On former battlefield, Kuwaiti investor plans date palm groves, ostrich and deer reserve

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A farmer inspects the palm trees belonging to a Kuwaiti investor Abdul-Aziz Al-Babtain, in the port city of Basra, Iraq. (Reuters)
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A farmer inspects the palm trees belonging to a Kuwaiti investor Abdul-Aziz Al-Babtain, in the port city of Basra, Iraq. (Reuters)
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Agent of a Kuwaiti investor Abdul-Aziz Al-Babtain shows the date palm in the port city of Basra, Iraq. (Reuters)
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Palm trees belonging to a Kuwaiti investor Abdul-Aziz Al-Babtain are seen in the port city of Basra, Iraq. (Reuters)
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Palm trees belonging to a Kuwaiti investor Abdul-Aziz Al-Babtain are seen in the port city of Basra, Iraq. (Reuters)
Updated 21 May 2018
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On former battlefield, Kuwaiti investor plans date palm groves, ostrich and deer reserve

SOUTHERN BADIA, Iraq: On a former battlefield of the 1991 Gulf War, deep in Iraq’s southern desert, a Kuwaiti investor is looking to grow 100,000 date palms and build a nature reserve complete with ostriches and deer.
Few Kuwaiti firms have returned to do business in Iraq since Saddam Hussein’s 1990 invasion of its smaller neighbor and its UN-led liberation a year later.
But businessman Abdul-Aziz Al-Babtain is pouring $58 million into a date farm project in southern Badia, some 150 km from the port city of Basra, officials said.
“We hope to have 100,000 (trees) in the next five to six years,” said Diyah Sharadeh, Babtain’s representative in Iraq, adding that the dates would first be sold in Iraq and later exported.
So far 5,000 date trees have been planted.
Iraq once produced three-quarters of the world’s output of dates but now accounts for 5 percent after decades of conflict, despite being home to around 350 types of date tree.
Babtain had begun the farm in the 1980s, a sign at his office shows.
But Iraq seized it after the 1990 invasion, and due to its proximity to the Kuwaiti border it turned the area into a military zone, digging trenches for heavy guns.
These were then bombed in air strikes as part of Kuwait’s liberation campaign, but authorities never cleaned up the trenches, leaving bullets and parts of tank turrets rusting away just outside the field.
In a bid to turn a new leaf, Iraq returned the farm to Babtain and granted his business tax exemptions.
“This will be the first private (date) investment project in Iraq,” said Ali Ghasseb, head of the Basra Investment Commission. “It was a farm, then became a battlefield and is now again a farm.”
The farm has created some 50 jobs in this desolate area and will need up to 500 workers once the trees begin producing.
In a second step, Babtain plans to set up a natural reserve for which ostriches and deer will be imported, Sharadeh said.
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Ties between Kuwait and Iraq remained strained, but they have improved since the US-led invasion in 2003 that toppled Saddam Hussein, with the Gulf state hosting in February a donor conference to rebuild Iraq.
But Kuwaiti firms have been reluctant to return, demanding guarantees that their business will not be taken away again. There is only one other Kuwaiti investor in Basra, involved in a shopping mall, Ghasseb said.
But trade has picked up in recent years as foreign firms use Kuwait’s port to ship goods to Iraq due to its better security. Up to 200 vehicles cross the border at the Safwan post every day, an Iraqi officer said.
Kuwaiti visitors are also trickling back to the Shiite Muslim holy cities of Najaf and Kerbela. A third of Kuwaitis are Shiites.
In the other direction there is little private traffic as Kuwait rarely grants visitor visas for Iraqis for security reasons.
“I come twice a year. There are no problems for Kuwaitis now,” said a Kuwaiti who gave his name as Mohamed after crossing the border to make a pilgrimage to Nawaf.


World’s biggest sovereign fund worried about trade wars

Updated 21 August 2018
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World’s biggest sovereign fund worried about trade wars

  • The fund posted a positive return of 1.8 percent, or 167 billion kroner ($19.8 billion), in the second quarter
  • Markets are worried about a trade dispute between the United States and China

OSLO: The managers of Norway’s sovereign wealth fund, the world’s biggest, expressed concern Tuesday about global trade tensions, which could heavily impact its value.
The fund posted a positive return of 1.8 percent, or 167 billion kroner ($19.8 billion), in the second quarter, helping erase a loss of 171 billion kroner in January-March that was attributed to a volatile stock market.
The Government Pension Fund Global, which saw its total value swell to 8.33 trillion kroner by the end of June, manages the country’s oil revenues in order to finance Norway’s generous welfare state when its oil and gas wells run dry.
But Norway’s central bank, which runs the fund, said geopolitical and trade tensions presented a risk.
“It’s fair to say that increased trade barriers or even trade wars will not be beneficial for the fund as a long-term global investor,” Trond Grande, the deputy chief of Norges Bank Investment Management, told reporters.
Markets are worried about a trade dispute between the United States and China. Accusing Beijing of unfair competition, the US administration is considering slapping a new round of levies worth $200 billion on Chinese goods.
Talks between the two slated for Wednesday and Thursday aimed at resolving the dispute have however eased concerns somewhat.
Following US-Turkey tensions that sent the Turkish lira and the Istanbul stock market tumbling, the Norwegian fund said its assets there were worth less than the 23 billion kroner they were at the beginning of the year.
“We’ve seen the market rise for a long time, that there are different political and geopolitical events in the world that can affect the market, and we have to be prepared for the fact that (the value of) the fund can go down a lot,” Grande concluded.
The fund’s strong second quarter was attributed primarily to its share portfolio, which accounts for 66.8 percent of its investments and which rose by 2.7 percent.
Real estate holdings, which account for 2.6 percent of its holdings, rose by 1.9 percent, while bond investments, which represent 30.6 percent, remained flat.
Faced with falling oil revenues in recent years, the Norwegian government has been tapping the fund to finance public spending since 2015. But with oil prices recovering, the fund registered its first inflow in three years in June.