Saudi Arabia, UAE poised to launch digital currency

Although there is much skepticism around bitcoin, the underlying blockchain technology is viewed as a groundbreaking system. (Reuters)
Updated 14 December 2017

Saudi Arabia, UAE poised to launch digital currency

LONDON: Saudi Arabia and the UAE are working on the launch of a digital currency that could be used for transactions between the region’s banks by using blockchain, the technology that underpins bitcoin.
Citing UAE Central Bank Gov. Mubarak Al-Mansouri, Reuters reported on Wednesday that UAE and KSA banks would issue a digital currency that would be accepted in cross-border transactions between the two countries.
In a speech to a regional financial conference, Al-Mansouri explained that blockchain is a shared ledger of transactions, maintained by a network of computers on the Internet rather than by a central authority.
Although there is official skepticism around bitcoin, blockchain is viewed as a groundbreaking system with huge potential for saving time and costs for businesses and financial services.
Arab News recently reported that banks around the world were looking to create digital versions of their currencies. Unlike bitcoin, these digital currencies would be backed by the monetary authorities and could one day replace cash.
James Bernard, development director of the Dubai Multi Commodities Center (DMCC), told Arab News that a clear distinction should be made between blockchain, which offers huge potential, and cryptocurrencies that have faced hacking issues and massive swings in value. “Bitcoin is dependent on blockchain, but the blockchain technology is independent of bitcoin,” Bernard said.
The KSA and UAE central banks have in the past expressed skepticism about bitcoin, with the UAE Central Bank saying it did not recognize it as an official currency.
In July, the Saudi central bank warned against trading bitcoin because it was outside the bank’s regulatory reach.
On Wednesday, however, Al-Mansouri said the central banks wanted to understand blockchain technology better. He told reporters that the UAE-Saudi digital currency would be used among banks, not by individual consumers, and would make transactions more efficient.
“It is digitization of what we do already between central banks and banks,” he said.
At a panel discussion on banking and blockchain during November’s Global Financial Forum — hosted by the Dubai International Financial Center — speakers agreed that blockchain was in its early stages and had many years before going mainstream, but all agreed the potential was massive.
Leanne Kemp, CEO of Everledger, told the forum that banks could benefit from the immutable track-and-trace application of blockchain, which helps enhance trust and security.
Brian Behlendorf, executive director at Hyperledger, explained that there are two different types of blockchain: Permissioned and permission-less, with the latter used by bitcoin.
Behlendorf said he believed the potential benefits of the permissioned blockchain makes it attractive to financial institutions and other enterprises.
At the end of 2016, the Royal Mint of the UK announced plans to launch a digital gold product called Royal Mint Gold (RMG), a joint venture with US exchange, CME. A spokesman told Arab News earlier the system is now “up and running” and the Royal Mint is “in advanced discussions to sign up a number of corporate users.”
“By using distributed ledger technology, we can make it more cost-effective and provide increased transparency for traders and investors to trade, execute and settle gold,” said the Royal Mint.
A decade ago, the UAE and Saudi Arabia discussed the possibility of creating a single currency among members of the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council but the UAE pulled out of the project in 2009.
However, diplomatic and economic ties between the UAE and Saudi Arabia have been strengthening this year, and last week the UAE said it planned to establish a bilateral committee with Saudi Arabia on economic, political and military issues.

 

Greek town bets on slow tourism to overcome virus

Updated 12 August 2020

Greek town bets on slow tourism to overcome virus

  • The pandemic is an opportunity to promote alternative tourism, fishing tourism

PREVEZA, Greece: Yannis Yovanos scans the waters of the Ambracian Gulf with his binoculars for dolphins shooting into the air before curving back down into the sea.

His early warnings prompt just a dozen tourists on the deck of Yovanos’ small boat to scramble for their smartphones, hoping to secure a snap of the aquatic mammals’ aerial acrobatics.

Officials in his home town of Preveza hope that it’s just this kind of small, family-run business that will help them overcome the coronavirus’ impact on travel — while sparing the region the environmental impact and economic distortions of the mass tourism more common on Crete or the Ionian islands.

“We don’t want to stay all day on a beach, we’re looking for a different experience,” said Dutch tourist Frederika Janssen.

“The pandemic is an opportunity to promote alternative tourism, fishing tourism,” as well as local life and culture “directly related to the natural resources that date from Antiquity,” said Constantin Koutsikopoulos, who heads the agency charged with managing the Ambracian Gulf.

Inside the gulf is a protected wetlands park, some 400 sq. km that is one of Europe’s Natura 2000 wildlife diversity regions.

One hundred and fifty dolphins, loggerhead sea turtles and 300 species of aquatic birds including the rare Dalmatian pelican live in the lagoons and reed beds of the gulf.

Nestled between green hills, the Ambracian Gulf is fed by rivers descending from the mountains of the Epirus region of northwestern Greece.

Yovanos’ hometown guards the little strait that connects the gulf with the Ionian Sea.

Dolphin watching trips like these mean “I am realizing my dream of living the life of a fisherman among our natural riches,” said the 49-year-old from behind a greying beard.

For Greece as a whole, a gamble on reopening its borders to tourists as early as June appears to have paid off for now.

New coronavirus cases have appeared only slowly since then, with fewer than 6,000 cases and just over 200 deaths nationwide from the pandemic.

Although Preveza has opted for a slower, more family-oriented approach to travel compared to better-known Greek destinations, it hasn’t renounced Mediterranean holiday clichés altogether.

With the sector suffering a big hit from the coronavirus epidemic, Preveza city officials launched a promotional campaign, securing the title of safest place for a European beach holiday from website European Best Destinations.

“Monolithi beach, the main beach of Preveza, is ... the longest one in Europe... you won’t have to struggle to get a nice spot, fix your beach umbrella and spend relaxing days in the sun,” it wrote.

And new infrastructure in the shape of a marina has helped draw sailors away from packed ports on the islands.

“Preveza is the right place compared to Corfu which is a very nice island but very crowded,” said Nick Ray, a British businessman, from the deck of his yacht that had put into the town’s port.

With its fishing and fish farming, the Ambracian Gulf is already the region’s economic motor.

Sustainable, environment-focused tourism should give the authorities even more reason to deal with the threats to the gulf such as pollution, poaching and illegal fishing.

There’s even something for ancient history buffs in the ruins of Nicopolis, founded by Caesar Augustus in honor of his naval victory nearby in 31 BC, where some Roman mosaics are still preserved.