Jordan Adopts “Green Growth” to Promote Economy

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SAUDI NEWS AGENCY ASHARQ AL-AWSAT)

Jordan Adopts “Green Growth” to Promote Economy

A tourist boy takes a picture of a camel at the Red Rose ancient city of Petra

Amman – Jordan has started the implementation of a series of measures to encourage green growth and create new job opportunities.

The new package of measures is focused on creating decent jobs in a country that suffers from rising unemployment and low economic growth rate of only 2.3 percent in 2017.

This came in the Jordan Economic Monitor report, which was released during a ceremony held in Amman.

The report also said that the new green growth measures were aimed at benefiting the most from local energies and reducing dependence on costly imports.

Co-sponsored by the Ministry of Planning and International Cooperation and the World Bank, the report noted that regional instability, especially in Syria and Iraq, was the main factor behind the commercial recession in the Kingdom.

It added that crises in the region have contributed to the slowdown in economic performance in Jordan, which was only 2 percent in 2016, compared with the growth rate in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), which was 3.2 percent for the same year, according to recent figures by the World Bank.

The Jordanian government has recently launched its economic growth plan, which seeks to double the rate of economic growth during the period 2018-2022. Last month, the ministry also launched the National Green Growth Plan, which focuses on energy, water, waste, transportation, tourism, and agriculture.

Jordan’s Minister of Planning and International Cooperation Imad Fakhoury, in a speech delivered on his behalf by Ziad Obeidat, said that regional conflicts have directly impacted the Jordanian economy.

He noted that the average domestic GDP rate for the years 2006-2010 was 6.5 percent compared with 2.6 percent in 2011-2016, and the unemployment rate among young people reached 35.6 percent compared with 30.8 percent in 2015.

For his part, the World Bank’s acting director for the Middle East Kanthan Shankar said: “Jordan has an opportunity to vitalize green growth and undertake climate action as part of a sustainable solution to fiscal, economic and climate vulnerabilities.”

“Such actions would spur job creation, reduce dependence on commodity imports, attract foreign direct investment and leverage international climate finance,” he added.

Local Chinese governments up to ‘little tricks’ on PPP projects: People’s Daily  

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF REUTERS AND THE PEOPLE’S DAILY)

Local Chinese governments up to ‘little tricks’ on PPP projects: People’s Daily

Checks on some private-partnership projects (PPP) and government investment platforms in China have found that some local authorities are still up to “little tricks” and borrowing more debt than needed, the People’s Daily newspaper said.

One local authority department, for example, was found to have launched a PPP project to build a much bigger-than-required office building when it only had six staffers, the state-run newspaper reported on Monday citing an unnamed official at a city’s finance bureau.

Some governments were also shelving all risk for PPP projects by guaranteeing losses, or providing commitments to persuade financial institutions to dole out financing, the newspaper said.

“These actions disrupt the market order and also exacerbate financing risks. These loopholes must be closed in order to eliminate hidden dangers,” it said.

The Ministry of Finance with other relevant departments were taking action to implement clear policies to govern such behavior.

China has been encouraging the use of PPP to alleviate the debt burdens of its local authorities, who in the past have used debt to finance projects such as bridges and municipal works with less-than-robust analysis on future returns.

It has also launched a market in asset-backed securities (ABS), a financing instrument via which a wide range of assets such as loans, real estate, toll ways and scenic parks have been converted into tradable bond-like securities.

China’s growing debt has been singled out by analysts and policy makers as one of the biggest risks to its economy, prompting authorities to tighten regulations over the past year to curb risky and speculative forms of lending.

(Reporting by Brenda Goh; Editing by Shri Navaratnam)

China Toughens Punishment For Stock Market Irregularities

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SHANGHAI DAILY NEWS)

China toughens punishment for stock market irregularities

CHINA’S securities regulator has toughened punishment on illegal market activities this year amid strengthened supervision, which handed out more fines in the first five months than the whole year of 2016.

From January to May, fines totalling 6.14 billion yuan (about 901 million U.S. dollars) were slapped on law violators in the securities sector, according to the China Securities Regulatory Commission (CSRC).

A total of 29 people were suspended from securities business in the five months, the regulator said.

In 2016, the CSRC punished 183 illegal market activities and handed out fines of 4.28 billion yuan, up 288 percent from the 2015 level. Some 38 people were barred from the securities industry.

While affirming improved market supervision, CSRC vice chairman Jiang Yang warned that the economic uncertainties, as well as new technologies,products and trading mechanisms, are likely to trigger new risks and challenge regulation.

The CSRC has been toughening supervision and punishment of illegal market activities such as insider trading and stock manipulation after the market rout in 2015 shattered investor confidence.

In March, the CSRC slapped a 3.47 billion yuan fine on a company chairman for stock market manipulation, a record high.

Egypt signs $575 million agreement with GE for 100 locomotives

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF REUTERS)

Egypt signs $575 million agreement with GE for 100 locomotives

Egypt signed a $575 million agreement with General Electric Co (GE.N) on Saturday for GE to provide 100 new multi-use locomotives, 15 years of technical support and spare parts, and maintenance and upgrades of 81 trains, the government said.

Transport Minister Hisham Arafat said in a government statement the first shipment of 25 locomotives would arrive in 2018 as part of a plan to have 25 million tonnes of goods transported via railway by 2022.

The agreement also includes GE carrying out maintenance and upgrades on 81 trains the Egyptian National Railways bought in 2008, and training Egyptian engineers.

(Reporting by Ahmed Aboulenein; editing by Andrew Roche)

At his golf courses alone, Trump reported $288 million in income in the past year

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CNN)

President Trump reported hundreds of millions of dollars in income Friday in financial disclosure forms that shed more light on his vast business holdings.

At his golf courses alone, Trump reported $288 million in income in the past year. That includes $19.8 million from his club in Bedminster, New Jersey, where he has spent some weekends as president.

Trump reported $37.2 million in income in the past year from Mar-a-Lago, the private Florida resort where Trump hosted the president of China and ordered missile strikes against Syria. The club has doubled its membership fee in the past year.

The Mar-a-Lago income figure was $7.4 million higher than on his previous financial disclosure filing, in May 2016.

Trump reported $19.7 million in income through mid-April at his luxury Washington hotel, which has been a center of concerns about conflict of interest because of the possibility that foreign governments can curry favor with the president by booking rooms there. The hotel opened in September.

The president reported up to $7 million in book royalties, including $1 million to $5 million from his book “Great Again: How to Fix Our Crippled America.” He reported nearly $11 million from the Miss Universe pageant and an $84,000 pension from the Screen Actors Guild.

Related: Read the full disclosure report

Trump has said that he sold all his stock holdings in June 2016 to avoid conflicts of interest. He later said he did so because it was improper to own stocks “when I’m making deals for this country that maybe will affect one company positively and one company negatively.”

The disclosure form appeared to confirm that he had sold those stock holdings. It did include income from capital gains and dividends, presumably before the stock sales.

The form, released by the Office of Government Ethics, reflects the president’s investments, other assets, income, retirement accounts and other holdings.

It is different from a federal tax return, which Trump has refused to make public and which would reveal much more about his business and financial dealings including any foreign business partners.

Federal law did not require Trump to file a new financial disclosure until next year, said Ken Gross, a Washington lawyer who has advised business executives and political appointees on finances and ethics.

“It’s particularly important that he made the voluntary filing in view of the fact we don’t have tax returns,” Gross said.

The White House said in a statement that Trump “welcomed the opportunity” to file the form “voluntarily.”

Norman Eisen, a Brookings Institution visiting fellow and former ethics lawyer for President Barack Obama, said the document is missing a great deal of valuable information.

“We still don’t know the extent or sources of foreign emoluments, the identity of all his investors, partners and financial actors involved in his businesses, the purchasers, including possibly foreign ones of his condos and other properties,” Eisen said.

Eisen is chairman of an organization involved in two lawsuits against Trump over foreign payments to his businesses, which the plaintiffs say violate a constitutional clause prohibiting the president from accepting foreign gifts, or emoluments.

Trump last released information about his finances in May 2016, as a candidate. It showed Trump was worth at least $1 billion.

Trump refused to sell his business holdings as president, as experts in government ethics urged him to do. Instead, he transferred them into a trust in his name. Any business profits will ultimately accrue to him when he leaves office.

CNNMoney’s Matt Egan, Julia Horowitz, Jeanne Sahadi and Mike Tarson contributed to this report.

Trump By Ignoring Africa, US Cedes Would Be American Jobs To China: Creating A China first Policy

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF FORBES)

By Ignoring Africa, US Cedes Jobs To China

Guest commentary curated by Forbes Opinion. Avik Roy, Opinion Editor.

GUEST POST WRITTEN BY

Grant Harris

Mr. Harris is CEO of Harris Africa Partners LLC and was senior director for Africa at the White House from 2011-2015.

It is old news that China has aggressive commercial ambitions in Africa, but fresh numbers reveal the depth of China’s success—and raise the stakes for U.S. dithering.

A recent Ernst & Young report shows that China more than doubled its foreign direct investment (FDI) projects in Africa in 2016, and that the value of these projects outweighs U.S. investments by a factor of 10. Moreover, China’s Commerce Ministry recently announced that China-Africa trade increased by 16.8% year-on-year in the first quarter of 2017. As if that was not enough, various African leaders were courted at a summit in Beijing last month, which promised extensive deals in infrastructure and trade under China’s “One Belt, One Road” initiative. All of this serves as an exclamation mark on the following sentence: The United States must step up its game on U.S.-Africa trade and investment.

Moroccan King Mohamed VI (C-L) and Li Biao (C-R), Chairman of the Chinese group Haite, attend the launch of a Chinese investment project in Morocco on March 20, 2017, at the royal palace near Tangiers. (Photo credit: FADEL SENNA/AFP/Getty Images)

Unfortunately, the U.S. has been slow to stake out a serious commercial strategy toward Africa, and U.S. companies by and large continue to overestimate the risks of doing business in the region. In contrast, China has sustained a policy of deliberate engagement and investment on the continent—and is making enviable returns in the process. Across Africa, China’s infrastructure projects generate earnings worth around $50 billion a year, which directly and indirectly translate into numerous jobs for Chinese citizens.

Building on a strong legacy of bipartisanship regarding U.S.-Africa policy, the Obama Administration deepened commercial ties on the continent, including through initiatives like Power Africa (designed to double electricity access in the region) that garnered broad Republican support. Indeed, U.S. FDI in Africa surged by over 70% from 2008 to 2015, on a historic-cost basis. Yet, in absolute terms, much more remains to be done to fully capitalize on Africa’s potential to contribute to U.S. growth.

Worryingly, the Trump Administration is so far heading in exactly the wrong direction. The policy signal to increase U.S. investment in Africa is no more. Whereas President Obama called for stronger U.S.-Africa economic ties—as did key Cabinet-level champions—the Trump Administration has shown no senior-level interest in this agenda. The raft of vacant positions across key federal departments compounds the problem.

Worse, President Trump is actively trying to eviscerate some of the vital tools needed to promote a serious commercial agenda. Though the “budget wars” are ongoing, fortunately Congress has so far rejected President Trump’s shortsighted proposals to eliminate funding for the U.S. Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) and U.S. Trade and Development Agency (USTDA). Both are important for trade and investment globally, and in Africa in particular. Between 2009 and 2016, OPIC’s commitment of about $7 billion in financing and insurance to secure projects in Africa catalyzed an additional $14 billion in investments in the region. Over that same time period, USTDA more than doubled its Africa portfolio of grants and technical assistance for infrastructure projects, boosting U.S. exports by at least $2.5 billion.

These and other tools should be strengthened—not demolished—to support U.S. businesses in Africa and to successfully compete with China. This includes the U.S. Export-Import bank, which has been outpaced by the China Export-Import Bank (some estimates say by a factor of 37 for loans to Africa) despite having a Congressional mandate to prioritize helping U.S. exporters compete for business in Africa.

The Trump Administration still has the opportunity to advance a serious commercial agenda in Africa, but we are reaching an inflection point, beyond which it will be increasingly difficult to make up for lost ground. As a dynamic continent of over one billion people (who will comprise one quarter of the world’s population and workforce by 2050), Africa’s role in the global economy will certainly increase over time. As the U.S. economy looks for new global growth to fuel domestic jobs, Africa represents a critical commercial frontier. Seizing this opportunity, however, depends on the interest and capacity of American companies to do business in Africa. There is still time to change course but, failing that, middling policy and weakened tools to promote U.S. investment in Africa essentially constitute a “China First” policy.

The Amazon-Walmart Showdown That Explains the Modern Economy

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE NEW YORK TIMES)

Credit Antonio de Luca

With Amazon buying the high-end grocery chain Whole Foods, something retail analysts have known for years is now apparent to everyone: The online retailer is on a collision course with Walmart to try to be the predominant seller of pretty much everything you buy.

Each one is trying to become more like the other — Walmart by investing heavily in its technology, Amazon by opening physical bookstores and now buying physical supermarkets. But this is more than a battle between two business titans. Their rivalry sheds light on the shifting economics of nearly every major industry, replete with winner-take-all effects and huge advantages that accrue to the biggest and best-run organizations, to the detriment of upstarts and second-fiddle players.

That in turn has been a boon for consumers but also has more worrying implications for jobs, wages and inequality.

To understand this epic shift, you can look not just to the grocery business, but to my closet, and to another retail acquisition announced Friday morning.

Continue reading the main story

Men’s dress clothing, mine included, can be a little boring. Like many male office workers, I lean toward clothes that are sharp but not at all showy. Nearly every weekday, I wear a dress shirt that is either light blue, white or has some subtle check pattern, usually paired with slacks and a blazer. The description alone could make a person doze.

I used to buy my dress shirts from a Hong Kong tailor. They fit perfectly, but ordering required an awkward meeting with a visiting salesman in a hotel suite. They took six weeks to arrive, and they cost around $120 each, which adds up fast when you need to buy eight or 10 a year to keep up with wear and tear.

Then several years ago I realized that a company called Bonobos was making shirts that fit me nearly as well, that were often sold three for $220, or $73 each, and that would arrive in two days.

Bonobos became my main shirt provider, at least until recently, when I learned that Amazon was trying to get into the upper-end men’s shirt game. The firm’s “Buttoned Down” line, offered to Amazon Prime customers, uses high-quality fabric and is a good value at $40 for basic shirts. I bought a few; they don’t fit me quite as well as the Bonobos, but I do prefer the stitching.

I’m on the fence as to which company will provide my next shirt order, and a new deal this week makes it a doubly interesting quandary: Walmart is buying Bonobos.

Amazon vs. Walmart

Walmart’s move might seem a strange decision. It is not a retailer people typically turn to for $88 summer weight shirts in Ruby Wynwood Plaid or $750 Italian wool suits. Then again, Amazon is best known as a reseller of goods made by others.

Walmart and Amazon have had their sights on each other for years, each aiming to be the dominant seller of goods — however consumers of the future want to buy them. It increasingly looks like that “however” is a hybrid of physical stores and online-ordering channels, and each company is coming at the goal from a different starting point.

Amazon is the dominant player in online sales, and is particularly strong among affluent consumers in major cities. It is now experimenting with physical bookstores and groceries as it looks to broaden its reach.

Walmart has thousands of stores that sell hundreds of billions of dollars’ worth of goods. It is particularly strong in suburban and rural areas and among low- and middle-income consumers, but it’s playing catch-up with online sales and affluent urbanites.

Why are these two mega-retailers both trying to sell me shirts? The short answer is because they both want to sell everything.

More specifically, Bonobos is known as an innovator in exactly this type of hybrid of online and physical store sales. Its website and online customer service are excellent, and it operates stores in major cities where you can try on garments and order items to be shipped directly. Because all the actual inventory is centralized, the stores themselves can occupy minimal square footage.

So the acquisition may help Walmart build expertise in the very areas where it is trying to gain on Amazon. You can look at the Amazon acquisition of Whole Foods through the same lens. The grocery business has a whole different set of challenges from the types of goods that Amazon has specialized in; you can’t store a steak or a banana the way you do books or toys. And people want to be able to make purchases and take them home on the spur of the moment.

Photo

Credit Neil Irwin

Just as Walmart is using Bonobos to get access to higher-end consumers and a more technologically savvy way of selling clothes, Amazon is using Whole Foods to get the expertise and physical presence it takes to sell fresh foods.

But bigger dimensions of the modern economy also come into play.

A Positive Returns-to-Scale World

The apparel business has long been a highly competitive industry in which countless players could find a niche. Any insight that one shirt-maker developed could be rapidly copied by others, and consumer prices reflected the retailer’s real estate costs and branding approach as much as anything.

That helps explain why there are thousands of options worldwide for someone who wants a decent-quality men’s shirt. In that world, any shirt-maker that tried to get too big rapidly faced diminishing returns. It would have to pay more and more to lease the real estate for far-flung stores, and would have to outbid competitors to hire all the experienced shirt-makers. The expansion wouldn’t offer any meaningful cost savings and would entail a lot more headaches trying to manage it all.

But more and more businesses in the modern economy, rather than reflecting those diminishing returns to scale, show positive returns to scale: The biggest companies have a huge advantage over smaller players. That tends to tilt markets toward a handful of players or even a monopoly, rather than an even playing field with countless competitors.

The most extreme example of this would be the software business, where a company can invest bottomless sums in a piece of software, but then sell it to each additional customer for practically nothing. The apparel industry isn’t that extreme — the price of making a shirt is still linked to the cost of fabric and the workers to do the stitching — but it is moving in that direction.

And that helps explain why Walmart and Amazon are so eager to put a shirt on my back.

Already, retailers need to figure out how to manage sophisticated supply chains connecting Southeast Asia with stores in big American cities so that they rarely run out of product. They need mobile apps and websites that offer a seamless user experience so that nothing stands between a would-be purchaser and an order.

Larger companies that are good at supply chain management and technology can spread those more-or-less fixed costs around more total sales, enabling them to keep prices lower than a niche player and entrench their advantage.

These positive returns to scale could become even more pronounced. Perhaps in the future, rather than manufacture a bunch of shirts in Indonesia and Malaysia and ship them to the United States to be sold one at a time to urban office workers, a company will have a robot manufacture shirts to my specifications somewhere nearby.

If that’s the future of clothing, and quite a few companies are working on just that, apparel will become a landscape of high fixed costs and enormous returns to scale. The handful of companies with the very best shirt-making robots will win the market, and any company that can’t afford to develop shirt-making robots, or isn’t very good at it, might find itself left in the cold.

What It Means for the Economy

If retail were the only industry becoming more concentrated, it would be one thing. But a relative few winners are taking a disproportionate share of business in a wide range of industries, including banking, airlines and telecommunications. A study by the Obama White House’s Council of Economic Advisers found that in 12 of 13 industry sectors, the share of revenue earned by the 50 largest firms rose between 1997 and 2012.

That in turn may help explain why the income gap has widened in recent years. Essentially, the corporate world is bifurcating between winners and losers, with big implications for their workers.

Research by Jae Song of the Social Security administration and four colleagues found that most of the rise of inequality in pay from 1978 to 2013 was because some companies were paying more than others — not because of a wider gap between high-paid and low-paid workers within a company.

“Employees inside winning companies enjoy rising incomes and interesting cognitive challenges,” the Stanford economist Nicholas Bloom, one of the co-authors of that paper, wrote recently in Harvard Business Review. “Workers outside this charmed circle experience something quite different.”

And David Autor of M.I.T. and four colleagues found in a recent paper that the rise of these “superstar firms” — the big winners in the kind of face-off that Walmart and Amazon are now engaged in — is a likely explanation for the decrease in the share of the overall economic pie that is going to workers.

How much of that is because of shifting technology — as opposed to changing corporate behavior, or loose antitrust policy — is an open debate.

What isn’t is this: The decision by Amazon and Walmart to compete for my grocery business — as well as for space in my closet — are tiny battles in a war to dominate a changing global economy.

And for companies that can’t compete on price and technology, it could cost them the shirt off their backs.

Putin Concerned over Spiraling Poverty in Russia

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SAUDI NEWS AGENCY ASHARQ AL-AWSAT)

Putin Concerned over Spiraling Poverty in Russia

Putin

Moscow- Russian President Vladimir Putin confirmed that poverty in Russia is increasing, expressing concern over the relapse of citizens’ income. He said that the Russian economy has overcome the shrinkage but is still suffering challenges that should be solved calmly.

He also lauded the Central Bank of Russia and stressed importance of gradual reduction of interest rates.

Speaking about the Russian economy global interaction, he did not show interest in the western sanctions that “have cost the Russian economy huge losses that are only half these of the west’s” – Putin pledged to lift sanctions imposed by Russia on western products if the West does the same.

His statements were made during his annual televised question and answer session on Thursday.

Putin did not deny that the Russian economy is suffering several challenges, adding that this phenomenon affects citizens’ income level. Among these challenges, he triggered issues of the economy structure and the drop of production.

“We have seen a decline in the real income of citizens in the past few years. And the increase in the number of people who live below the poverty line is especially worrisome,” he said.

Putin said that the Russian economy is unfortunately depending on oil and gas revenues, noting that the central bank is attentively changing the interest rate for this reason.

Answering a question on the westerns sanctions against Russia, he considered that the sanctions benefited Russia and pushed it to depend on itself to compensate – Putin affirmed that Russia managed to develop radio-electronic, airplanes, missiles, medicines and heavy metals industries thanks to sanctions.

Commenting on the US Congress amendment to tighten sanctions on Russia, he saw that this shows the continuous internal political struggle in the US.

U.S. Senate Votes Near Unanimously (98-2) For Russia, Iran Sanctions

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF REUTERS)

U.S. Senate votes near unanimously for Russia, Iran sanctions

By Patricia Zengerle | WASHINGTON

The U.S. Senate voted nearly unanimously on Thursday for legislation to impose new sanctions on Russia and force President Donald Trump to get Congress’ approval before easing any existing sanctions on Russia.

In a move that could complicate U.S. President Donald Trump’s desire for warmer relations with Moscow, the Senate backed the measure by 98-2. Republican Senator Rand Paul and Bernie Sanders, an independent who caucuses with the Democrats, were the only two “no” votes.

The measure is intended to punish Russia for meddling in the 2016 U.S. election, its annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea region and support for Syria’s government in the six-year-long civil war.

If passed in the House of Representatives and signed into law by Trump, it would put into law sanctions previously established via former President Barack Obama’s executive orders, including some on Russian energy projects. The legislation also allows new sanctions on Russian mining, metals, shipping and railways and targets Russians guilty of conducting cyber attacks or supplying weapons to Syria’s government.

“The legislation sends a very, very strong signal to Russia, the nefarious activities they’ve been involved in,” Senator Bob Corker, the Republican chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said as lawmakers debated the measure.

If the measure became law, it could complicate relations with some countries in Europe. Germany and Austria said the new punitive measures could expose European companies involved in projects in Russia to fines.

The legislation sets up a review process that would require Trump to get Congress’ approval before taking any action to ease, suspend or lift any sanctions on Russia.

National flags of Russia and the U.S. fly at Vnukovo International Airport in Moscow, Russia April 11, 2017.REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov
Trump was especially effusive about Russian president Vladimir Putin during the 2016 U.S. election campaign, though his openness to closer ties to Moscow has tempered somewhat, with his administration on the defensive over investigations into Russian meddling in the election.

Putin dismissed the proposed sanctions, saying they reflected an internal political struggle in the United States, and that Washington’s policy of imposing sanctions on Moscow had always been to try to contain Russia.

The bill also includes new sanctions on Iran over its ballistic missile program and other activities not related to the international nuclear agreement reached with the United States and other world powers.

UNCERTAIN PATH IN HOUSE

To become law, the legislation must pass the House of Representatives and be signed by Trump. House aides said they expected the chamber would begin to debate the measure in coming weeks.

However, they could not predict if it would come up for a final vote before lawmakers leave Washington at the end of July for their summer recess.

Senior aides told Reuters they expected some sanctions package would eventually pass, but they expected the measure would be changed in the House. The Trump administration has pushed back against the bill, and his fellow Republicans hold a commanding 238- to 193-seat majority in the chamber.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson questioned the legislation on Wednesday, urging Congress to ensure that any sanctions package “allows the president to have the flexibility to adjust sanctions to meet the needs of what is always an evolving diplomatic situation.”

Previously, U.S. energy sanctions had only targeted Russia’s future high-tech energy projects, such as drilling for oil in the Arctic, fracking and offshore drilling. They blocked U.S. companies such as Exxon Mobil, where Tillerson was chairman, from investing in such projects.

The new bill would slap sanctions on companies in other countries looking to invest in those projects in the absence of U.S. companies, a practice known as backfilling.

Also included for the first time are discretionary measures the Trump administration could impose on investments by companies in Western countries on Russia energy export pipelines to Europe.

The Senate also voted overwhelmingly on Thursday to add provisions to the bill allowing the U.S. space agency NASA to continue using Russian-made rocket engines and the 100 senators voted unanimously for an amendment reaffirming the U.S. commitment to the NATO alliance.

(Additional reporting by Tim Gardner; Editing by Yara Bayoumy and Tom Brown)

Saudi Arabia, Bahrain Agree to Build New Causeway

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SAUDI NEWS AGENCY ASHARQ AL-AWSAT)

Saudi Arabia, Bahrain Agree to Build New Causeway

Saudi

Saudi Arabia and Bahrain agreed on a plan to build a new road and rail causeway between the two countries and they hope private firms and the state can share the costs, risks and profits.

The new connection will help ease congestion on the existing link and will seek funding from the private sector, a document about the project showed.

The King Hamad Causeway is expected to cost $4 billion to $5 billion, according to sources who attended an industry consultation event in Manama.

The existing 25 km (16 mile) King Fahd causeway between the two countries has been open since 1986 and had average daily traffic of 31,000 passengers in 2016. But that is expected to double by 2030, the document distributed at the meeting showed.

Gulf Arab states including Saudi Arabia have historically financed infrastructure projects but while they still help with the cost of some, the oil price slump has forced them to slash spending and to consider bringing in private investment.

The meeting in Manama was attended by officials from the transportation ministries in the two countries and more than 150 companies that are expected to build the project using the public private partnership (PPP) model.

Besides a new four-lane road causeway running parallel to the existing one, there will be a new 70 km railway connecting a passenger terminal in Salmabad and freight facilities at Khalifa bin Salman port in Bahrain to the Saudi railway system.

Eight million passengers per year are expected to use the rail link by 2050 and some 600,000 containers and 13 million tonnes of bulk freight are expected to be transported by the railway, which could be developed under a design, build transfer, or design, build, maintain and transfer basis.

While the project’s technical details were clearly described in the document, key details of the PPP structure were still preliminary, said one of the sources.

The project is expected to be owned by the private sector through a new company with a 25-30-year PPP arrangement.

Private sector developers, co-investors, contractors and lenders should express their interest in the project by June 29, the document said. Advisers will be appointed in the first quarter of 2018 and pre-qualification requests are due to be issued in the second quarter of next year.

Asharq Al-Awsat English

Asharq Al-Awsat English

Asharq Al-Awsat is the world’s premier pan-Arab daily newspaper, printed simultaneously each day on four continents in 14 cities. Launched in London in 1978, Asharq Al-Awsat has established itself as the decisive publication on pan-Arab and international affairs, offering its readers in-depth analysis and exclusive editorials, as well as the most comprehensive coverage of the entire Arab world.

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