Dubai among world’s top 3 model smart cities

Emirate has been taking a pioneering role in self-driving cars, automated ports, testing of delivery robots and drones and social robots among others.

Dubai has been chosen among the world’s top 3 model smart cities, pioneering in different public and private services for the betterment of its residents. This thanks to a host of initiatives adopted by the government which are aimed at not just robotising the public services but also to make the emirate the happiest city on Earth.

As part of smart city initiatives, Dubai has been taking a pioneering role in self-driving cars, automated ports, testing of delivery robots and drones and social robots among others.

Mateja Kovacic, visiting research fellow, University of Sheffield, has picked Tokyo, Singapore and Dubai as model smart cities.
She said Dubai is an emerging prototype of a smart city.

“Rather than seeing robotisation simply as a way to improve the running of systems, Dubai is intensively robotising public services with the aim of creating the ‘happiest city on Earth’,” she said in the note.
She pointed out that national governments are in competition to position themselves on the global politico-economic landscape through robotics, and they are also striving to position themselves as regional leaders.

“This was the thinking behind the city’s September 2017 test flight of a flying taxi developed by the German drone firm Volocopter – staged to ‘lead the Arab world in innovation’. Dubai’s objective is to automate 25 per cent of its transport system by 2030,” she noted.

Though the emirate has been crowned the regional leader in the smart city, however, analysts believe that there is still a long road ahead for the city to become global leader despite major advances and achievements acquired by it over the past few years.

Frederic Paquay, senior consultant, MEA, public sector and government, Frost & Sullivan, said Dubai has the ambition to become the smartest city in the world and the emirate announced the launch of the Dubai Smart City Project in 2013.

“In this context several initiatives have been planned and some are already implemented or conducted: establishment of Smart Dubai and Dubai Future Foundation as the government agencies leading the revolution, the world’s first blockchain-powered government by 2020, the world’s 3D-printing hub, 25 per cent of all rides in Dubai to be driverless by 2025, etc. However, the city still faces some challenges with regard to regulations, infrastructure, the entire approach of the government, homegrown tech innovation, etc. It is therefore our opinion that Dubai still has to work on various action items to meet its futuristic vision,” opined Paquay.

Citing examples, he said Dubai ranks 37 in Easy Park’s 2017 Smart City Index, 28 in 2thinknow’s 2016-2017 Innovation Cities Index and 29 in the Startup Cities Index. “If the city remains first in the region, it can still improve various parameters to take over the lead from Western and Asian competition.”

According to a Frost & Sullivan report, global smart cities to raise a market of more than $2 trillion by 2025 with artificial intelligence, personalised healthcare, robotics and distributed energy generation among technologies that will drive growth, efficiency, connectivity and urbanisation.

By 2050, over 80 per cent of the population in developed countries is expected to live in cities and 60 per cent from the developing world. The Asia-Pacific region is anticipated to be the fastest-growing region in the smart technology space by 2025.

In Asia, more than 50 per cent of smart cities will be in China, with smart city projects generating $320 billion for China’s economy by 2025.

“Currently most smart city models provide solutions in silos and are not interconnected. The future is moving towards integrated solutions that connect all verticals within a single platform. Internet of Things is already paving the way to allow for such solutions,” said Vijay Narayanan, visionary innovation senior research analyst at Frost & Sullivan.

Paquay noted that Dubai is a young city and the smart city initiatives are still recent. However, Dubai has been evolving quite rapidly compared to the rest of the world and is today leading the way in the GCC and Mena region. The vision developed by Dubai government is, in this case, an important enabling parameter and most of international experts today see Dubai as a leading actor in the smart economy.

“Nevertheless, Dubai still remains at an emerging stage and we believe it should undertake a comprehensive future economy strategic plan involving all government and private stakeholders to become one of the smartest cities in the world. Several initiatives must be developed today to prepare the future in the next 15-30 years, some of them being, educating and training the human capital to improve access to the right talents, developing R&D programmes and incentives to create homegrown tech innovations, preparing the market ecosystem and the business community to the future smart economy, creating a holistic regulatory framework towards sustainable acceleration, etc.”

Today, Dubai is not the smartest city in the world, but with the work conducted by all government agencies including Smart Dubai and Dubai Future Foundation to build the right blocks for the future, there is no doubt that the emirate will become one of the smartest of all cities in the world in the years to come, he concluded.

By Waheed Abbas, Khaleej Times, 28 APRIL, 2018
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Tourism to contribute ‘double digits’ to Bahrain’s GDP in coming years

In 2017, tourism and hospitality contributed about 6.3 percent to the country’s GDP, according to official figures

Bahrain hopes that the tourism and hospitality sector will contribute “double digits” to its GDP over the next several years, according to Ali Ghunam Murtaza, the director of real estate, tourism and leisure business development at the Bahrain Economic Development Board (EDB).

According to official figures, tourism contributed 6.3 percent to Bahrain’s GDP in 2017.

Speaking to Arabian Business at the Arabian Travel Market, Murtaza said that the figure is likely to grow as ongoing tourism projects are completed.

“We foresee the contribution to go up for many reasons. Part of that is that we are actively working towards it. We want the contribution of tourism to increase along with other sectors in Bahrain,” he said. ” It’s an active strategy.”

“Through direct and indirect investment to tourism, I think it will be a big part of GDP,” he added. “Our aim is to get into double digits soon.”

In the longer term, Murtaza said he hopes that tourism’s contribution to GDP will reach as high as 20 percent, as much as other sectors such as banking.

“We aim to get it there in the long run,” he noted, adding that the county also hopes to attract 15 million tourists a year by 2020, up from approximately 12.7 million in 2017.

Additionally, Murtaza noted that investment in Bahrain’s tourism sector has reached $13 billion, a figure which encompasses 14 separate projects in the country’s tourism and leisure sector.

The tourism projects, in turn, form part of a larger infrastructure development campaign across a number of sectors, which is collectively valued at more than $32 billion.

“We have fantastic five-star resorts coming in, such as the Address, the Vida, the Jumeirah [Royal Saray], and so forth,” he said. “In addition to that, we’ve also started adding to our retail offerings, such as The Avenues, and we have a couple of others.”

To encourage more visitors to come to Bahrain, Murtaza noted that Gulf Air has invested nearly $7.2 billion to expand its fleet and “modernise the Gulf Air brand”, as well as $1.1 billion investments into expanding and improving Bahrain’s national airport, a project which Murtaza said is approximately 60 percent complete.

Looking to the future, Murtaza said that partnering with foreign investors is a key pillar of Bahrain’s strategy to increase visitor numbers and revenue from tourism.

“We work with them [companies based outside of Bahrain] very closely to identify opportunities where they can bring synergy to the table, where they bring quality investment, quality operations,” he said. “There are a lot of firms around the world with a lot of specific experiences.”

“We work to identify the top ones, and we work to get them to like Bahrain, get them to understand the opportunities, and then we enable the investment,” he added. “We are partners for the long-run.”

By Bernd Debusmann Jr, 23 Apr 2018

Healthcare in Dubai on steady growth track, says new report

Over the last five years, the knock-on effect of these changes has led to a huge growth, such as the number of hospital beds increasing from 1,448 in 2012 to 2,434 beds in 2016.

Dubai’s healthcare sector saw ample growth due to initiatives like investor-friendly environment, establishing a healthcare free zone and introducing mandatory insurance, according to a recent report.

Over the last five years, the knock-on effect of these changes has led to a huge growth, such as the number of hospital beds increasing from 1,448 in 2012 to 2,434 beds in 2016.

The healthcare contribution has shifted to the private sector from 41 per cent to 53 per cent over the same period, according to the Knight Frank’s Hub Report which focuses on benchmarking Dubai against the seven other key global cities, across key sectors – healthcare, manufacturing and logistics, business and financial services, tourism and education.
There is an increase in demand for healthcare services over the past 10 years, spurred by population growth, increase incidence of lifestyle-related medical conditions and medical tourism. Shehzad Jamal, partner development consulting, healthcare and education, said: “The market is becoming increasingly sophisticated and speciality driven due to better awareness of the domestic market and medical tourism demand. So we are seeing a shift in demand from general to speciality hospitals, such as for orthopaedic, long-term care facilities and mother and child.

“Prominent examples of such facilities are Burjeel Hospital for Advanced Surgery and Medcare Women and Child Specialist Hospital,” he said.
Comparing Dubai’s number of beds per 1,000 population with developed countries (especially those that have a strong medical tourism focus such as Singapore, UK and USA), there is significant potential for growth. The outlook is that market demand will continue to grow and migrate towards more specialist healthcare facilities.

Dr Gireesh, senior manager development consulting, Healthcare, said: “There remains a dearth in preventive healthcare services catering to the growing number of lifestyle diseases such as diabetes, obesity and hypertension, and associated co-morbidities such as renal and cardiovascular diseases.” He said patients’ awareness has increased over the years with more availability of information and smart healthcare systems such as smartwatches and applications.

By Asma Ali Zain, Khaleej Times, 23 APRIL, 2018
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First Saudi cinema opens with popcorn and ‘Black Panther”

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia — The lights dimmed and the crowd of men and women erupted into applause and hoots Wednesday evening as Hollywood’s blockbuster “Black Panther” premiered in Saudi Arabia’s first movie theater.

Though it was a private, invitation-only screening, for many Saudis it marked one of the clearest moments of change to sweep the country in decades. It’s seen as part of a new era in which women will soon be allowed to drive and people in the kingdom will be able to go to concerts and fashion shows, and tuck into a bucket of popcorn in a cinema.

“It’s a new era, a new age. It’s that simple. Things are changing, progress is happening. We’re opening up and we’re catching up with everything that’s happening in the world,” said Rahaf Alhendi, who attended the showing.

Authorities said the public would be able to purchase tickets online Thursday for showings starting Friday. But there may be delays.

Movies screened in Saudi cinemas will be subject to approval by government censors, and Wednesday night’s premiere was no exception. Scenes of violence were not cut, but a final scene involving a kiss was axed.

Still, it’s a stark reversal for a country where public movie screenings were banned in the 1980s during a wave of ultraconservatism that swept Saudi Arabia. Many Saudi clerics view Western movies and even Arabic films made in Egypt and Lebanon as sinful.

Despite decades of ultraconservative dogma, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has pushed through a number of major social reforms with support from his father, King Salman, to satiate the desires of the country’s majority young population.

“This is a historic day for your country,” Adam Aron, CEO of AMC Entertainment, told the crowd at the screening. “It’s been about 37 years since you’ve been able to watch movies the way movies are meant to be watched in a theater, together on a big screen.”

U.S.-based AMC, one of the world’s biggest movie theater operators, only two weeks earlier signed a deal with Prince Mohammed to operate the first cinema in the kingdom. AMC and its local partner hurriedly transformed a concert hall in the Saudi capital, Riyadh, into a cinema complex for Wednesday’s screening.

Aron said the company plans to rip out the current concert-style seats and replace them with plush leather recliners and build three more screens in the complex to accommodate up to 5,000 movie-goers a day.

Samer Alsourani traveled from Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province for the event. He commended the crown prince for following through on his promises to modernize the country.

“This is the first time that we really see something that’s really being materialized,” he said.

The social reforms undertaken by the 32-year-old heir to the throne are part of his so-called Vision 2030, a blueprint for Saudi Arabia that aims to boost local spending and create jobs amid sustained lower oil prices.

The Saudi government projects that the opening of movie theaters will contribute more than 90 billion riyals ($24 billion) to the economy and create more than 30,000 jobs by 2030. The kingdom says there will be 300 cinemas with around 2,000 screens built by 2030.

AMC has partnered with a subsidiary of Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund, known as the Public Investment Fund, to build up to 40 AMC cinemas across the country over the next five years.

Saudi Arabia had already started gradually loosening restrictions on movie screenings in the past few years, with local film festivals and screenings in makeshift theaters. For the most part, though, until now Saudis who wanted to watch a film in a movie theater had to drive to nearby Bahrain or the United Arab Emirates for weekend trips to the cinema.

In the 1970s, there were informal movie screenings but the experience could be interrupted by the country’s religious police, whose powers have since been curbed.

Jamal Khashoggi, a dissident Saudi writer, describes the theaters of the 1970s as being “like American drive-ins, except much more informal.” In an opinion piece for The Washington Post, he wrote that a friend once broke his leg at a screening in Medina when he jumped off a wall to escape the religious police and avoid arrest.

By the 1980s, movie screenings were largely banned unless they took place in private residential compounds for foreigners or at cultural centers run by foreign embassies.

Access to streaming services, such as Netflix, and satellite TV steadily eroded attempts by the government to censor what the Saudi public could view. By 2013, the film “Wadjda” made history by becoming the first Academy Award entry for Saudi Arabia, though it wasn’t nominated for the Oscars.

To adhere to the kingdom’s norms on gender segregation, certain screenings may be held for families and others for male-only crowds. But, generally movie theaters will not be gender segregated with “family sections” for women and related men and separate “single sections” for male-only crowds as is customary at restaurants and cafes.

Saudi Minister of Culture and Information Awwad Alawwad told The Associated Press the government aims to strike a balance between the country’s Islamic mores and people’s movie experiences.

“We want to ensure the movies are in line with our culture and respect for values. Meanwhile, we want to provide people with a beautiful show and really enjoy watching their own movies,” he said.

The new movie theater also came equipped with prayer rooms to accommodate the daily Muslim prayer times.

By Aya Batrawy, April 18, 2018

Sharjah ruler announces salary hike for non-Emirati employees

The salaries of non-Emirati Sharjah government employees will also be hiked by 10 per cent retroactively from the start of January this year. This comes following directions of His Highness Dr Sheikh Sultan bin Mohammed Al Qasimi, Member of the Supreme Council and Ruler of Sharjah, on Saturday.

In a video, His Highness said that he wanted to increase salaries of all employees in Sharjah government in the beginning of 2018. He issued directions for pay hike of Emirati staff. Now, he has directed salary raise for the non-Emirati employees, while appreciating their loyalty.

His Highness had ordered a Dh600 million ($163.3mln) increase in the salaries of the emirate’s government employees which was implemented on January 1, 2018, for only Emirati nationals, who shall no more be categorized below the 8th grade.

By Staff Writer, Khaleej Times, 15 APRIL, 2018
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Private sector’s share in GDP up 48%

JEDDAH — The private sector’s contribution to the gross domestic product of Saudi Arabia grew to 48.22 percent in 2017 while non-oil private sector GDP rose from SR1,227.5 billion in 2016 to SR1,236.6 billion in 2017, said a report issued by the Council of Saudi Chambers.

The CSC highlighted the private sector’s contribution to the GDP in different sectors irrespective of global economic downturn, including falling oil prices. The private sector registered the highest growth rate of 5.76 percent in electricity, gas and water sector, it added.

Mining and quarrying stood second with 5.68 percent, followed by financial, insurance and real estate services 2.92 percent, transport, storage and communications 2.83 percent, agriculture 2.35 percent and banking 0.82 percent.

The CSC report reviewed the real opportunities the private sector has in light of Vision 2030 through a series of initiatives offered by the government, which envision a leading role for the private sector in boosting the Kingdom’s economy in the coming years.

The government has allocated SR72 billion to support the private sector, the report said while commending its move to privatize education, health and other sectors. Vital locations have been allocated for educational institutions, markets and recreational centers and large portions of land have been set aside on the Corniche for tourism and industrial projects.

The report praised the government’s endeavors to create a suitable atmosphere for private sector’s growth and strengthen confidence of Saudi and international investors in the national economy. “The Kingdom has launched another program to encourage Saudi exports.”

The government has welcomed opinion of private sector regarding the various rules and regulations in order to improve them, the report said, adding that the commercial courts have started their activities. It praised the state’s support for small and medium enterprises (SMEs).

“Banks and financial institutions have been strengthened to issue products that meet the requirements of businesses, industries and other sectors,” the report said. They include financial products as well as support to small-scale business enterprises.

The council commended the government’s efforts to speed up issuance of licenses to business firms following international standards and regulations. The private sector’s increasing contributions to the GDP reflect on the good performance of the Saudi economy, the report said.

“This good performance is significant as it comes despite challenges at national, regional and international levels,” the CSC said. The economic indicators also showed good performance of the financial sector, foreign trade and stock market, it added.

This shows the success of five-year development plans and initiatives of Vision 2030 that were instrumental in expanding contribution of the private sector and diversifying the Kingdom’s economic base, the report pointed out.

Speaking about CSC’s strategic objectives, the report said: It boosts national development programs, strengthens business sectors in cooperation with government agencies, monitors economic changes at national and international levels, supports SMEs and contributes to Saudization of jobs. “Promotion of foreign economic relations, representation of Saudi businesses at international forums, activation of social responsibility initiatives and development of Saudi industries are other major objectives,” the report added.

Saudi Gazette report, 10 APRIL, 2018

UAE most diversified economy in the region

The global growth forecast of 3.9 per cent for 2018 is unchanged

The UAE remains the most diversified economy in the region and introduction of value added tax (VAT) is a step in right direction, said David Mann, global chief economist of Standard Chartered Bank, in Dubai on Monday at the launch of its global focus report.

The report further states that growth in the region is likely to pick up but remain below trend. The bank forecasts that growth in the MENAP region will accelerate to 3.2 per cent in 2018 from an estimated 2.7 per cent in 2017.

“We expect a broad- based pick-up, with most economies seeing an uptick. In the GCC, we see growth rising to 2 per cent in 2018 from an estimated 0.3 per cent in 2017. The recent rise in global oil prices should cause sentiment to bottom out, and is unlikely to derail policy makers’ efforts to diversify oil-centric economies. We expect interest rates to rise across the MENAP region alongside FFTR hikes; the notable exception is Egypt, where we expect the central bank to continue with gradual easing in 2018,” he said.
Discussing the details of the global report, Dhuha Fadhel, senior economist, Thematic Research, said: ” There is a need for institutions to look at fiscal policy reforms with target set for short-term to long-term goals.”
“We see 2.6 per cent GDP growth in the UAE in 2018. Economic activity is likely to be supported by implementation of infrastructure projects in the run up to Expo 2020 Dubai,” said Bilal Khan, senior economist for Middle East, North Africa and Pakistan (Menap). “Although our 2018 forecast is higher than our 0.9 per cent estimate for last year, we are more cautious on the growth outlook than the IMF’s 3.2 per cent forecast. Despite the UAE’s participation in the Opec+ agreement to limit output (extended until the end of 2018), a low base for oil GDP should support headline growth this year. Nevertheless, broader consumer and investor sentiment are likely to recover only gradually from recent weakness,” he added.
Global perspective

The global growth forecast of 3.9 per cent for 2018 is unchanged since the previous edition of global focus report, a similar pace to 2017.

“Our optimism is justified by the almost universally strong economic sentiment seen around the world in early 2018. However, we are also ‘uncomfortable’ about the global economic outlook in 2018 and beyond,” Khan said.

“First, we see a risk that US disengagement with the world may become more disruptive, as demonstrated by the recent escalation of protectionist measures against China. Second, expected tightening by major central banks following the most aggressive period of G3 balance-sheet expansion in the QE era may cause markets to demand more risk premium. The impact of this on over-leveraged economies must be watched carefully, particularly since it has been so long since funding cost rose significantly. We are also watching local elections in India, and general elections in Mexico and Malaysia,” he said.

By Sandhya D’Mello, Khaleej Times, 09 APRIL, 2018
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Bahrain issues $1 billion seven-year Sukuk offering

The Kingdom of Bahrain has successfully priced a Rule 144A/RegS international $1 billion 6.875 per cent October 2025 sukuk offering.

The financing exercise forms part of the Kingdom’s prudent approach in managing its funding requirements. The transaction received strong global investor interest, with the orderbook peaking at around $2.1 billion (2.1x of the total amount raised) from more than 100 investors.

The Kingdom embarked on an extensive and well attended global roadshow, meeting more than 70 investors in Asia, Europe, the Middle East and the United States. Based on investor feedback, the Kingdom elected to pursue the most optimal cost-efficient debt capital markets format, issuing a single tranche sukuk offering, taking into account various factors, including the prevalent market backdrop, the performance of recent Emerging Markets debt capital markets issuances as well as investor’s feedback to proactively manage the performance of Bahrain’s securities in the secondary market.

The Kingdom elected to release price guidance at ‘seven per cent area’ on 28 March 2018 at GCC opening hours. The orderbook recorded strong momentum and was sufficiently covered by 11:00am UK time, enabling the Kingdom to tighten final pricing to yield 6.875 per cent and price a successful $1 billion sukuk offering.

The offering attracted a globally diversified orderbook from both Islamic and conventional investors, with 59 per cent of the notes distributed in MENA, 16 per cent in Europe, 14 per cent in UK, nine per cent in the US and two per cent into Asia. Distribution by investor type comprised 63 per cent of Banks/Private Banks, 33 per cent of Fund Managers, three per cent of Pensions and Insurance, and one per cent others.

The Kingdom of Bahrain continues to benefit from a strong bid to its sukuk securities, as evidenced by the new issuance which priced inside the Government’s conventional bond yield curve.

“Bahrain has fostered a long-term relationship with debt capital markets investors, and we are pleased to see strong appetite to the transaction despite the volatile market conditions”, said Salman Alkhalifa, Executive Director of Banking Operations at the Central Bank of Bahrain.

The Kingdom is expected to raise financings through other sources of funding, including local debt capital markets and potentially could seek to come back to the international debt capital markets at a later stage in 2018.

BNP Paribas, Citi, Gulf International Bank, National Bank of Bahrain and Standard Chartered Bank acted as Joint Lead-Managers and Joint Bookrunners on the transaction.

by Jessica Combes, 29 March 2018

GCC construction deals set to rise to $148.7bn in 2018

New research says the UAE will award a third of the region’s construction contracts this year

Rising oil prices and increased government spending is fuelling demand in the GCC’s construction sector, with contractor awards across the region’s markets expected to be worth $148.7 billion in 2018, according to a new report.

Research specialists Ventures Onsite said the UAE will remain as the undisputed leader in the GCC total construction contractor awards for the year.

In 2018, an estimated $79.1 billion worth of construction contractor awards will be attributed to buildings in the Gulf region, followed by energy projects ($44.9 billion), and infrastructure ($24.6 billion).

The total value of expected construction contractor awards in 2018 is slightly up on the 2017 figure ($147.8 billion), according to Ventures, as economic activity picks up across the region amid a revival in non-oil sector growth and broad fiscal reforms.

According to Ventures, the UAE will hold a 33 percent share ($50.4 billion) of the Gulf region’s total construction contractor awards in 2018, followed by Saudi Arabia, with a 27 percent share ($40 billion).

The buildings segment will register the most growth year-on-year, with the UAE leading the way here as well. The expectedS$79.1 billion of building construction contractor awards across the GCC in 2018 is 10 percent up on the previous year, with the UAE comprising $37.3 billion of that figure.

The report has been released ahead of the Hardware + Tools Middle East 2018 trade fair, which takes place next week at the Dubai International Convention and Exhibition Centre.

The three-day event is the Middle East’s only dedicated exhibition for tools, hardware, materials, equipment and machinery, and is expected to feature 115 exhibitors showcasing 180-plus brands targeting the region’s revived construction sector.

By Staff writer, 31 Mar 2018

Bahrain makes biggest oil discovery since 1932

Bahrain, the smallest oil producer in the Arabian Gulf, has made an oil discovery off its west coast – the largest since the commodity was first discovered in the country in 1932.

“The find represents the largest discovery of oil in the kingdom since 1932, when extraction started on Bahrain’s first oil well within the Bahrain Oil Field,” the state-run Bahrain News Agency reported on Sunday. “The new resource is forecast to contain highly significant quantities of tight oil and deep gas, understood to dwarf Bahrain’s current reserves.”

Most of Bahrain’s current oil production, which averages 210,000 barrels per day, comes from the offshore Abu Safah field, which it shares with Saudi Arabia, the world’s biggest oil exporter. Bahrain produces around 50,000 bpd from the Bahrain Oil Field, according to the Energy Information Administration.

“The discovery, which is expected to support extensive, long-term downstream activities, follows a recent uplift in oil and gas exploration projects,” the news agency said. “Last year the [Higher] Committee [for Natural Resources and Economic Security] took the decision to accelerate initiatives to explore sites to the west of Bahrain, which resulted in the discovery of the resource and oil being struck in the fourth quarter of 2017.”

Bahrain will start the development of its tight gas reserves this year, the minister of oil told The National in January, even as the country prepares to bring online a liquefied natural gas import terminal in 2019 to meet its rising domestic demand.

Dania Saadi,April 1, 2018