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.
THAW
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.


In nod to debt concerns, China Belt and Road summit to urge sustainable financing

Updated 21 April 2019
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In nod to debt concerns, China Belt and Road summit to urge sustainable financing

  • The Belt and Road Initiative envisions rebuilding the old Silk Road to connect China with Asia, Europe and beyond
  • But the initiative has proved controversial in many Western capitals, particularly Washington

SHANGHAI: World leaders meeting in Beijing this week for a summit on China’s Belt and Road initiative will agree to project financing that respects global debt goals and promotes green growth, according to a draft communique seen by Reuters.
The Belt and Road Initiative is a key policy of President Xi Jinping and envisions rebuilding the old Silk Road to connect China with Asia, Europe and beyond with massive infrastructure spending.
But it has proved controversial in many Western capitals, particularly Washington, which views it as merely a means to spread Chinese influence abroad and saddle countries with unsustainable debt through nontransparent projects.
The United States has been particularly critical of Italy’s decision to sign up to the plan last month, the first for a G7 nation.
In an apparent nod to these concerns, the communique reiterates promises reached at the last summit in 2017 for sustainable financing — but adds a line on debt, which was not included the last time.
“We support collaboration among national and international financial institutions to provide diversified and sustainable financial supports for projects,” the draft communique reads.
“We encourage local currency financing, mutual establishment of financial institutions, and a greater role of development finance in line with respective national priorities, laws, regulations and international commitments, and the agreed principles by the UNGA on debt sustainability,” it added, referring to the United Nations General Assembly.
The word “green” appears in the draft seven times. It was not mentioned once in the summit communique from two years ago.
“We underline the importance of promoting green development,” the draft reads. “We encourage the development of green finance including the issuance of green bonds as well as development of green technology.”
The Chinese government’s top diplomat, Wang Yi, said on Friday that the Belt and Road project is not a “geopolitical tool” or a debt crisis for participating nations, but Beijing welcomes constructive suggestions on how to address concerns over the initiative.
A total of 37 foreign leaders are due to attend the April 25-27 summit, though the United States is only sending lower-level representatives, reflecting its unease over the scheme.
The number of foreign leaders at the April 25-27 summit is up from 29 last time, mainly from China’s closest allies like Pakistan and Russia but also Italy, Switzerland and Austria.
China has repeatedly said Belt and Road is for the benefit of the whole world, and that it is committed to upholding globally accepted norms in ensuring projects are transparent and win-win for all parties.
“We emphasize the importance of the rule of law and equal opportunities for all,” the draft reads.