Sunday, March 15, 2020

Oil price turmoil: How Saudi Arabia's $100bn gambit could backfire

Middle East Eye
Saudi Arabia's move to slash prices, prompted by a row with Russia, could devastate its own revenues, derail its Vision 2030 plans and antagonise its allies. So why did Riyadh do it?
In 1985, US vice president George HW Bush visited Saudi Arabia to pressure the kingdom to flood the global market with cheap oil and squeeze the energy revenues of the Soviet Union.

The move pushed oil below $10 a barrel, reasserted Saudi Arabia's dominance as the world's top oil player, and dealt what some consider a crippling below to the ailing Cold War superpower.

Fast forward to March 2020, and an oil price war is being played once again, with consequences for Washington, Moscow and the entire global economy.
Recent production cuts agreed between Opec+ members, the global oil cartel, fell apart as Saudi Arabia clashed with Russia over prices and Riyadh raised production to 13 million barrels per day (bpd). The oil price dropped by 25 percent to $36 a barrel on Monday.

The move is considered a gambit by both Saudi Arabia and Russia, which did not want as deep a price cut as Riyadh, to counter the growing market share of the US shale industry.

"From the Russian point of view they are seeking a redistribution of market share, which is the same thing the Saudis want," said Theodore Karasik, a senior advisor to Gulf State Analytics, a Washington-based consultancy.

"This dance between the two is like a relationship between a separated couple; they are arguing over relationship dynamics and will soon recognise the market has adjusted to where they can sit down and clink glasses."

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Wednesday, March 04, 2020

Want an all-expenses paid hajj? New Nigerian game show may be the ticket

Salaam Gateway

 Photo: Contestants playing Hajj Quest in a test pilot in 2019. Photo supplied by HalTV

Nigeria’s Islamic-themed lifestyle channel HalTV hopes to launch a new game show for Ramadan called Hajj Quest, with successful participants winning an all-expenses paid trip for the pilgrimage.

“It is a one-of-its-kind show, as there’s not a lot of content people consume that is spiritual but also entertaining. People want to go on hajj after Ramadan, so every night after finishing fasting they can watch someone play to win for hajj,” Sheriff Bakare, Founder and CEO of HalTV Africa told Salaam Gateway.
The game show is modeled on “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?”, but instead of the general knowledge questions of the British show that went global in the late 1990s and early 2000s, participants have to answer Islam-themed questions. “There are questions related to Ramadan and general Islamic knowledge,” said Bakare.

Last year, HalTV ran a pilot project of the game show. “Two people got to go to hajj, a winner and a runner-up. This year we’re expanding it and hope to give people at least one hajj winner per night, God willing,” he said. Questions will also be asked on air for the TV audience to submit answers to win a trip for umrah or to Dubai.

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Seeking accountability and transparency: Is it time for global oversight of halal certification bodies?

Salaam Gateway

Halal certification is big business. According to the Dubai-based International Halal Accreditation Forum (IHAF), the cost of certifying halal products is set to reach $1 billion by 2025. With demand for certification on the rise as the Islamic economy expands its offerings, from halal food to pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, and tourism, there is a need for halal certification bodies (HCBs) to be enablers of such an expanding market.

However, critics say the dominant HCB model is hindering rather than advancing the halal ecosystem, being driven by profit rather than consumer well-being and Islamic ethics, while in certain countries there are certification monopolies that are driving out competition in the sector.
Scandals have also emerged of certifiers and regulators refusing or delaying certification unless back-handers are paid.

“The majority of HCBs globally are for-profit and privately limited entities. That is a problem because there isn’t any accountability and transparency, unlike with, say, a publicly-listed company,” Moulana Navlakhi, Theological Director of the South African National Halaal Authority (SANHA), told Salaam Gateway.

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Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Impossible seeks halal status for plant-derived pork but certification may not be forthcoming

Salaam Gateway

Impossible Pork, a plant-derived product, is seeking halal certification, according to the manufacturer, but it is not clear if certification will be forthcoming.

California-based Impossible Foods released its pork substitute at the beginning of the year. The company’s earlier product, the Impossible Burger, was at the end of 2018 halal-certified by the Islamic Food and Nutrition Council of America (IFANCA) under regulations set by Malaysia’s Department of Islamic Development (JAKIM).

“We will seek halal and kosher certification as we did with the burger,” an Impossible company spokesperson told Salaam Gateway in an email.
IFANCA would not reveal whether it will certify Impossible Pork.

“We do not comment on pending applications for halal certification, but we can confirm if a product is certified or not. We are certifying the Impossible™ Burger,” said IFANCA in an email to Salaam Gateway.

“We have not certified Impossible Pork,” added IFANCA.

Halal certification for plant-based pork is controversial.

While pork is haram (not permissible) under Islamic law, plant-based alternatives to pork may not contain any haram ingredients.

However, under JAKIM's rules, which are widely regarded as a benchmark for the global halal certification industry, halal certification will not be awarded to a product that starts off from a haram standpoint, such as zero percent alcohol beer.

It is an opinion echoed by other certification bodies.

The UK’s Halal Trust, a certifying body, said it would not grant halal certification to a plant-based pork substitute like Impossible Pork.
“I would never certify it even if it is technically halal, because the word “pork” could create problems and confusion,” Shoeeb Riaz, operations director at the Halal Trust, told Salaam Gateway.

“Would most Muslim consumers’ reaction be positive or negative? And once the genie is out of the bottle, where would you stop?” he added.

IFANCA clarified its policy: "In general, we do not certify products whose names contain certain words that are normally associated with haram products, such as pork."

Impossible Foods did not state whether it was seeking halal certification for Impossible Pork with IFANCA or another halal certification body.

Riaz said it would be a controversial move for IFANCA to certify Impossible Pork.

“Why would IFANCA want to certify a product which has the word pork in it? It would delegitimize themselves amongst Muslim consumers,” he said.

Phuture Meat, a Malaysian food start-up that launched a plant-based pork last year, was the subject of media scrutiny following reports claiming the product was halal.

The company denied it was seeking halal certification. “We are currently 100 percent focusing on the Chinese market,” Phuture’s co-founder, Jack Yap, told Salaam Gateway in August.

Syria's economy goes from very bad to worse as Lebanon's crisis hits

Lebanon's financial woes have further hit the flow of dollars in Syrian markets, as Damascus deals with a crumbling economy

Syrians shop in the Hamidiya bazaar in the old city of Syria's capital Damascus in 2007 (Paul Cochrane)

When the United States, the European Union and the United Nations imposed sanctions on Syria in the first year of its civil war in 2011, they were intended to financially squeeze the government of Bashar al-Assad.
But Lebanon was also caught in the crosshairs, pressured to curb Syria's access to the global financial system given the longstanding banking ties between the two states.

When Syria nationalised its banks in the 1960s, it was to Lebanon that private capital fled. Banks were established there by Syrian investors, such as BLOM Bank, the country’s third largest, which is still managed by the Azhari family.
"It's pretty historical in terms of the relations between the Syrians and the Lebanese banking sector," said Jihad Yazigi, editor of the Syria Report, an economics news bulletin.

Throughout the Lebanese Civil War (1975-1990) and the Syrian occupation until 2005, it was Lebanon that acted as a foreign exchange hub for Damascus. Syria had been a closed economy, and it had been illegal to trade dollars outside of state-owned banks.

After the Syrian withdrawal following massive demonstrations in Beirut in the spring of 2005, and the liberalisation of the Syrian economy, Lebanese banks opened five affiliates in Syria.

"The dependency on Lebanon decreased as international transfers were allowed [in Syria], although Lebanon was considered safer, and had banking secrecy," said Yazigi.

Indeed, leaked US embassy cables from 2008 stated that individuals close to the Assad elite had accounts under different names in Lebanon, including sanctioned billionaire businessman and cousin of Assad, Rami Makhlouf.

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