China links key to success of African free trade initiative: Egyptian president

Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi. (AP file photo)
Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi. (AP file photo)
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Updated 30 November 2021

China links key to success of African free trade initiative: Egyptian president

Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi. (AP file photo)
  • El-Sisi pointed out the importance of the forum in strengthening joint trade and investment initiatives, including debt relief programs and help for small- and medium-sized enterprises

CAIRO: Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi has highlighted the importance of working with China to the success of an African free trade initiative.

Speaking virtually during a meeting of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation — attended by Chinese President Xi Jinping and a number of African leaders — he said that effective partnership with China was vital to implementing the African Continental Free Trade Area agreement.

The Egyptian leader noted that under its current presidency of the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa organization his country would be looking to attract foreign investment, promote integration between African and foreign private sectors, and expand digital transformation and e-commerce.

In a statement, an official spokesperson for the Egyptian Presidency said that forum members had discussed ways to consolidate links between the African continent and China, including cooperation on economic recovery schemes following the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic.

El-Sisi pointed out the importance of the forum in strengthening joint trade and investment initiatives, including debt relief programs and help for small- and medium-sized enterprises to overcome the economic crises brought about by the global virus outbreak.

He told the meeting that further investment in infrastructure projects was needed to complete the continental linkup between African countries and added that it was important to learn from the experiences of other nations in tackling the COVID-19 pandemic through prevention, biotechnology, and pharmaceutical manufacturing.

The Egyptian president lauded the vaccine manufacturing work of Egypt and China that had seen his country become the first African nation to possess the capabilities to produce vaccines against COVID-19. And he also stressed the need for joint coordination between Africa and China on issues related to strengthening peace and security.

 


Google to invest $1bn to push India's digitalization

Google to invest $1bn to push India's digitalization
Updated 14 sec ago

Google to invest $1bn to push India's digitalization

Google to invest $1bn to push India's digitalization

NEW DELHI: Google will invest up to $1 billion in partnership with India’s Airtel to provide affordable access to smartphones to over a billion Indians, the two companies said on Friday, according to AP.

The investment will help India’s small businesses adopt digital tools as India works to adopt digital education, payments and e-commerce amid the pandemic, Google said in a blog post.

It will also speed up the use of cloud-based computing for business. 

As part of the ‘Google for India Digitization Fund’ launched in 2020, Google will pay $700 million to acquire a 1.28 percent stake in Airtel. It is also committing up to $300 million for commercial agreements over the next five years, Airtel said in a statement.

The companies also plan to jointly develop software for 5G and other standards, it said.

Airtel is an Indian global communications solutions provider with over 480 million customers in 17 countries across South Asia and Africa.

Google’s services are accessed by over 100 million users in India. It has faced legal troubles with the Competition Commission of India which said the company has abused the dominant position of its Android system in the Smart TV market segment. 

Regulators contend that makers of Smart TVs have no alternative to Android and are therefore obliged to install Google’s apps.

Google has denied any violations, saying its licensing practices comply with the law.

— AP


End of Facebook’s cryptocurrency dreams points to challenges for stablecoins

End of Facebook’s cryptocurrency dreams points to challenges for stablecoins
Updated 28 January 2022

End of Facebook’s cryptocurrency dreams points to challenges for stablecoins

End of Facebook’s cryptocurrency dreams points to challenges for stablecoins
  • Facebook is said to be planning to sell the technical assets of Diem after facing regulatory pushback

LONDON: Facebook is said to be winding down its cryptocurrency project Diem and preparing to sell its assets following regulatory pushback in the US

The Diem Association, launched by Facebook in 2019 and supported by 25 businesses, will sell its technology to California-based Silvergate Bank for $200 million, the Wall Street Journal reported, citing people familiar with the discussions.

Originally named Libra, the crypto coin was initially planned to be backed by a basket of currencies, but under pressure from regulators narrowed its ambition to assuming the status of a stablecoin, backed one-to-one by US dollars.

Similar products already exist in the form of other stablecoins, such as Tether, Dai, Binance USD and USD Coin.

They are braced for action from regulators, who have shown an increasing interest in stablecoins and other crypto assets of late. Facebook’s failure to launch a preapproved coin does not bode well for them.

A report in November from the President’s Working Group on Financial Markets, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, and the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency called for urgent legislative action to limit the issuance of stablecoins to insured depository institutions and to enable their regulation.

They are most concerned about their ability to destabilize the financial system if there is a sudden run on withdrawals. The market for stablecoins is growing rapidly — up to nearly $130 billion as of the end of October from closer to $23 billion at the same time last year.

Stablecoins are mainly used in transactions involving other digital currencies, but they have the potential to be used in retail transactions as companies like Visa explore services relating to them.

However, there are reasons to believe stablecoins will not meet the same fate as Diem, which faced some unique challenges.

Because of Facebook’s size – it has about 2.9 billion users – it was always going to face greater scrutiny than rival products. It was liaising with regulators during a period of numerous scandals, including the Cambridge Analytica privacy row, which meant trust in the social media pioneer was historically low.

Diem hired former HSBC legal chief Stuart Levey as its first CEO and, in May last year, moved its headquarters from Switzerland to the US in an attempt to placate regulators. But the writing was on the wall when founder David Marcus left the company at the end of 2021.

However, Facebook’s parent company, Meta, has not given up all its crypto ambitions. It built a digital currency wallet, called Novi, and released it as a small pilot in October. Novi is central to its plans to pivot toward projects related to allowing its users to buy and sell non-fungible tokens, known as NFTs, which became a $40 billion market in 2021.

Don’t expect this to be the end of Meta’s crypto ambitions.

On the markets today, Bitcoin was down 0.6 percent to $36,379, while Ethereum declined 2.9 percent to $2,379.

However, outflows of $670 million of Bitcoin from centralized exchanges is a bullish sign for the largest cryptocurrency, according to CoinDesk. Most investors prefer to have direct custody of coins when they intend to hold them for the longer term, it said.


NAFT to increase to 500 gas stations in Saudi Arabia thanks to $300m Saudi Automotive Services deal

NAFT to increase to 500 gas stations in Saudi Arabia thanks to $300m Saudi Automotive Services deal
Updated 28 January 2022

NAFT to increase to 500 gas stations in Saudi Arabia thanks to $300m Saudi Automotive Services deal

NAFT to increase to 500 gas stations in Saudi Arabia thanks to $300m Saudi Automotive Services deal

RIYADH: NAFT Services will see its number of gas stations in Saudi Arabia more than double thanks to the SR1.1 billion ($293.1 million) deal with Saudi Automotive Services Co announced earlier this week.

The deal will see the automotive services firm, also known as SASCO, take an 80 percent stake in the gas station firm. 

The money will be used to expand NAFT's current network of 233 gas stations spread through the Kingdom to 500, SASCO’s Vice Chairman Sultan Al Hudaithi said in an interview with CNBC Arabia.

“We want to take advantage of this network to reach customers faster, whether individuals, companies or the government sector and to achieve synergy between benefiting from both SASCO and NAFT teams' expertises,” Al Hudaithi said.

“This is an important step to expand and shorten the time for natural growth. This acquisition enables us to rapidly spread in different regions in the Kingdom, and achieve more integration between the two companies,” he added.

Negotiations are underway with a group of local banks to finance the acquisition, and the percentage of self-financing is not determined yet, according to Al Hudaithi.

Once completed, the deal will see SASCO have a 5 percent share of the market.

The vice chairman said there will be progress in terms of services provided to the company's customers in the Kingdom.

On SASCO future performance, Al Hudaithi expected significant improvement in 2022, with Saudi recovery from the pandemic.

“With the return of schools, we expect the recovery to speed up in gas stations in general, as well as travel between cities,” he said.

 


Retail e-payments exceed Saudi Vision target in 2021, Central Bank says

Retail e-payments exceed Saudi Vision target in 2021, Central Bank says
Updated 28 January 2022

Retail e-payments exceed Saudi Vision target in 2021, Central Bank says

Retail e-payments exceed Saudi Vision target in 2021, Central Bank says

RIYADH: Electronic payments in retail surpassed the 55 percent target set out by the Financial Sector Development Program, FSDP, one of the main programs of Saudi Vision 2030.

The e-payments exceeded 57 percent of total transactions conducted in 2021, the Saudi Central Bank said in a statement.

Over 5.1 billion transactions were made through the national Mada payment system during 2021, with a growth rate of 81 percent compared to 76 percent in 2020, the statement said.

More than a million Point of Sale terminals were deployed by the end of 2021 compared to 721,000 terminals deployed in 2020.

Additionally, contactless payments methods accounted for 95 percent of all PoS transactions in 2021, alongside other electronic payment methods such as e-commerce payments, ‘SADAD’ system payments and the new Instant Money Transfer through ‘Sarie’ system and others.

The business sector had 84 percent of its total payment transactions electronic in 2021, compared to just 51 percent in 2019, marking a 65 percent increase in electronic payment share during these past two years.

Accordingly, major corporations rely on electronic payments to complete 99.6 percent of their transactions, while the same metric stood at 78 percent for Small Medium Enterprises, and 76 percent for micro enterprises, the Central Bank noted.

The Central Bank is working on promoting electronic infrastructure, expanding electronic payment activities and accelerating the electronic transformation of transactions, Governor of the Bank Fahad Almubarak said.

He added that this most recent achievement was driven by FSDP and the implementation of the bank's strategic plans for the payments sector, primarily aiming to reduce dependency on cash, and increase the rate of electronic payments to 70 percent by 2025.

Almubarak emphasized the joint efforts between the government and private sectors to increase payment choices and implement many payment digitization initiatives.


Egypt unveils 4-wheel natural gas alternative to imported tukuks

Egypt unveils 4-wheel natural gas alternative to imported tukuks
Updated 28 January 2022

Egypt unveils 4-wheel natural gas alternative to imported tukuks

Egypt unveils 4-wheel natural gas alternative to imported tukuks

Egypt has unveiled a four-wheeled light vehicle powered by petrol and natural gas that will replace the country's 3.5 million tuktuks in a bid to reduce their environmental footprint. 

The ministries of trade and industry and military production showed off a prototype of the new vehicle following Egyptian authorities decision on Tuesday evening to ban the import of tuktuks and set a plan to replace them using alternative vehicles.

Tuktuks are three-wheeled vehicles used as taxis, common in a number of countries including Egypt.

Minister of State for Military Production Mohamed Ahmed Morsi explained that this vehicle is a sample of a proposed project between the National Authority for Military Production and the private sector company GB Auto Ghabbour to provide an alternative four-wheeled vehicle. 

Trade and Industry Minister Nevin Gamea said the vehicle will be produced with a dual system engine, petrol and natural gas, which reduces the cost of transportation and operation and makes it environmentally friendly. 

The number of tuktuks in Egypt is approximately 3.5 million, according to estimates, of which just 10 percent have an official licence.

Some see them as a public nuisance while others find them a cheap, convenient method of transportation.