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Photo – Vahid Salemi/AP

Middle East Business News Review – A look at today’s important financial news and business updates from the Middle East and North Africa

Bahrain airlines’ merger on horizon

Bahrain Air, the Gulf kingdom’s private carrier, is engaged in “serious” talks with local competitor Gulf Air for a possible merger, an Arabic language newspaper quoted a senior airline official as saying.

The Al Watan newspaper cited Bahrain Air Managing Director Ibrahim Al-Hamer as saying that his airline will need to buy aircraft to meet contract terms of operating a 12-plane fleet should it win a license to operate in Saudi Arabia.

Manama-based Bahrain Air and Gulf Air were among the seven airlines shortlisted last month to bid for a license to offer domestic routes in the neighbouring kingdom.

Oman urges investors to capitalise on Aquaculture opportunities

Oman has urged investors to exploit the huge potential available in the aquaculture and integrated farming sector as part of the government’s campaign to make aquaculture a growing and vibrant food production sector, a top government official said on Tuesday.

Dr Fuad bin Ja’afar Al Sajwani, minister of Agriculture and Fisheries Wealth, said the bye laws (regulatory framework) for aquaculture farming are now in place and called upon investments in aquaculture fisheries from next week.

Standard Chartered rejects US ‘rogue’ charges on Iran dealings

Standard Chartered strongly rejected the portrayal of its handling of Iran-related transactions by New York’s top bank regulator, which branded the British bank a “rogue institution”.

The New York State Department of Financial Services (DFS) has threatened to strip Standard Chartered of its state banking license, saying the British bank hid $250 billion in transactions tied to Iran, in violation of US law.

“The group strongly rejects the position or the portrayal of facts as set out in the order issued by the DFS,” Standard Chartered said in a statement on Tuesday, adding that it does “not believe the order issued by the DFS presents a full and accurate picture of the facts.”

Morocco leading religious harmony in MENA region – report

Morocco is emerging as a beacon in the Arab world in terms of countering extremist ideology and promoting “tolerance, respect and dialogue among religious groups”, a newly published report said on Tuesday.

The US Department of State study on religious freedoms around the world noted that Moroccan law guarantees freedom of religion and praised the government for its efforts to encourage “tolerance, respect and dialogue among religious groups.”

The document also recognised the efforts made to promote moderate Islam and tolerance. Jewish Moroccans and Christian communities enjoy freedom of religion and are allowed to hold their religious services without restrictions.

Drought in Sub-Saharan Africa puts millions of lives at risk

For the third time in ten years, drought is raging in the Sahel region of West Africa. The resulting famine could be the worst humanitarian crisis in history, a humanitarian report said on Tuesday.

Those living in the Sahel region of North-West Africa, which covers parts of Algeria, Mauritania, Mali, Senegal, Niger, Chad, Sudan and Eritrea are suffering from one of the worst droughts since 1914, with decreased rainfall rendering the areas drier and living unsustainable.

Dubai’s DMCC sees 60% growth in H1

The Dubai Multi Commodities Centre Authority, the licensing authority for the Jumeirah Lakes Towers Free Zone, has seen a 60 percent growth in new companies in the first half of 2012 compared to the same period last year.

In the first six months of the year, DMCC registered 975 new companies, bringing the total number of businesses operating in the JLT Free Zone to over 4,600.

DMCC said in a statement that 2012 is set to outpace 2011’s record-setting number of 1,357 new registrations.

French bottler to splash out $93m on RAK plant

French glass bottle maker Saverglass will spend €75m (US$93m) on a manufacturing facility in the emirate of Ras Al-Khaimah, the company said.

The 100,000 sqm plant, the firm’s first in the Middle East, is intended to cut Saverglass’s production and export costs. The facility will employ 180 people when it becomes operational in January next year.

Saverglass says it opted to make the investment following consultations with Ras Al-Khaimah Investment Authority (RAKIA), the government entity that works to attract businesses to the emirate’s freezone and non-freezone areas.

Saudi to spend $164m on upgrading ports

The Saudi Ports Authority is to spend SAR615m (US$164m) on developing the Gulf state’s sea terminals, reported the Saudi Press Agency.

An SAR192m power plant will be developed at King Abdulaziz Port in Dammam to raise power generation capacity from 50 mw to 120 mw in order to meet increasing demand, said authority president Abdulaziz al-Tuwaijri.

A container terminal will be constructed in Dhiba Port at a cost of SAR174m and two further container terminals will be constructed at King Fahd Industrial Port in Jubail at a cost of SAR144m. All of the upgrades will be operational within two years, the official news agency stated.

Gulf planned petroleum projects valued at $ 659.1 bn

The total value of planned petroleum projects in the Gulf region is estimated at $ 659.1 billion as of July of the current year, a report filed by Kuwait Financial Center (Markaz) said.

According to the report, this represents an effective decrease of about $ 6.9 billion since the last month. The number of major petroleum projects planned over the next decade stood at 651, an increase of nine projects over the month.

Standard Chartered shares slump on Iranian dealings

Standard Chartered Plc’s shares fell as much as 23% on Tuesday wiping $16bn off its market value after New York’s top bank regulator threatened to remove its state banking licence, saying the British lender hid $250bn in transactions tied to Iran.

The New York State Department of Financial Services (DFS) said on Monday that Standard Chartered “schemed” with the Iranian government and hid from law enforcement officials some 60,000 secret transactions to generate hundreds of millions of dollars in fees over nearly 10 years.

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