France’s Total boosts Cypriot gas plan as it eyes Iran exit

In this file photo taken on Oct.12, 2016, the logo of French oil giant Total SA is pictured at company headquarters in La Defense business district, outside Paris. (AP/Michel Euler)
Updated 21 May 2018

France’s Total boosts Cypriot gas plan as it eyes Iran exit

  • French energy company Total says it is looking to expand its search for natural gas off Cyprus’ south coast
  • Total is partners with Eni to search for oil and gas in two other areas off Cyprus

NICOSIA: French energy company Total says it is looking to expand its search for natural gas off Cyprus’ south coast and seeks to secure another exploratory drilling license, days after warning it could exit Iran over renewed US sanctions there.
Stephane Michel, Total’s Middle East exploration chief, said Monday that the company has applied for a license to search for hydrocarbons in Block 8, an area south of Cyprus where Italian company Eni is already licensed to carry out exploratory drilling.
Total is partners with Eni to search for oil and gas in two other areas off Cyprus. In one of the two, Eni said in February it has discovered a “promising” gas deposit with similar geological features as that of another discovery in Egyptian waters it described as the largest ever in the Mediterranean.
Cyprus Energy Minister Yiorgos Lakkotrypis called Total’s move an “important development” that expands the company’s exploration footprint off Cyprus.
Lakkotrypis said what gives the move added weight is the fact that Total’s interest comes three months after Turkish warships blocked a drillship from carrying out exploratory drilling by Eni in Block 3, an area southeast of Cyprus.
“After all that happened in Block 3, we see one of the most important partners of the Cyprus Republic wanting to expand its presence inside the Exclusive Economic Zone, especially in an area like Block 8 which is still unexplored.”
Turkey opposes what it calls a “unilateral” gas search by the ethnically divided island’s Greek Cypriot-run government, insisting that it flouts the rights of breakaway Turkish Cypriots to natural resources. Only Turkey recognizes a Turkish Cypriot declaration of independence and claims parts of exploration areas south of Cyprus which it says fall within its continental shelf.
The Cyprus government says any potential gas proceeds will be shared equitably with Turkish Cypriots after an accord reunifying the island is reached.
A deposit discovered off Cyprus by Texas-based Noble Energy in 2011 is estimated to contain around 4.5 trillion cubic feet of gas.
Total’s move also comes just days after it said it would have to withdraw multi-billion-dollar project in Iran unless it is granted a waiver by US authorities. The group said it cannot afford to be exposed to US sanctions, including the loss of financing by American banks.


Crisis-hit Moroccans join ‘informal economy’ as job market shrinks

Updated 19 min 55 sec ago

Crisis-hit Moroccans join ‘informal economy’ as job market shrinks

  • More than a third of Moroccan workers are already in the informal economy
  • However, the crisis is expected to expand this informal economy as people lose their jobs

RABAT: The coronavirus crisis is expected to expand Morocco’s informal economy of people who work for cash, reducing tax revenue and leaving many without social protection, the head of the state planning agency and economists said.
More than a third of Moroccan workers are already in the informal economy, doing manual or domestic labor, driving taxis or selling in the streets, accounting for 14% of gross domestic product, according to the agency.
However, the crisis is expected to expand this informal economy as people lose their jobs in companies and consumers seek the cheaper goods and services provided by workers who are not registered with the state’s pension fund.
Morocco, with 16,047 coronavirus cases, last month allowed cafes, restaurants and other services to resume activity at half capacity except in provinces where infections remain high. Last week, it extended an emergency decree giving local authorities leeway in taking restrictive measures until Aug. 10.
Unemployment is expected to surge to a rate of 14.8% in 2020 from about 9.2% before the pandemic, the agency said.
Fatima Hamdane, 53, who lost her job as a worker at a car parts manufacturing plant in Casablanca, said she would work as a cleaner even if her employer did not pay social security duties. She has diabetes and has already skipped medical checks because of her hard financial situation.
“I knocked on many doors, but couldn’t find a job,” she said. “Most have rejected me because of my age.”
Ahmed Lahlimi, the planning agency chief, told Reuters that while the number of people moving into the informal economy was expected to grow, the agency did not have any updated figures estimating the extent of the problem.
The informal economy already costs the state 34 billion dirhams ($3.4 billion) in annual tax losses, Finance Minister Mohamed Benchaaboun said.
Morocco’s fiscal deficit stood at $2.3 billion at the end of May with revenue down and spending up because of the crisis. It is expected to widen to 7.5% of gross domestic product in 2020 from 4.1% last year while the economy is expected to shrink by 5%, according to the government’s reviewed budget.
The Confederation of Moroccan Enterprises, a business group, says the informal economy puts 2.9 million jobs at risk in formal companies by undercutting their costs. In May, it recommended offering tax incentives to make more companies register officially.
“In the past, the state has tolerated the informal economy in times of social tensions such as during the 2011 pro-democracy protests,” said Rachid Awraz, of the Moroccan Institute for Policy Analysis.
But, in the long run, it leaves workers without social protection and prey to poverty in addition to its low added value for the economy, he said.
Labour Minister Mohamed Amekraz did not answer Reuters requests for comment.