China In-Focus — Crude oil imports from Saudi Arabia drop; Exports to North Korea surge

Update China In-Focus — Crude oil imports from Saudi Arabia drop; Exports to North Korea surge
China is also re-upping trade with North Korea (Shutterstock)
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Updated 20 April 2022

China In-Focus — Crude oil imports from Saudi Arabia drop; Exports to North Korea surge

China In-Focus — Crude oil imports from Saudi Arabia drop; Exports to North Korea surge

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia exported nearly 13 percent less oil to China in March than a year earlier but retained its top supplier spot, while shipments from second-ranked Russia slipped 14 percent, Reuters’ calculations based on Chinese customs data showed.

Saudi crude arrivals totalled 6.858 million tons last month, equivalent to 1.61 million barrels per day, according to data from the General Administration of Customs.

That compared to an average of 1.81 million bpd during the first two months and 1.85 million bpd a year earlier.

Imports from Russia were at 6.39 million tons, or 1.5 million bpd, versus 1.75 million bpd in March 2021 and 1.57 million bpd in the January-February period.

As most of the March-arriving Russian shipments were contracted before the Feb. 24 Russian invasion of Ukraine, any cut to Russian oil purchases due to worries of sanctions would only be reflected in data due for release in May.

Chinese exports to North Korea surge

Wheat flour is one of the key exports from China to North Korea (Shutterstock)

China’s exports to North Korea surged in January-March, with sales of edible oil, wheat flour and pharmaceutical compounds to its reclusive neighbor sky-rocketing after a COVID-19-induced pause, Chinese customs data showed on Wednesday.

China resumed freight trains to North Korea in January for the first time since COVID-19 led to a border lockdown between the two countries in early 2020, halting almost all trade.

The rebound in trade comes as the US is urging the UN Security Council to further sanction North Korea over its renewed ballistic missile launches. North Korea has been subjected to UN sanctions since 2006, although the Security Council does allow for humanitarian exemptions.

From January to March, Chinese exports to North Korea leapt to $173.4 million from only $13.0 million a year earlier, and nearly recovered to the $215.3 million figure for the first quarter of 2020, when COVID-19 was just emerging. Imports more than quintupled from a year earlier to $23.5 million, according to the customs data.

For March alone, Chinese shipments to North Korea stood at $57 million, up from $13.0 million a year earlier, while imports were at $3.5 million, versus $1.3 million in the previous year.

China to accelerate VAT credit rebates for small firms

China’s finance ministry and tax regulator on Wednesday said they will accelerate Value Added Tax credit rebates for small firms.

Medium-sized manufacturing firms are allowed to claim VAT credit rebates starting from May, earlier than the previously announced starting time of July, the Ministry of Finance and the State Taxation Administration said in a statement.

China's yuan weakens to a 6-month low

(Shutterstock)

China’s yuan fell to a six-month low against the dollar on Wednesday, dragged down by a weaker-than-expected official midpoint fixing and persistent worries over economic growth outlook.

But falls were limited by China surprisingly keeping its benchmark lending rates steady for the third straight month at its April fixing. Markets saw the move as indicating caution by Beijing in rolling out easing measures.

Prior to market opening, the People’s Bank of China set the midpoint rate at 6.3996 per dollar, 276 pips or 0.43 percent weaker than the previous fix of 6.3720.

But Wednesday’s official guidance rate, the weakest since Nov. 12, 2021, came in 143 pips softer than a Reuters estimate of 6.3853.

Markets usually note the PBOC’s daily yuan fixing to gauge the official attitude toward foreign exchange policy. Many currency traders interpreted Wednesday’s weaker-than-expected midpoint as indicating it would allow some weakness in the yuan.

The spot yuan opened at 6.4055 per dollar and fell to a low of 6.4115 at one point, the softest level since Oct. 29, 2021. 

Taiwan firms make uneven restart after Covid curbs

Kunshan, east China (Shutterstock)

Taiwan firms making chip and electronic components reported a mixed picture on Wednesday on work resumption in the eastern Chinese city of Kunshan after COVID-19 curbs, with some warning deliveries would be postponed until next month.

China has put Shanghai under a tight lockdown since late March and neighboring Kunshan has also tightened curbs to control the country’s biggest COVID-19 outbreak since the coronavirus was discovered in late 2019 in the city of Wuhan.

That had caused dozens of Taiwanese firms, many making parts for the semiconductor and electronics industries, to suspend operations. 

Global companies, from makers of mobile phones to chips, are highly dependent on China and Southeast Asia for production and have been diversifying their supply chains after the pandemic caused havoc.

Unimicron, which supplies Apple Inc. and Intel Corp. said in a statement to the Taipei stock exchange that the factory had suspended production from April 2 to 19.

It added it was “gradually resuming work depending on local personnel and logistics conditions.”

However, Asia Electronic Material Co. Ltd. which makes parts for laptops, mobile phones and digital cameras, said its plant in Kunshan would continue to be closed, having originally reported the suspension would last until Tuesday.

(With inputs from Reuters) 


Data, technology help make construction industry more environmentally friendly

Data, technology help make construction industry more environmentally friendly
Updated 07 October 2022

Data, technology help make construction industry more environmentally friendly

Data, technology help make construction industry more environmentally friendly

The building and construction industry is one of the largest in the world’s economy with approximately $10 trillion spent on construction-related goods and services every year.

But it is also disproportionately destructive as one of the world’s most energy-intensive polluting industries on the planet.

According to figures published on the website USCAD.com in July this year, the world’s construction industry is still responsible for 38 percent of CO2 emissions, 23 percent of air pollution, 40 percent of water pollution, 50 percent of landfill waste, 21 percent of the depletion of natural resources and 40 percent of energy usage.

These are not new figures. It’s not as if the construction industry has suddenly tumbled down a path of self-destruction.

In Las Vegas in 2019, a conference held by the software company Autodesk was told that the construction and manufacturing industries were hugely wasteful and among the world’s biggest polluters.

And in 2021, the general picture for the world’s future was dealt another blow when delegates at COP 26 admitted they were nowhere near to reaching the targets set previously to slow global warming.

“Our theory for how we transform the AEC industry (Architectural Engineering and Construction) is unchanged. We very much want to bring (new) industrial methods and processes to it,” said Andrew Anagnost, CEO of Autodesk on the sidelines of the 2022 Autodesk University conference in New Orleans.

Anagnost said the data and technology was available to help make the industry more environmentally efficient and less wasteful.

There are companies already in existence that provide digital information that can predict potential flaws in plans before they become a reality, and even how much material is needed – and yet Anagnost said there were still companies that were not using the information.

“The biggest waste that you see in the AEC ecosystem, is people making it up along the way.”

In contrast, he said the manufacturing industry generally stuck to its plans so that the end product was what was intended from the outset.

“That kind of precision needs to evolve into the AEC industry. And that's why you see us building these things that are coming together from both sides. And when that when that work is done, we believe we will have made an impact on how these industries work. Until then, they still redo and undo at a pace that's, you know, unparalleled in other industries,” he added.

But it’s not all bad news, there are efforts to reduce the amount of waste using cloud-based technology, and it is the Middle East that seems to be embracing this technology.

TURNING BUILDINGS INTO DATA FARMS

The good news is that the Middle East has largely cleaned up its act, according to Naji Atallah, head of construction and manufacturing at Autodesk Middle East.

Speaking to Arab News, he said the reason for the improvement was a factor that had always been present.

He said construction in the region was usually based on undeveloped land, thus removing the need to take into consideration existing structures, that might introduce additional costs.

“There’s no major legacy of buildings and bridges and roads that need to be maintained,” he explained, adding that the construction industry in the region was effectively working on a “blank canvas,” which enabled developers to place sustainability at the forefront of their projects.

“If I look at probably all of the mega projects in the region, sustainability has been one of the big goals that they see.”

“We have seen a shift (in the Gulf region) from we want everything delivered tomorrow, to we want things delivered in a better way.”

Pointing to Saudi Arabia’s Red Sea project and Dubai’s Museum of the future, he said there was now greater effort to ensure a sustainable approach to these projects.

And by using software technology developers have been able to create structures that use less energy and materials in their construction by using information gathered from predictive modeling that shows designers how a structure will behave before it is even built.

The digitization of the building industry – if embraced – could potentially revolutionize the way it works – from lowering waste, reducing pollution and to cutting costs.

“Sensors are so cheap now,” Atallah said, “that they could be placed into every new structure – we don’t even need to know what – or if they-re going to be used – and collect all sorts of information.”

That data, he said, could then be used to predict any structural issues, how to improve fuel economies – to name two – but not just for that structure, but also for future projects.

This data, he said could become a commodity that could be sold to help improve future projects.

BRIDGING THE GAP

Imagine a building – in fact any structure – that from the moment it is complete, starts to collect data that can be used to address problems before they are noticed by the human eye and aid in future new builds.

Sounds futuristic – but the truth is the technology is already here – it’s just a question of people in the industry using it.

The Dubai-headquartered company Dar Al-Handasah, which heralds from Lebanon, and is the 10th leading design firm in the world – third in the Middle East has created a cantilever bridge that was built using recycled plastic – mixed with fiberglass to create a poxy – and a 3D printer.

Using algorithms, the designers were able to come up with a design that created a bridge using minimal materials that, when fixed with the sensors, was able to teach them how to better improve the product in later designs.

The bridge is made up in a modular system from 70 percent recycled materials.

It is a step away from traditional construction methods, with the bridge being built as one piece in a factory environment before being transported to its place of use once complete.

Cloud-based technology provided by Autodesk was used to create virtual modules of the bridge to calculate the best design in terms of material use, look and its structural durability.

Ghassan Zein, the Lebanese digital practice manager at Dar Al-Handasah said the bridge was a first of its kind, he said as such they needed to see how it behaved when put into use was essential for future developments, so it was fitted with sensors.

“We have the monitoring of the intelligence of the bridge that would monitor how it’s doing because it’s new,” Zein told Arab News on the sidelines of the Autodesk University 2022 conference in New Orleans.

The bridge is a new shape, a new design, Zein explained, “So we have to know if it's doing well.”

The company has a team whose role is to monitor the data gathered from the bridge.

“They analyze the data and keep changing the design of future projects,” he said.

Zein said the structural engineers addressed the design, what was safe, what was not, what performed well, what did not, using live data gathered from sensors in the structure of the bridge.

FROM PREFAB TO MODULAR

The modular approach to building the bridge is not a new concept. In Britain in the 1950s low-cost social housing was created.

These usually low-leveled, single-storied buildings were made up of walls and roofs that were created off-site and then put together once ready.

But they were usually of a low standard with materials that were not long lasting, leaving properties structurally unsound and some of the materials even being harmful to people’s health – including asbestos cladding.

Move forward 70 – 80 years and the concept of building parts, or entire structures such as the 3D printed bridge off-site and then moving them to their final location is now proving to be a leading method of construction – both economically and also environmentally.

Beach villas on the Red Sea project off the coast of Saudi Arabia and Dubai’s Museum of the Future were all built in a factory environment, before they were shipped to their final destination.

The methods being offered at functions such as Autodesk University are an eye opener for the industry.

Invest in the technology and the construction industry could change from being one of the environment’s biggest enemies, to a major green player.

It just needs those in the industry to embrace the future.

The key take away being, collect the data, learn what the potholes are before the building work starts and then embark on the real deal – ultimately the outcome is more efficient.


Suez Canal revenues hit $2.1bn in Q3, highest quarter in history: Egypt Cabinet

Suez Canal revenues hit $2.1bn in Q3, highest quarter in history: Egypt Cabinet
Updated 07 October 2022

Suez Canal revenues hit $2.1bn in Q3, highest quarter in history: Egypt Cabinet

Suez Canal revenues hit $2.1bn in Q3, highest quarter in history: Egypt Cabinet

RIYADH: Suez Canal revenues increased in the third quarter of this year by 23.5 percent year-on-year to hit $2.1 billion — the highest figure ever recorded, official data has revealed.

This increase is supported by the unprecedented jump in revenues during the month of August that hit a historical record at $744.8 million, according to a release from the Egyptian Prime Minister's Information Center on Friday.

As many as 6,252 ships crossed the canal from July to September, with a total net payload of 372.7 million tons.

Revenues during September rose by about 22 percent to $683.2 million. 

Over 2,000 vessels crossed the canal during that period from both directions compared to 1,856 vessels during the same period of last year — an increase of 9.1 percent.

The total net payload reached 120 million tons, compared to 112 million tons during September of last year, reflecting a 7.1 percent increase.

 


Binance-linked blockchain hit by $570m crypto hack, Binance says

Binance-linked blockchain hit by $570m crypto hack, Binance says
Updated 07 October 2022

Binance-linked blockchain hit by $570m crypto hack, Binance says

Binance-linked blockchain hit by $570m crypto hack, Binance says

LONDON: A blockchain linked to Binance, the world’s largest crypto exchange, has been hit by a $570 million hack, a Binance spokesperson said on Friday, the latest in a series of hacks to hit the crypto sector this year, according to Reuters.

Binance CEO Changpeng Zhao said in a tweet that tokens were stolen from a blockchain “bridge” used in the BNB Chain, which was known as Binance Smart Chain until February. Blockchain bridges are tools used to transfer cryptocurrencies between different applications.

Zhao said the hackers stole around $100 million worth of crypto. BNB Chain later said in a blog post that a total of 2 million of the cryptocurrency BNB — worth around $570 million — was withdrawn by the hacker.

The Binance spokesperson said in emailed comments that “the majority” of the BNB remained in the hacker’s digital wallet address, while about $100 million worth was “unrecovered.”

Blockchain bridges have increasingly become the target of thefts, which have long plagued the crypto sector.

BNB Chain supports the BNB cryptocurrency, formerly known as Binance Coin, which is the world’s fifth-largest token with a market value of some $46 billion, according to CoinGecko data.

Some $2 billion worth of cryptocurrency has been stolen in 13 different bridge hacks, mostly this year, crypto analytics firm Chainalysis said in August.

In March, hackers stole around $615 million from Ronin Bridge, used to transfer crypto in and out of the game Axie Infinity, in one of the largest crypto heists on record. The United States linked North Korean hackers to the theft.

BNB Chain suspended its blockchain for several hours before resuming at around 0630 GMT, it said in a tweet.

It said in its blog post that BNB Chain was “able to stop the incident from spreading” by contacting the blockchain’s “validators,” — entities or individuals who verify blockchain transactions. BNB Chain said there are 44 validators across several different time zones, without giving further details.

BNB Chain said it would introduce a new “governance mechanism” to counter future hacks, as well as to expand the number of validators.

On the Binance website, BNB Chain is described as a “community-driven, open-sourced and decentralized ecosystem.” 


Abdul Latif Jameel Energy-owned firm to develop $1bn battery energy storage platform in the UK

Abdul Latif Jameel Energy-owned firm to develop $1bn battery energy storage platform in the UK
Updated 07 October 2022

Abdul Latif Jameel Energy-owned firm to develop $1bn battery energy storage platform in the UK

Abdul Latif Jameel Energy-owned firm to develop $1bn battery energy storage platform in the UK

RIYADH: A division of Abdul Latif Jameel Energy has partnered with UK-based firm Tyler Hill Partners to develop a $1 billion battery energy storage platform in Britain, MEED reported.

Fotowatio has put forward the platform, known as FRV TH Powertek, which will be focused on designing, constructing and operating a portfolio of battery energy storage-system projects in the UK. 

It is expected to reach up to 1GW over the next five years with an estimated aggregate investment of £1 billion.

“A significant growth is expected in installed capacity of battery storage projects to keep the UK on track to meet its net zero targets for 2050,” MEED reported citing Abdul Latif Jameel Energy.

FRV expects to invest more than $1.5 billion to double its total installed capacity from 2GW in 2021 to 4GW in 2024.

BESS platforms are expected to play a crucial role in the global expansion of variable renewable energy capacity using solar and wind sources, according to MEED.


Oil target cuts free up capacity in case of crises, OPEC head says

Oil target cuts free up capacity in case of crises, OPEC head says
Updated 07 October 2022

Oil target cuts free up capacity in case of crises, OPEC head says

Oil target cuts free up capacity in case of crises, OPEC head says

DUBAI: Oil output target cuts agreed by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and its allies, known as OPEC+, will leave producers more supply to tap in the event of any crises, OPEC Secretary General Haitham Al-Ghais told Al Arabiya TV on Friday, according to Reuters.

OPEC+, which includes the 13 members of OPEC and 10 allies led by Russia, agreed on Wednesday to lower their output target by 2 million barrels per day.

OPEC’s de facto leader Saudi Arabia said the move was necessary to respond to rising interest rates in the West and a weaker global economy.

The decision was criticized by the US where the White House said it was a sign the group was aligning itself with Russia.

US President Joe Biden also faces mid-term elections next month in which high energy prices are a hot topic.

“This was not a decision from one country against another, and I want to be clear in saying this, and it’s not a decision from two or three countries against a group of other countries,” said Ghais.

“There are strong indicators that there is a high possibility that recession will happen, we decided in this meeting to be pre-emptive.”

Western nations worry higher energy prices will hurt the fragile global economy and hinder efforts to deprive Moscow of oil revenue following its invasion of Ukraine.

EU sanctions on Russian crude and oil products are also set to take effect, in December and February, respectively.

Asked about the sanctions and a EU proposal to cap the price of Russian oil, OPEC’s Ghais said he could not comment.

“The truth is, the shape of these proposed sanctions is not quite clear, and how they will be implemented is also unclear, so we cannot comment.”

Ghais also said OPEC+ does not target prices: “We are not targeting a price, we are targeting a balance in supply and demand.”