professionals in that field,” Ould Kaddour said.

He promised good jobs and training for gas-producing regions. He invited activists in those regions to visit Argentina, Canada and the United States to see that the “shale gas industry is not a poison.”

Lamine Ghanmi is a veteran Reuters journalist. He has covered North Africa for decades and is based in Tunis.


NBI Joins Iraq Britain Business Council

The National Bank of Iraq (NBI) has become the latest member of the Iraq Britain Business Council (IBBC). In a statement, the IBBC said it is delighted to welcome one of Iraq’s preeminent private sector banking organizations to join its growing financial and professional services sector table.

NBI was founded in 1995 as a publicly traded, private sector company offering comprehensive banking services to individuals and businesses. NBI’s paid up capital was increased to IQD 250 Billion (US$215 million) in December 2013.

NBI has been consistently growing in size and capabilities to serve Iraqi citizens with the highest quality financial services. NBI’s strategy revolves around offering a unique value proposition to multinationals and large corporates looking for professional commercial banking services in Iraq, as well as a solid platform for individuals to interact with. As a Jordan based Group, they are able to offer global access to funds and a comprehensive set of banking services to facilitate banking needs on the ground.

NBI is constantly expanding and modernizing its branch and ATM network in Iraq and are currently the only bank that has a branch in North Rumaila (Basra) and are in the process of opening new branches in Kathimiyya and Jameela in Baghdad and a new technologically advanced branch in Basra. NBI is also heavily investing in advancing its electronic channels and overall technological capabilities in order further modernize the banking process and offer a seamless banking experience to their clients.

NBI offers full-fledged investment banking, wealth management and brokerage services through its sister companies in Jordan, UAE and Iraq. The UAE subsidiary acts as the main gateway for multinationals and GCC based clients looking to raise growth capital or connect with local partners and enter into joint ventures for business expansion or new projects across Iraq. NBI’s investment offering also includes a wide range of advisory services in M&A, investment structuring and debt raising or restructuring.

NBI is regulated by the Central Bank of Iraq and publicly traded on the Iraq Stock Exchange It implements stringent international anti-money laundering and compliance regulations, and is also one of the few banks in Iraq to implement International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS), with PWC as its external auditor.


Minister: Qatar Possesses Competitive Edge in LNG Market

Qatar possesses a competitive edge over other producers to cater to the liquefied natural gas (LNG) market in view of its having the “first mover advantage” and being “the most cost effective supplier”, said HE the Minister of Energy and Industry, Dr Mohamed bin Saleh al-Sada. With a forecast growth of 4%-5% in LNG demand in the foreseeable future and with abundant proven gas reserves, it was but natural for Qatar to further monetize its huge gas resources and contribute towards global energy security, al-Sada told S&P Global Platts. He said: “Qatar's excellent track record of being the world's leading LNG supplier over the past more than two decades is well established. It has substantially invested across the entire LNG value chain and has established a name for being a reliable LNG supplier to all corners of the globe, served by its own world's largest LNG fleet comprising 65 LNG Tankers.”

Qatar, he said, currently supplies about a quarter of the world's total LNG. It intends to remain the global leader in LNG supplies in the future as well by increasing its LNG production by 30% from the current 77 million tons per year (tpy) to 100 million tpy; to be fully operational by 2024. As regards business models, they are governed by the market fundamentals and the need of the consumers and suppliers, keeping mutual interest in perspective. Al-Sada said: “The wise decision of His Highness the Amir to lift the moratorium on the development of Qatar’s North Field reservoir and the expansion of its gas production capacity is timely. “It reflects a strategic approach to meet the LNG market demand, which is expected to tighten beyond 2024,” al-Sada said. Asked whether Qatar has spare LNG capacity to supply UK to ease energy security fears, al-Sada said: “"Every country tries to have a broad base of supply sources for strategic commodities, based on its supply and demand requirements. UK and Qatar have strategic co-operation in many areas and energy supply is one of them. About 13% of UK's gas supplies come into the country in the form of LNG.

“Over the years, the UK has been relying on Qatari LNG imports to meet its demand. Qatar's South Hook Terminal near Milford Haven has one of the largest LNG capacities in Europe. It can deliver 15.6 million tons of LNG per annum to the UK market." On the LNG market, the minister said: “There is no LNG supply glut. There may be a surplus of only 10 million tons per year (tpy) of LNG in the early 2020s. In a 350 million tpy LNG market, this means that the market is practically in balance. And the global LNG market is expected to tighten up beyond 2024. With regard to meeting the European demand, he said it will depend on how the region balances its piped gas imports and LNG. The latter requires investments in regasification terminals.

“As regards Qatar, we consider Europe as a strategic market and currently supply LNG to eight different destination in Europe. Our exports to this region in 2017 constituted about 35% of our global supply. With planned expansion of our LNG capacity by 2024, we look forward to further consolidation of our LNG presence in the global market,” al-Sada said. With regard to market fundamentals, the challenge for the LNG industry today is to find a balance between buyers' pursuit of competitiveness and flexibility and producers' need to maintain a healthy cash flow out of the exploitation of their natural resources. “The resource holders and investors need to be comfortable with the level and sustainability of future prices to determine the viability of their projects. This will not only soften the boom and bust cycles, but would also prevent supply shortages and price shocks,” al-Sada noted.