G7 calls for extension, full implementation and expansion of Black Sea grain deal 

G7 calls for extension, full implementation and expansion of Black Sea grain deal 
Grain sales are a vital revenue source for Kyiv, and food import bans imposed by four EU member states in Eastern Europe have increased Ukraine's concerns about its food exports. (Shutterstock)
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Updated 23 April 2023
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G7 calls for extension, full implementation and expansion of Black Sea grain deal 

G7 calls for extension, full implementation and expansion of Black Sea grain deal 

RIYADH: The Group of Seven economic powers called on Sunday for the "extension, full implementation and expansion" of a critical deal to export Ukrainian grain through the Black Sea, the group's agriculture ministers said in a communique. 

Brokered by the UN and Turkey, the deal was signed in Istanbul last July, allowing Ukraine to export more than 27 million tons of grain from several of its Black Sea ports. 

Russia, which invaded its neighbor in February 2022, has strongly signaled that it will not allow the deal to continue beyond May 18 because a list of demands to facilitate its own grain and fertilizer exports has not been met. 

In the communique after a two-day meeting in Miyazaki, Japan, the G7 agriculture ministers "recognized the importance" of the deal, saying: "We strongly support the extension, full implementation and expansion of (the Black Sea Grain Initiative) BSGI." 

G7 members "stand ready" to support recovery and reconstruction of Ukraine, including by providing expertise in de-mining of agricultural land and reconstruction of agricultural infrastructure, the document said. 

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov is scheduled to discuss the Ukraine Black Sea grain export deal with UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres in New York this week. 

Meanwhile, Ukraine's prospects of unblocking grain shipments to Eastern Europe improved last Friday as Romania opted against a unilateral ban on food imports, but there was no progress on extending a deal on Black Sea exports. 

Grain sales are a vital revenue source for Kyiv, and food import bans imposed by four EU member states in Eastern Europe have increased Ukraine's concerns about its food exports. 

Offering Kyiv some relief, Romania said it would not join Bulgaria, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia in banning food imports from Ukraine to protect local producers hit by an influx of cheaper Ukrainian supplies. 

Instead, Bucharest will wait for the European Commission, the EU executive, to enforce measures to help farmers in central and eastern Europe. 

"I think it is necessary we wait ... to see what the Commission decides, and then we will meet again to establish long-term rules, because Romania and Ukraine are large grain producing countries," Agriculture Minister Petre Daea said. 

A major grain transit hub for Ukraine, Romania's Black Sea port of Constanta shipped some 12 million tons of Ukrainian grains in 2022 and the first quarter of this year. 

Daea said, after talks with Ukrainian Agriculture Minister Mykola Solsky, that Romania and Ukraine would consult weekly on expected grain volumes, as Romania tries to limit imports. 

Solsky told reporters it was obvious the situation required quick decisions, adding: "We understand these decisions must be comfortable for Romanian farmers and ... we wait for the European Commission." 

GRAIN DEAL HANGS IN BALANCE 

The European Commission has announced plans to offer farmers in eastern and central Europe compensation for some products if the unilateral import bans are lifted, but the countries affected want the list of products widened. 

Black Sea grain exports are more significant for Kyiv than exports to Eastern Europe, and talks are under way on the status of the Black Sea Grain Initiative deal agreed last July to create a safe shipping channel. 

The initiative unblocked three Ukrainian Black Sea ports five months after Russia's invasion, and was designed to alleviate a global food crisis as well as to support Ukraine. 

Russia says it has agreed to extend the deal only until May 18 even though Kyiv and its allies say the terms of the agreement stipulate that it should continue beyond that date. 

Worried about its ability to ship grain from its Black Sea ports, Ukraine has stepped up exports via ports on the Danube River that flows though central and southeastern Europe. 

 


Saudi Arabia startups close February with $16.3m in funding 

Saudi Arabia startups close February with $16.3m in funding 
Updated 04 March 2024
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Saudi Arabia startups close February with $16.3m in funding 

Saudi Arabia startups close February with $16.3m in funding 

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia emerged as a significant player in the startup ecosystem this February, raising $16.3 million, making it the second-highest amount secured by any country across the Middle East and North Africa.

According to Wamda’s monthly investments report for the region, the Kingdom secured the funding across seven transactions, marking a 48.18 percent increase from a total of $11 million in January 2023.

The UAE led the region in startup funding in the second month of 2024, securing $65.6 million across 22 deals. This was greatly influenced by a $35 million sum raised by Flare Network to take over half of the total number of deals.

Investments in MENA startups amounted to $88.7 million in February, after 2024 kicked off at a slow pace with $86.5 million in January. The figure represented an 88.28 percent decrease from the $760 million raised in February 2023. 

Egypt saw only two startups raising $4.6 million in total.

“Web3 providers are the market’s rising stars this month, having raised $39 million in three rounds, led by Flare Network’s $35 million,” the report stated.

In terms of sector performance, foodtech showcased a robust performance, securing $21 million across two deals, with a notable $12 million directed toward The Cloud’s Series B round. 

Fintech and logistics startups raised $6.9 million and $5.4 million, respectively.

Seed-stage ventures continued to dominate investment, with a total of $25.5 million raised by 11 companies.

Business-to-consumer startups received a significant portion of funding, amounting to approximately $55 million across 16 transactions, while business-to-business enterprises secured $18.4 million through 17 deals.

Firms led by men continued to dominate the industry, accounting for over 55 percent of the total transaction value. Startups led by mixed-gender teams received 44.6 percent of the funds, while those led by women captured only 0.2 percent of the total investment.

Additionally, last month saw 14 new ventures not disclosing their fundraising amounts. A conservative estimate of $100,000 each was allocated to 12 of these companies. 

Notable recipients included Bookr, PIESHIP, and PhysioHome. Magpie Protocol and Groene Point received $1 million each for their undisclosed rounds.

In terms of venture capital activity, notable developments included the establishment of the Falcon Foundation in the UAE, with plans to invest $300 million in open-source generative AI models. 

The non-profit Falcon Foundation is dedicated to advancing the development of open-source generative artificial intelligence models and building sustainable ecosystems around projects that accelerate technology development, according to a press release.

Ray O. Johnson, CEO of the Technology Innovation Institute, stated: “We’re committed to fostering transparency and collaboration in AI. Extending the UAE’s collaborative spirit into AI development, we set new standards for openness, and we encourage all other entities that support open source from around the world to join us.”

Jordan’s Innovative Startups and SMEs Fund contributed $5 million to the MENA-focused initiative, MSA Novo.

MSA Novo is a multi-stage investment firm focused on emerging markets, according to its website. It also provides global best practices and institutional support to its portfolio companies, enabling them to scale to regional leaders.

“As a responsible investor in venture capital investment, MSA Novo is committed to building a better business for communities in the region and around the world,” the firm’s website says.

MSA Novo says it integrates environmental, social, and corporate governance to not only serve its goals but also as a powerful tool to further its investment impact, with a policy aiming to incorporate material ESG considerations into investment decisions with the objective of integrating sustainability elements into the fund’s investment process and improving the long-term financial outcomes.

COTU Ventures launched a $54 million inaugural fund, while Globivest completed the second close of its first initiative.

“We are on a mission to transform the culture of venture capital in the Middle East by setting the standard for others to follow,” COTU says on its website.

“We are the Champions Of The Underdog. We help people become extraordinary by showing them how to believe in themselves when they are at the loneliest, earliest, and most challenging parts of their journeys,” according to the firm’s manifesto.

Globivest is a venture capital firm on a mission to “break the myth that opposes capital returns to impact-driven models.”

According to its website, the company focuses on innovative and scalable early-stage startups. 

The firm seeks to establish long-term relationships with visionary entrepreneurs while adding clear value in strategy and execution.

Sawari Ventures also announced plans for a $150 million fund to support Egyptian businesses without specifying a timetable.

The Cairo-based venture capital firm invests in knowledge and innovation-based technologies across North Africa. 

“In our part of the world, everywhere you look, there are huge opportunities to be captured and entire industries ripe for transformation,” the company says in its website.

The firm’s objective is to enable entrepreneurs in the area to generate innovative solutions.

Sawari Ventures believes this will drive the region’s economies for years to come. 

The company invests in sectors including consumer internet, fintech, and ed-tech, as well as health tech, deep tech, and e-commerce.

These insights are a result of a collaboration between Wamda and Digital Digest, providing comprehensive monthly reports on the startup ecosystem


Hilton to operate 3 new resorts in UNESCO World Heritage Site Al-Ahsa 

Hilton to operate 3 new resorts in UNESCO World Heritage Site Al-Ahsa 
Updated 04 March 2024
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Hilton to operate 3 new resorts in UNESCO World Heritage Site Al-Ahsa 

Hilton to operate 3 new resorts in UNESCO World Heritage Site Al-Ahsa 

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s UNESCO World Heritage site, Al-Ahsa, is set to provide an enhanced hospitality experience as Hilton introduces three new resorts, establishing a farm-focused tourism hub. 

The global hotel operator and Dan Co., a Public Investment Fund company specializing in agritourism, ecotourism, and adventure tourism, have jointly announced the signing of an agreement.  

As part of the deal, Hilton will operate three resorts in the region: Al-Ahsa Agritourism Resort under LXR Hotels & Resorts, Al-Ahsa Eco Resort, and Al-Ahsa Adventure Resort, all part of the Curio Collection by Hilton. 

Covering 1.8 million sq. m., the master development in Al-Ahsa aims to establish a farm-focused tourism hub amid green landscapes and local farms, offering visitors a chance to connect with nature and enjoy a variety of experiences. 

Al-Ahsa, a significant agricultural region in Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province, is home to Al-Ahsa Oasis, the largest date palm oasis in the world.

Chris Nassetta, president, and CEO of Hilton, said the three new hotels further expands the company’s footprint in Saudi Arabia, where it plans “to quadruple their portfolio.”  

He said: “Al-Ahsa is one of the key regions identified under the National Tourism Strategy of Saudi Arabia, and we are pleased to bring Hilton’s renowned hospitality brands to this unique new tourism development in the country.” 

Each resort will offer a unique experience: luxury at LXR Hotels & Resorts Agritourism Resort, wellness at Curio Collection by Hilton Eco Resort, and outdoor adventure at Curio Collection by Hilton Adventure Resort, according to a press release. 

The central activation area, available to guests and the public, will feature a nature garden, amphitheater, dining and retail options, as well as a farmers’ market, and multi-purpose spaces for local agricultural vendors and retailers. 

Abdulrahman Abaalkhail, CEO of Dan Co., said that the collaboration with Hilton to operate the initial three resorts in Al-Ahsa will combine Hilton’s world-class hospitality with the scenic landscapes of the region. 

“This part of Saudi Arabia offers unique experiences rich in cultural and natural beauty yet underrepresented in the current tourism landscape. This delivers on our strategy to establish a Saudi homegrown hospitality brand with a pioneering heritage-inspired fusion of agricultural, eco, and adventure experience resorts, nestled in nature, setting a remarkable precedent in Saudi Arabia’s hospitality industry,” he said.  

Abaalkhail added that their business approach is intertwined with promoting cultural authenticity, sustainability, and empowering local communities. This strategy not only nurtures an inclusive ecosystem but also plays a pivotal role in advancing the Kingdom's overarching economic and tourism aspirations.   

The release further added that the resorts will be easily accessible via main roads, with Riyadh, Dammam, Khobar, Jubail, Bahrain, and Qatar within a one-and-a-half to three-and-a-half-hour drive away.   


MODON and General Electric seal deal to operate $346m technology center in Dammam 

MODON and General Electric seal deal to operate $346m technology center in Dammam 
Updated 04 March 2024
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MODON and General Electric seal deal to operate $346m technology center in Dammam 

MODON and General Electric seal deal to operate $346m technology center in Dammam 

RIYADH: Dammam’s General Electric Manufacturing Technology Center will soon begin operations thanks to a new agreement signed by the Saudi Authority for Industrial Cities and Technology Zones.    

The authority, also known as MODON, inked the deal with US multinational conglomerate GE to operate the SR1.3 billion ($346 million) complex across an area of more than 119,000 sq. m., according to a statement.  

This agreement aligns with MODON’s mission to develop and manage industrial cities and technology zones in line with national priorities and in partnership with the public and private sectors.  

It also coordinates with the authority’s endeavors to boost its partnerships with major global manufacturers and companies to contribute to the Saudi industry with advanced technologies.  

The deal cements the National Industrial Strategy’s aims to accelerate the diversification of its manufacturing base to enhance non-oil exports, encourage privatization, attract more foreign investment as well as increase funding for innovation and research and create local jobs.

This is not the first collaboration between MODON and GE. In 2023, the two entities signed an agreement whereby GE factories spread over 120,000 sq. m in the Eastern Region will come under MODON supervision. 

Through its strategy to empower industry and contribute to increasing local contribution, the authority seeks to help the private sector contribute some 65 percent to Saudi Arabia’s gross domestic product. 

In 2012, GE broke new ground when it launched the second phase of its high-tech GE Manufacturing Technology Center at Dammam’s Second Industrial City.

Since supplying Saudi Arabia with turbomachinery for its first oil expedition back in 1942, GE has been a growth technology partner to the Kingdom. 

The company has developed several successful programs with leading Saudi institutions such as the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology.


Saudi Arabia unveils ‘Hospitality Investment Enablers’ for tourism growth 

Saudi Arabia unveils ‘Hospitality Investment Enablers’ for tourism growth 
Updated 04 March 2024
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Saudi Arabia unveils ‘Hospitality Investment Enablers’ for tourism growth 

Saudi Arabia unveils ‘Hospitality Investment Enablers’ for tourism growth 

RIYADH: A new hospitality package is poised to enhance Saudi Arabia’s business operations, project viability, and land access, a senior official announced. 

The “Hospitality Investment Enablers” initiative, designed in collaboration with the Ministry of Investment, aims to elevate the efficiency of business operations and bolster project success, said Ahmed Al-Khateeb, the minister of tourism. 

He made the announcement during the opening remarks of the “100 Million Welcomes Celebration” held in Riyadh, highlighting the significance of the project. 

Al-Khateeb said: “These strategic enablers are designed to enhance business operations and project viability, facilitating access to government-owned land under favorable terms, streamlining project development processes, and minimizing barriers to market entry.”  

He added: “We have streamlined the investor journey to ensure a seamless experience. As part of these initiatives, we will be launching the Tourism Investment One Stop Shop later this year, in collaboration with our esteemed partners at the Saudi Business Center. Investors can get everything they need to do business in tourism, all from one place.” 

The total number of tourists in the Kingdom from home and abroad reached 106.2 million in 2023, reflecting an increase of 56 percent compared to 2019, and an increase of 12 percent on the 2022 figures. 

Al-Khateeb also highlighted the significant economic impact of tourism in the Kingdom, noting that tourists spent over SR250 billion ($66 billion) in 2023, contributing 4 percent to the gross domestic product. 

The minister emphasized the positive impact of tourism on local communities, promoting cultural exchange and showcasing Saudi hospitality. 

“I am delighted to announce the launch of the Saudi Tourism Excellence Award, aimed at recognizing the invaluable contributions of our local tourism and hospitality industry professionals, fostering innovation, and consistently elevating industry standards,” Al-Khateeb said. 

He added that in 2023, there had been a 390 percent increase in demand for tourism activity licenses. “But our journey does not end here. We are thriving, and Saudi tourism will continue ascending to even wider horizons.” 

Additionally, he further underlined the ongoing accomplishments in Saudi Arabia’s tourism sector, including giga projects like NEOM, Red Sea Project, AMAALA, AlUla, and Qiddiya, emphasizing the potential impact of these projects when fully operational. 

“This is why we are introducing the Tourism Investment Enabler Program to make doing business in the Saudi tourism sector easier and more cost-effective and enhancing our competitiveness,” Al-Khateeb explained. 

He continued: “Tourism license fees have been restructured to better fit the specific needs and operations of each investor … thanks to collaboration with government partners, we have reduced annual government fees by nearly 22 percent.” 

Furthermore, the minister recognized the collaborative efforts of various stakeholders, including government partners, global organizations like UN Tourism and the World Travel and Tourism Council, the private sector, and investors, in achieving remarkable success in the tourism sector.


Turkiye inflation rises to 67%, keeping pressure on central bank 

Turkiye inflation rises to 67%, keeping pressure on central bank 
Updated 04 March 2024
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Turkiye inflation rises to 67%, keeping pressure on central bank 

Turkiye inflation rises to 67%, keeping pressure on central bank 

ISTANBUL: Turkiye’s annual inflation rate climbed to 67.07 percent in February, exceeding expectations and keeping up pressure for tight monetary policy amid strong rises in food, hotel and education prices, official data showed on Monday. 

Shortly before the data, Finance Minister Mehmet Simsek told local broadcaster BloombergHT that inflation would remain high in the coming months due to base effects and the delayed impact of rate hikes, but would fall in the next 12 months. 

The central bank has hiked interest rates by 3,650 basis points since June, but has now paused its tightening cycle saying that the current 45 percent policy rate is sufficient to bring inflation down. 

Yet some economists see a growing prospect of more tightening sometime after nationwide local elections on March 31, given the price pressure and strong domestic demand.

“Core price pressures continue to run hot and if this continues, the possibility of a restart to the central bank’s tightening cycle will only increase in the coming months,” said Capital Economics Senior Emerging Markets Economist Liam Peach. 

Month-on-month consumer price inflation was 4.53 percent, according to the Turkish Statistical Institute, down from 6.70 percent in January but well above a Reuters poll forecast of 3.7 percent. 

Annual inflation was expected to climb to 65.7 percent in February before falling to 42.7 percent by the end of 2024, the poll found. 

In January, annual consumer price inflation was 64.86 percent. 

“Inflation was high in January due to temporary effects; there could be some continuation of that in February,” Simsek said. “However as of March, inflation will be back on trend. It will become in line with our disinflation path.”

LIRA SLIDE 

The lira has weakened 6 percent this year after a near-37 percent slide in 2023, further stoking import prices. It was slightly weaker at 31.4205 against the dollar after the data.
Though some analysts predict currency weakness after the elections — in which President Tayyip Erdogan’s ruling party seeks to reclaim big cities from the opposition — Simsek said authorities want neither a depreciating nor very valuable lira. 

Restaurants and hotels led the price rises in February, surging 94.5 percent, followed by a 91.8 percent rise in education prices. Heavily weighed food and non-alcoholic drinks prices jumped 71.1 percent. 

Economists have said that February inflation was also driven by the lingering impact of this year’s minimum wage hike on the services sector. 

Last month, the central bank maintained its 36 percent year-end inflation target and vowed to keep policy tight for longer to bring inflation down to forecasted path. The Reuters poll showed annual inflation falling only to 42.7 percent by year end. 

The domestic producer price index was up 3.74 percent month-on-month in February for an annual rise of 47.29 percent, the data showed.