Under US sanctions, Iran and Venezuela strike oil export deal — Reuters

Under US sanctions, Iran and Venezuela strike oil export deal — Reuters
A gas flare on an oil production platform in the Soroush oil fields is seen alongside an Iranian flag in the Arabian Gulf. (Reuters)
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Updated 25 September 2021

Under US sanctions, Iran and Venezuela strike oil export deal — Reuters

Under US sanctions, Iran and Venezuela strike oil export deal — Reuters
  • Venezuela has agreed to swap its heavy oil for Iranian condensate that it can use to improve the quality of its tar-like crude

CARACAS/HOUSTON/WASHINGTON: Venezuela has agreed to a key contract to swap its heavy oil for Iranian condensate that it can use to improve the quality of its tar-like crude, with the first cargoes due this week, five people close to the deal said.
As the South American country seeks to boost its flagging oil exports in the face of US sanctions, according to the sources, the deal between state-run firms Petroleos de Venezuela (PDVSA) and National Iranian Oil Company (NIOC) deepens the cooperation between two of Washington’s foes.
One of the people said the swap agreement is planned to last for six months in its first phase, but could be extended. Reuters could not immediately determine other details of the mwpact.
The oil ministries of Venezuela and Iran, and state-run PDVSA and NIOC did not reply to requests for comment.
The deal could be a breach of US sanctions on both nations, according to a Treasury Department email to Reuters which cited US government orders that establish the punitive measures.
US sanctions programs not only forbid Americans from doing business with the oil sectors of Iran and Venezuela, but also threaten to impose “secondary sanctions” against any non-US person or entity that carries out transactions with either countries’ oil companies.
Secondary sanctions can carry a range of penalties against those targeted, including cutting off access to the US financial system, fines or the freezing of US assets.
Any “transactions with NIOC by non-US persons are generally subject to secondary sanctions,” the Treasury Department said in response to a question about the deal. It also said it “retains authority to impose sanctions on any person that is determined to operate in the oil sector of the Venezuelan economy,” but did not specifically address whether the current deal is a sanctions breach.
US sanctions are often applied at the discretion of the administration in power. Former US President Donald Trump’s government seized Iranian fuel cargoes https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-iran-cargo-idUSKCN25A2AH at sea bound for Venezuela for alleged sanction busting last year, but his successor Joe Biden has made no similar moves.
In Washington, a source familiar with the matter said the swap arrangement between Venezuela and Iran has been on the radar screens of US government officials as a likely sanctions violation in recent months and they want to see how far it will go in practical terms.
US officials are concerned, the source said, that Iranian diluent shipments could help provide President Nicolas Maduro with more of a financial lifeline as he negotiates with the Venezuelan opposition toward elections.
Sanctions on both nations have crimped their oil sales in recent years, spurring NIOC to support Venezuela — including through shipping services and fuel swaps — in allocating exports to Asia.
In a meeting at the UN General Assembly in New York on Wednesday, the foreign ministers of Venezuela and Iran publicly stated their commitment to stronger bilateral trade, despite US attempts to block it.
Trump’s tightening of sanctions contributed last year to a 38 percent fall in Venezuela’s oil exports — the backbone of its economy — to their lowest level in 77 years and curtailed sources of fuel imports, worsening gasoline shortages in the nation of some 30 million people.
A US Treasury spokesperson said the department was “concerned” about reports of oil deals between Venezuela and Iran, but had not verified details.
“We will continue to enforce both our Iran and Venezuela-related sanctions,” the spokesperson said. Treasury “has demonstrated its willingness” to blacklist entities who support Iranian attempts to evade US sanctions and who “further enable their destabilizing behavior around the world,” the official added.
The swap contract would provide PDVSA with a steady supply of condensate, which it needs to dilute output of extra heavy oil from the Orinoco Belt, its largest producing region, the people said. The bituminous crude requires mixing before it can be transported and exported.
In return, Iran will receive shipments of Venezuelan heavy oil that it can market in Asia, said the people, who declined to be identified as they were not authorized to speak publicly.

CARGOES THIS WEEK
PDVSA has boosted oil swaps to minimize cash payments since the US Treasury Department in 2019 blocked the company from using US dollars. Washington has also sanctioned foreign companies for receiving or shipping Venezuelan oil.
Since last year, PDVSA has imported two cargoes of Iranian condensate in one-off swap deals to meet specific needs for diluents, and it has also exchanged Venezuelan jet fuel for Iranian gasoline.
The new contract would help PDVSA secure a source of diluents, stabilizing exports of the Orinoco’s crude blends, while allowing its own lighter oil to be refined in Venezuela to produce badly needed motor fuel, three of the people said.
The first 1.9 million barrel cargo of Venezuela’s Merey heavy crude under the new swap set sail earlier this week from PDVSA’s Jose port on the very large crude carrier (VLCC) Felicity, owned and operated by National Iranian Tanker Co. (NITC), according to the three people and monitoring service TankerTrackers.com.
NITC, a unit of NIOC, did not reply to a request for comment.
The vessel was not included in PDVSA’s monthly port schedules for September, which lists planned imports and exports. However, TankerTrackers.com identified it while at Jose this month.
The Venezuelan crude shipment is a partial payment for a cargo of 2 million barrels of Iranian condensate that arrived in Venezuela on Thursday, according to the three sources and one of PDVSA’s port schedules.

LITTLE ENFORCEMENT
Last year, the previous Trump administration seized over 1 million barrels of Iranian fuel bound for Venezuela and blacklisted five tanker captains, as part of a “maximum pressure” strategy, but the United States has not interdicted recent Iranian supplies to Venezuela.
The US State Department declined to comment on the deal. A Treasury spokesperson did not respond to a Reuters question on how concerned the government might be that Iran-Venezuela deals would allow PDVSA to step up exports.
US government officials have insisted they do not plan to ease sanctions on Venezuela unless Maduro takes definitive steps toward free and fair elections.
Trump’s curbs on established companies doing business with PDVSA prompted the socialist-ruled nation to turn to swaps with Iran and other countries, while trading with a series of little-known customers.
PDVSA’s new customers and swaps have allowed it to keep exports stable around 650,000 barrels per day (bpd) this year, after they zigzagged in 2020.
However, a worsening shortage of diluents has recently limited oil exports, placing the Orinoco Belt production in an “emergency,” according to PDVSA documents from August and September related to its output status that were reviewed by Reuters.
PDVSA plans to mix the Iranian condensate with extra heavy oil to produce diluted crude oil, a grade demanded by Asian refiners that it has struggled to export since late 2019 when suppliers halted diluent shipments due to sanctions, the three sources said.


Saudi Arabia to start mandatory e-invoicing first phase on Dec. 4

Saudi Arabia to start mandatory e-invoicing first phase on Dec. 4
Updated 58 min 31 sec ago

Saudi Arabia to start mandatory e-invoicing first phase on Dec. 4

Saudi Arabia to start mandatory e-invoicing first phase on Dec. 4

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia will start implementing the mandatory application of the first phase of e-invoicing “fatoorah” on Saturday Dec. 4, Argaam reported.

An e-invoice, according to regulations, is a tax invoice that is issued electronically by each taxpayer subject to value-added tax in the Kingdom

The first phase requirements consist of ensuring that there is a technical e-invoicing solution compatible with the relevant requirements. This means no handwritten invoices or invoices written through text editors or number analysis applications on computers.

A fine of SR5,000 ($1,332) will be applied for not issuing and saving the invoices electronically.

The fine for not including the QR Code in the e-invoice and not reporting any malfunction in the issuing of the e-invoice to the authority starts with a warning. The fine for violating the deletion or modification of e-invoice starts from SR10,000.

The second phase of e-invoicing will be implemented in a phased manner, starting from January 1, 2023, to establish integration between e-systems of taxpayers and the authority’s regulations, Argaam said.


Bank of England hawk mulling pause on interest rate hike vote due to omicron: Reuters

Bank of England hawk mulling pause on interest rate hike vote due to omicron: Reuters
Updated 03 December 2021

Bank of England hawk mulling pause on interest rate hike vote due to omicron: Reuters

Bank of England hawk mulling pause on interest rate hike vote due to omicron: Reuters

LONDON: Bank of England policymaker Michael Saunders, who voted for an interest rate hike last month, said on Friday he wanted more information about the impact of the new omicron coronavirus variant before deciding how to vote this month.

Saunders said omicron might slow Britain’s economy but it could also add to inflation pressures if it led to people spending more money on goods, when supply chains are already strained, than on going out or on other services.

“At present, given the new omicron COVID variant has only been detected quite recently, there could be particular advantages in waiting to see more evidence on its possible effects on public health outcomes and hence on the economy,” Saunders said in a speech.

Sterling fell on the comments by Saunders which investors took as reducing the likelihood of the BoE raising rates from their current all-time low of 0.1 percent on Dec. 16, at the end of this month’s meeting.

Investors were pricing in only a 33 percent chance of a December rate hike after the speech, down from about 75 percent last week before news broke of the new variant.

The British central bank upended bets by investors on a rate hike on Nov. 4 when it said it wanted to wait for more data on whether the end of the government’s job protecting furlough scheme had led to a jump in unemployment.

Saunders said there did not appear to have been a big hit to the labor market and there were risks from delaying a rate hike too long because that could lead the labor market to tighten further and push up already high inflation expectations.

“This could require a more abrupt and painful policy tightening later,” Saunders said. “For me, the balance between these considerations is likely to be a key factor at the December meeting.”

He said the rates were likely to rise over the next few quarters, assuming the economy behaves as expected.

In a question-and-answer session after his speech, the former Citi economist declined to give a steer on his likely decision at this month’s meeting.

“I don’t want to use code words today to indicate either way as to what my vote at the December meeting might be. There are potential costs and benefits to waiting for more data,” he said.

Saunders and Deputy Governor Dave Ramsden were the two members of the BoE’s nine-strong Monetary Policy Committee who cast votes in early November to raise Bank Rate to 0.25 percent from its pandemic emergency, all-time low of 0.1 percent.

— Reuters 


Twitter Founder Dorsey points to blockchain future with Square rebrand: crypto wrap

Twitter Founder Dorsey points to blockchain future with Square rebrand: crypto wrap
Updated 56 min 21 sec ago

Twitter Founder Dorsey points to blockchain future with Square rebrand: crypto wrap

Twitter Founder Dorsey points to blockchain future with Square rebrand: crypto wrap
  • Dorsey hints at future direction of company with reference to blockchain

LONDON: Just days after stepping down from his role as CEO of Twitter, Jack Dorsey is ringing the changes at Square, the other major company he founded, which has changed its name to Block.

While Dorsey is a renowned crypto enthusiast, the rebrand is not all about the blockchain, according to the company: “The name has many associated meanings for the company — building blocks, neighborhood blocks and their local businesses, communities coming together at block parties full of music, a blockchain, a section of code, and obstacles to overcome,” Square said in a statement.

The new name for the holding company, which comes into effect around Dec. 10, does not reflect any organizational changes within the business, and its subsidiaries – Square, peer-to-peer payment service Cash App, music streaming service Tidal and its bitcoin-focused financial services unit TBD54566975 – will keep their brands.

The move comes just over a month after another Silicon Valley stalwart, Facebook, changed its name to Meta, for similar reasons: Mark Zuckerberg no longer wanted the range of brands, including Instagram, WhatsApp and its virtual reality headset Meta Quest (formerly Oculus), to sit under the umbrella of another company in the stable. It also gave Zuckerberg an opportunity to position the company for what he sees as the future: the Metaverse.

Dorsey sees a future dominated by cryptocurrencies. The single hashtag on his Twitter bio reads #bitcoin and he has invested a sizeable chunk of Square’s cash in the biggest cryptocurrency.

Square bought $50 million of bitcoin even before the wave of institutional interest that propelled the digital currency’s price to record highs this year. In February, it further raised its wager and invested another $170 million in it.

Square has also been weighing the creation of a hardware wallet for bitcoin to make its custody more mainstream.

At a Miami conference in June, Dorsey told the thousands of attendees: “If I weren’t at Square or Twitter, I’d be working on bitcoin.”

Square has a division devoted to working on projects and awarding grants with the aim of growing bitcoin’s popularity globally. Even at Twitter, he began pushing the decentralization project, including creating a team to construct a decentralized social media protocol, which will allow different social platforms to connect with one another, similar to the way email providers operate.

Twitter allows users to tip their favorite content creators with bitcoin and has been testing integrations with non-fungible tokens (NFTs), a type of digital asset that allows people to collect unique digital art.

While Dorsey and Zuckerberg may seem to have a lot in common as creators of two of the world’s leading social media platforms, they haven’t always seen eye to eye, and Dorsey was critical of Facebook’s rebrand.

Soon after Zuckerberg announced his Metaverse vision, a Twitter user noted that the concept was first coined by science-fiction write Neal Stephenson as a virtual world owned by corporations where end users were treated as citizens in a dystopian corporate dictatorship. When the user asked: “What if Neal was right?” Dorsey responded: “He was.”

Ouch.


France says UAE arms deal secures supply chain, jobs

France says UAE arms deal secures supply chain, jobs
Updated 03 December 2021

France says UAE arms deal secures supply chain, jobs

France says UAE arms deal secures supply chain, jobs
  • The deal is worth 14 billion euros for 80 Rafale fighters, 2 billion for air-to-air and cruise missiles and 1 billion for 12 Airbus Caracal helicopters

PARIS: A 17-billion-euro ($19.23 billion) French arms deal with the United Arab Emirates will secure the industrial supply chain for France’s Rafale warplane for the next decade and directly support 7,000 domestic jobs, a French defense ministry official said.
The deal, sealed on Friday, includes the largest ever overseas sale of the French warplane. It brings the number of new or second-hand Rafales sold for export to 236 and will trigger an increase in production for the warplane, the official told reporters.
The sale deepens existing security ties between France and the UAE at a time when diplomats say US allies in the Middle East are increasingly questioning the commitment of the United States to the region following its exit from Afghanistan.
The French official said the contract demonstrated the appetite of several nations to “diversify their security.”
The deal is worth 14 billion euros for 80 of Dassault Aviation’s Rafale fighters, 2 billion for air-to-air and cruise missiles supplied by European consortium MBDA and 1 billion for 12 Airbus H225M Caracal helicopters, the official said.
The sale involves the latest F-4 standard of Rafale being developed for the French air force, which aims to increase connectivity and shared target identification between the jets, following the example of the US Lockheed Martin F-35.
Defense sources have said the Rafale would replace a fleet of Dassault Mirage 2000 jets already deployed in the UAE and is unlikely to displace an order for the F-35 as the UAE continues to hedge its security between two major suppliers.
However, the deal is widely seen as a signal of impatience as the US Congress hesitates on approving an F-35 deal amid concerns about the UAE’s relationship with China, including the prevalence of Huawei 5G technology in the country.
The French official said the deal included no provision to buy back Mirage 2000s or carry out industrial offset investments.


Jeddah music center promotes Kingdom’s nascent entertainment sector

Jeddah music center promotes Kingdom’s nascent entertainment sector
Musicians performing at Jeddah's Makan Music Center. (Supplied)
Updated 03 December 2021

Jeddah music center promotes Kingdom’s nascent entertainment sector

Jeddah music center promotes Kingdom’s nascent entertainment sector
  • Music has become not just an integral part of daily life, but a dynamic new economic sector
  • Jeddah-based Makan Music Center has become a focal point of the Kingdom’s burgeoning music scene.

JEDDAH: Saudi Arabia’s music industry has seen rapid growth from a standing start, largely due to the Vision 2030 reform plan, which positions entertainment front and center in the diversification of the Kingdom’s economy away from oil and its derivatives.

The General Entertainment Authority was established in 2016 with a mission to “provide recreational opportunities for all segments of society...to enrich lives and to spread joy.” It is doing just that with spectacular mega-events like Riyadh Season.

And with the relaxation of social norms in the Kingdom, music has become not just an integral part of daily life, but a dynamic new economic sector.

Numerous KSA-based companies are getting in on the act, via a spectrum of platforms: TV, Internet, social media, streaming services such as Lebanon-based Anghami (focused on Middle East-origin music) and live performance.

Saudi promoters such as Benchmark and AK Events have brought major international stars to local audiences. Mariah Carey, the Black Eyed Peas and Enrique Iglesias have all performed in the Kingdom, prior to the COVID-19 epidemic putting a temporary halt on public gatherings.

Jeddah-based Makan Music Center, which offers a full range of musical services, is a focal point of the Kingdom’s burgeoning music scene.

The center’s General Manager Shaher Karkashan, 32, founded the center with his musician colleagues in 2018.

He told Arab News: “Our goal was to create a hub for musicians. And our vision is to enable an individual to go the full circle with us — from learning an instrument to recording original material and then presenting his or her music to a live audience.

“That’s the goal, for both boys and girls — and surprisingly, over 60 percent of our clients are female.”

Such activities are crucial for the incubation of Saudi musical performers in order to supply high quality content to an industry hungry for new talent.

The center was initially launched with just two rooms — a recording studio and a jamming and learning space.

Three years on, it occupies an entire 400-square meter building divided into an eight-room teaching area, a 250-capacity auditorium and a recording studio.

Clients can learn a variety of instruments, including guitar, violin and drums, along with vocals. The typical age of musicians is 15 to 40, although some are aged 50 and above.

The center also provides equipment, talent and management services for indoor and outdoor corporate events, staged in malls and other public spaces, attracting audiences of up to 2,000.

Karkashan said that as the center has grown, it has become a more professional outfit with a robust business model and several income streams: tuition, ticketed concerts, artist management, equipment hire and corporate events.

He said: “We started with five employees — and now we are 20 and growing. We have six departments, including human resources, accounting and sales, and we’re hiring more people.”

While the KSA’s music industry – specifically live performance — was negatively impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, the future outlook appears positive. With the Kingdom’s health situation returning to normal, forthcoming live events include the appearance of Justin Bieber, A$AP Rocky and Jason Derulo, who are set to headline post-race concerts at this weekend’s inaugural Formula 1 Grand Prix in Jeddah. Industry players are hoping that this progress will not be impeded by the omicron COVID-19 variant.

Health conditions permitting, Karkashan and his associates are also planning a large new year concert as part of the port city’s Jeddah Season festivities.
Such activities were unheard of in the Kingdom even a few years ago, and Karkashan noted that the changes stemmed from the Vision 2030 reforms.

“Saudi Arabia had some major artists back in the 1980s, after which there was a huge 30-year gap,” he added.

“Then we started seeing a few Saudis performing on TV shows like ‘Star Academy’ and ‘Arab’s Got Talent’ — but they went on to work in Kuwait or the Emirates, because there was no opportunity for them to develop in Saudi Arabia.

“Now things have changed. The Ministry of Culture is involved, there’s the Entertainment Authority, even a Music Authority, and they are all helping to develop the KSA’s music industry.

“I think potentially big names will soon emerge in Saudi Arabia. They are under development now, and we will probably see them go mainstream in around 2023.”

Some of Makan’s clients have come together to form bands — one called Robin and another Bad Reception — and the center has also allowed more established acts, such as death metal outfit Wasted Land, to record and perform their own material.

Karkashan said that he is optimistic about the future of Makan as well as Saudi Arabia’s music sector as a whole.

He pointed out that he was focused on three main areas of growth: artist management, staging bigger outdoor events and opening new centers in Riyadh and other cities in the Kingdom.

“Five years ago, it was all very different. But now aspiring musicians have our full support as well as support from the media and the government.

“And social media really opens up huge possibilities. Many young people are passionate about learning music or starting a band or a career in music, and this is definitely the right time to do it.”

The Saudi music industry is slated to see exponential growth over the next decade and the Makan Music Center will surely play a part in that, both artistically and commercially.