Saudi-Uzbek trade exceeds $95m in the first half of 2022

Saudi Arabia’s Investment Minister Khalid Al-Falih held a meeting with Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev during a recent visit to Uzbekistan to discuss collaboration in different sectors of the economy. (File)
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Updated 17 August 2022

Saudi-Uzbek trade exceeds $95m in the first half of 2022

  • The two countries will bolster ties further with the signing of 12 new deals this week

RIYADH: The mutual trade between Saudi Arabia and the Republic of Uzbekistan reached $95 million in the first half of 2022, a substantial increase considering that bilateral trade barely exceeded $17 million last year.

According to a joint news statement, the value is expected to grow rapidly by the end of 2022. The numbers assume significance in the aftermath of the pandemic.

In fact, the number of Uzbek companies running on Saudi funds increased from about nine to 38 in the last five years. Of the 38, 19 are sole proprietors, and the rest are joint ventures.

The two nations will bolster the ties further by signing 12 new agreements on Wednesday and Thursday when Uzbekistan President Shavkat Mirziyoyev visits the Kingdom.

According to an Uzbek state agency, high-level talks will take place in Jeddah, where the two nations will discuss opportunities to enhance multilateral cooperation further.

The discussion will focus on the green economy, technology and digitalization, innovations, small business and entrepreneurship. 

Following the meeting, new agreements are expected to be signed in the energy, telecommunications, agriculture, chemical and petrochemical industries, besides encouraging ties in culture, sports and education.

The Kingdom has become one of the largest foreign investors in energy infrastructure and one of Uzbekistan’s most significant developers of green energy projects.

ACWA Power’s Uzbek interests

Recently, the Ministry of Energy of Uzbekistan and Saudi energy company ACWA Power signed several investment agreements for about $3 billion.

ACWA Power will develop and operate a wind energy project with a production capacity of 1,500 MW in the Karakalpakstan region of Uzbekistan.

When commissioned, the plant will become the largest of its kind in Central Asia and one of the largest wind power plants in the world. 

FASTFACTS

• The number of Uzbek companies running on Saudi funds increased from about nine to 38 in the last five years.

• Recently, the Ministry of Energy of Uzbekistan and Saudi energy company ACWA Power signed several investment agreements for about $3 billion.

• The Saudi Fund for Development has contributed to the implementation of many projects in Uzbekistan, including funding the Samarkand-Gozar Road project, with a total value of $30 million.

ACWA Power also signed an agreement to establish the 100MW Nokus wind farm project, the first renewable energy project to be implemented in partnership with Uzbekistan’s public and private sectors.

The power generating company also won a $108 million wind contract after proposing a tariff of 2.56 cents per kilowatt-hour, the lowest in Uzbekistan.

Additionally, the Ministry of Energy of Uzbekistan signed a 25-year power purchase agreement with ACWA Power to establish a combined-cycle gas turbine power plant in Shirin, located in Syrdarya, Uzbekistan. The deal amounts to $1.2 billion.

According to the statement, these projects will contribute to achieving Uzbekistan’s national goal of raising the total renewable energy generation capacity to 30 percent by 2030.

Saudi Fund for Development

Moreover, the Saudi Fund for Development has contributed to the implementation of many projects in Uzbekistan, including funding the Samarkand-Gozar Road project, with a total value of $30 million.

The fund also contributed to 20 projects in the republic, including building pumping stations and other projects involving sewage, chemicals, mining, building materials, water and agriculture.

According to the Ministry of Agriculture of Uzbekistan, the Saudi and Uzbek delegations have discussed issues of cooperation in agriculture, including the prospects for enhancing mutual trade in agricultural products.

Both parties will likely sign memorandums of cooperation in agriculture, veterinary medicine and livestock development at the meeting.

They also agreed to deepen cooperation in the agricultural sector to enhance trade in farming, livestock and other products between the countries.

After signing the memoranda, action plans will be prepared, including specific measures and areas for developing cooperation and joint projects.

The Saudi side invited the Uzbekistan delegation to attend its most prominent exhibition of the agro-industrial complex, which will be held at the end of October in Riyadh.


ECB eyes blockchain for settling bank transactions, says official

Updated 26 September 2022

ECB eyes blockchain for settling bank transactions, says official

  • The ECB is among a number of central banks around the world working on digital versions of their currency in response to the popularity of digital tokens

FRANKFURT: The European Central Bank is studying ways of settling transactions between banks on a blockchain in a bid to keep control of money even if lenders switch to distributed ledgers, ECB board member Fabio Panetta said on Monday.

The ECB is among a number of central banks around the world working on digital versions of their currency in response to the popularity of digital tokens such as Bitcoin and the blockchain technology that powers them.

This distributed ledger technology is predicated on market participants verifying transactions and keeping a copy of them rather than relying on a trusted party, such as a central bank.

On top of a digital euro for consumers, the ECB is looking at how it could let banks settle wholesale transactions between them on a distributed ledger, rather than the central bank’s own.

“Despite the uncertainties surrounding DLT’s potential, we want to be prepared for a scenario where market players adopt DLT for wholesale payments and securities settlement,” Panetta said. 

We want to be prepared for a scenario where market players adopt DLT for wholesale payments and securities settlement.

Fabio Panetta, ECB official

He added letting banks settle among themselves or use stablecoins, which are crypto tokens pegged to a conventional currency, would result in “trading and liquidity becoming fragmented.”

Meanwhile, giving stablecoins the ECB’s backing would “outsource the provision of central bank money to private entities, endangering monetary sovereignty,” Panetta said.

As a possible solution, Panetta said the ECB might build a bridge between the private sector’s blockchain platforms and its own Target 2 settlement system.

Alternatively, it could make central bank money — the claim against the ECB in which wholesale transactions are settled — available on those platforms or create its own, he added.

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Indian currency seen at record low as dollar, US yields surge; RBI eyed

Updated 26 September 2022

Indian currency seen at record low as dollar, US yields surge; RBI eyed

  • The rupee is tipped to open at around 81.30 per US dollar, down from 80.9900 in the previous session

MUMBAI: The Indian rupee is poised to hit a new lifetime low against the US currency on Monday, as worsening risk sentiment and a tumbling pound lifted the dollar index to its highest since 2002.
The rupee is tipped to open at around 81.30 per US dollar, down from 80.9900 in the previous session.
The local unit had reached a record low of 81.2250 on Friday, prompting the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) to sell dollars, according to traders. The RBI’s intervention had aided the rupee to turn briefly higher on Friday.
“It will be another choppy and volatile session. All eyes will be on state-run banks at open,” a trader at a Mumbai-based bank said, alluding to intervention from the RBI through these banks.
“The intervention by RBI at 81.20 was quite forceful and markets will want to know if that level will be protected again,” the trader said, adding, the RBI may not be too inclined to intervene given the “carnage” across Asian currencies.
The dollar index in Asia trading climbed above 114.50, the highest since May 2002, thanks to demand for safe-haven assets and a collapsing British pound.
The pound tumbled to a record low on Monday on fears the new government’s economic plan will stretch its finances to the limit. The rout prompted speculation of an emergency response from the Bank of England.
Asian equity gauges fell by as much as 2.4 percent and futures pointed to more losses for the S&P 500 Index. The offshore Chinese yuan declined below 7.16 to the dollar and the Korean won dropped more than a percent.
Treasury yields continued to march higher, not benefiting from the risk-off sentiment. The 2-year Treasury yield reached a fresh multi-year high of 4.27 percent on bets that the Federal Reserve will continue to hike rates aggressively despite the mounting growth risks. 


Bahrain’s GDP grows at 6.9% in Q2 2022

Updated 25 September 2022

Bahrain’s GDP grows at 6.9% in Q2 2022

  • The Gulf country will see modest hike in oil production in 2022 to 0.19 mbpd

RIYADH: Bahrain’s gross domestic product grew 6.9 percent year on year in the second quarter of 2022, posting the biggest annual increase since 2011, Bahrain’s Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad Al-Khalifa said on Twitter on Sunday.

In the first quarter, the Gulf country’s GDP grew 5.5 percent year on year at constant prices. The country’s non-oil economy recorded growth of 7.8 percent in the same period.

According to the latest Economic Insight report for the Middle East, commissioned by ICAEW and compiled by Oxford Economics, Bahrain’s oil sector growth will be driven by higher oil production, despite a decline in the first quarter. Since 2015, the annual real growth of Bahrain’s oil sector has only expanded once relative to the previous year, in 2019. Based on the current OPEC+ agreement, Bahrain will see a modest increase in oil production in 2022 to 0.19 million barrels per day from 0.17 million bpd.

This small increase, combined with elevated prices, will return the oil sector to growth in 2022 before stagnating again as the government continues its diversification efforts. The forecast is for oil production to expand by 5.8 percent in 2022, compared to 2.4 percent in 2021.

Scott Livermore, ICAEW economic adviser, and chief economist and managing director, Oxford Economics Middle East, said: “The surge in oil prices and introduction of a 10 percent VAT is supporting Bahrain’s revenues and will help authorities come close to balancing the budget in 2022, two years earlier than the 2024 target set in the Fiscal Balance Program.”

The rise of inflationary pressures and rate hikes by the US Fed will force the Central Bank of Bahrain into more rate increases, beyond the 225 basis points cumulative increase in the key policy rate already this year.

Inflation averaged 3.4 percent in the first half this year, a level not seen since 2016, before rising to 3.9 percent in July.

ICAEW expects inflation to average 3.9 percent this year after prices fell annually in both 2020 and 2021.

Consumer spending is likely to be increasingly constrained going into 2023, leading to a GDP growth slowdown to below 2 percent by 2024.

As of now, the central bank has sufficient reserves to maintain the currency peg with the US dollar and is likely to follow policy moves by the Fed closely so it’s not expected to have significant pressure to devalue the dinar.

The current account returned to surplus in 2021 at 6.7 percent of GDP, the largest surplus since 2013. ICAEW expects the higher price of oil exports and a continued resurgence of international travel to push this surplus above 10 percent in 2022.

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Saudi Arabia focuses on AI-driven economy, considers data the new oil: SDAIA

Updated 25 September 2022

Saudi Arabia focuses on AI-driven economy, considers data the new oil: SDAIA

  • The technology will contribute billions to the Saudi national gross domestic product, says SDAIA's Mishari Al-Mishari

RIYADH: The Saudi Data and Artificial Intelligence Authority is aiming to create a leading data and AI-driven economy and make Saudi Arabia one of the top countries in the technology, the agency’s deputy director said. 

Mishari Al-Mishari, the deputy director of SDAIA, told Arab News on the sidelines of the Global AI Summit in Riyadh that SDAIA was created to be the custodian of the national agenda on data and AI.

“SDAIA was created to have an entity that will be the custodian of the national agenda of data and artificial intelligence to create a leading data and AI-driven economy,” he said. 

The conference, which SDAIA organized, hosted up to 30,000 hybrids and in-person attendees and had representatives from more than 90 countries, he said. 

“In this summit, we didn’t restrict it to the dialogues and the discussion; we emphasized the experience as well,” he added. 

SPEEDREAD

The conference, which SDAIA organized, hosted up to 30,000 hybrids and in-person attendees and had representatives from more than 90 countries, Mishari Al-Mishari, deputy director of SDAIA, said.

Over 40 use cases designed by leading companies and institutes in AI were presented at the conference, allowing attendees to interact with, live, and experience AI and understand how it could improve their lives, Al-Mishari said. 

During the event, SDAIA President Abdullah bin Sharaf Al-Ghamdi announced that the Kingdom is joining the World Bank’s Digital Development Partnership.

“We share a common vision with the DDP. The partnership will bring together the public and the private sector and accelerate safe and inclusive digital transformation in developing countries,” said Al-Ghamdi. 

He added: “I am confident we will make a real difference. I am looking forward to a fruitful collaboration.” 

Al-Mishari said the initiative would help underdeveloped economies adopt AI for the benefit of their citizens.

The technology, according to Al-Mishari, will contribute billions to the national gross domestic product. In addition, it could boost the economy with jobs, investments and opportunities for the Kingdom. 

“Data is the new oil, and that’s our perception and belief of how much we could make out of data,” Al-Mishari said. 

Public sector cloud

“SDAIA operates one of the biggest governmental clouds in the region, hosting approximately 140 governmental entities and providing 35 different cloud services,” Nawaf Al-Sahan, head of cloud computing at the National Information Center, told Arab News. 

NIC has also been harnessing its governmental cloud DEEM, founded in late 2018, as a proof of concept and has grown rapidly since then. 

At this point, NIC’s mandate is only to serve public sector undertakings, so he added that the DEEM exclusively serves public projects. 

Their internal team, entirely made up of Saudi female and male engineers, developed the cloud. 

“I am glad our team is all Saudis, young engineers, males and females. So that cloud is fully built by our Saudi talent,” Al-Sahan said. 

When it comes to cloud security, NIC implements strict measures. Two teams are responsible for securing the cloud, a larger team entrusted with governance, risk, and compliance does the monitoring for them, and an internal team performs penetration testing and their daily security operations, he said. 

Al-Sahan said that NIC is currently finished with its three-year strategy for 2025. 

As part of that strategy or roadmap, external vendors and partners participate in the government cloud, he said.

“So, we’ll open up a little bit for trusted partners to be part of the government cloud and provide unique services to the government entities,” he concluded. 

A 1-million-riyal idea 

SDAIA, in partnership with the Ministry of Rural Affairs and Housing and the Royal Commission for Riyadh City, announced “Smartathon — The Smart Cities Challenge” with prizes totaling SR1,000,000, according to Sattam Alsubaiee, assistant director for insights at NIC. 

The competition is open for anyone globally, he said. SDAIA wants participants to develop AI models that detect visual pollution automatically. 

“We give them the data, and everyone is invited to participate, take that data and build AI models that can detect the visual pollution,” Alsubaiee told Arab News. 

Because humans have limited resources, SDAIA and its partners do not want to deploy a vast workforce to detect that visual pollution with their eyes.

“You cannot deploy thousands of inspectors trying to find all the visual pollution in all the cities. So, we want the machine to help us automate in solving that problem,” he added. 

Alsubaiee cited graffiti on walls, poor-looking billboard signs and potholes as examples of visual pollutants.

SDAIA is publishing data they already have and collected to invite everyone to contribute and help them solve those problems, he said. 

“We want to make Saudi Arabia one of the smartest countries in the world, not just at the city level, but at the country level,” he concluded.

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Saudi Arabia’s refinery output down for third month in a row: JODI

Updated 25 September 2022

Saudi Arabia’s refinery output down for third month in a row: JODI

  • Kingdom’s refinery output grew 8.3 percent from 2.56 million bpd, and exports rose 8.0 percent from 1.32 million bpd, compared to July 2021

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s refinery output has inched lower for the third month in a row, while oil product exports met the same fate, the Joint Organizations Data Initiative reported.

The Kingdom's refinery output decreased to 2.76 million barrels per day in July, from 2.85 million bpd in June, while oil product exports decreased from 1.60 million bpd in June to 1.43 million bpd in July, JODI revealed.

While production saw a 3.1 percent month-on-month decline from June to July, total oil exports experienced a bigger 10.6 percent decrease over the same period, distorted from their growth in the past two months. 

Year-over-year, the Kingdom’s refinery output grew 8.3 percent from 2.56 million bpd, and exports rose 8.0 percent from 1.32 million bpd, compared to July 2021.

All components of refinery output decreased from June’s values, bar the production of motor and aviation oil where the 23 percent constituent remained almost unchanged at 628,000 bpd in July, from 626,000 bpd the previous month.

Gas or diesel oil — by far the highest contributor to refinery oil production at 43.4 percent —went down slightly by 1.8 percent, from 1.22 million bpd in June to 1.20 million barrels per day in July.  

Moreover, fuel oil showed its second consecutive monthly decline of 6.2 percent from 503,000 to 472,000 million bpd. Fuel oil is a prominent proportion of total oil products as it makes up 17 percent of total refinery oil production.

Smaller components of total oil products like kerosene, which includes jet fuel, recorded a 6.4 percent monthly decrease in July 2022.

Naphtha and liquefied petroleum gas fell 3.2 percent and 30.8 percent respectively over the same period.

Oil products falling into the classification ‘other’ almost doubled over the year from 121,000 bpd last July to 237,000 bpd this year, fueled by their 75.7 percent growth in June, where they reached 246,000 barrels of production per day.

However, like most oil products, they contracted 3.7 percent in the transition between June and July this year.

Exports of refinery oil

Refinery oil exports were pushed down this month by reductions in all components apart from fuel oil.

Motor and aviation oil exports plummeted 23.2 percent from 280,000 bpd in June to 215,000 bpd in July — falling for the third consecutive month in contrast to their fixed output in production.

Gas or diesel, oil which comprises 48.7 percent of refinery oil exports making it the highest exported product, went down 5.9 percent from 740,000 bpd to 696,000 bpd over the same period.

Although Kerosene and Naphtha make up smaller portions of total oil exports, their decreases also brought down oil exports.

Fuel oil, the second largest contributor alongside motor and aviation, went up 12.2 percent from 198,000 bdp to 222,000 bpd, showing a growth in exports for the first time in four months.

Closing stocks

The Kingdom’s closing stocks of all oil products decreased by less than one percent, due to declines in gas or diesel oil, motor and aviation oil, and kerosene. 

The total closing stock was equivalent to 92.13 million barrels by the end of July, down 700,000 from 92.83 million barrels in June. 

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