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.


Fintech makes inroads in US banking market, but revenue share minimal — Accenture

Updated 44 min 25 sec ago
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Fintech makes inroads in US banking market, but revenue share minimal — Accenture

  • Around 19 percent of financial institutions in the US are new entrants, such as challenger banks, non-bank payments institutions and big tech companies
  • New entrants account for 63 percent of financial players in the UK

NEW YORK: Financial technology startups and other new entrants are making inroads in the US banking market, but have yet to capture a threatening share of bank revenues, according to research published by Accenture on Wednesday.
Around 19 percent of financial institutions in the US are new entrants, such as challenger banks, non-bank payments institutions and big tech companies, according to the report. Yet they have amassed only 3.5 percent of the total $1.04 trillion in banking and payment revenues so-far, Accenture found.
In the UK, new entrants have made a larger dent, having captured 14 percent of the total €206 billion ($238.45 billion) in industry revenues, with the majority going to non-bank payments companies, according to the report.
Accenture assessed more than 20,000 banking and payments institutions across seven markets around the world to determine the level of change that digital technologies have brought about in banking.
Since the financial downturn, a growing number of companies across the world have sought to position themselves as cheaper and more user-friendly alternatives to banks by making better use of new technology.
Banking and payments institutions have decreased by nearly 20 percent from 2005 to 2017. Still, one in six current institutions is what Accenture considers a new entrant, or companies that have entered the market since 2005.
Their impact has varied by geography.
Tougher regulations and greater dominance of large banks have made the US a more difficult market for new entrants in areas excluding payments, Alan McIntyre, head of Accenture’s global banking practice, said in an interview.
“You still have a very robust banking market in the US,” McIntyre said.
More than half of new current accounts opened in the United States have been captured by three large banks, which have had more money to invest in digital than smaller regional players, he added.
In the UK the situation has been different, thanks in part to a push from regulators aimed at fostering greater competition in the financial sector and diminishing the dominance of large banks.
New entrants account for 63 percent of financial players in the UK, according to the report.
The report also found new entrants are taking over one third of new revenue, pointing to their potential to pose a greater competitive threat going forward.
In Europe, including the UK, 20 percent of banking and payments institutions are new entrants and have captured nearly 7 percent of total banking revenues, according to the report.