Qatar promises $15b investment in Turkey: presidency

ANKARA (AFP): Qatar on Wednesday promised to make a $15 billion direct investment in Turkey, badly hit by a currency crisis amid a widening diplomatic standoff with the United States, officials said. "Qatar has pledged $15 billion of direct investments in Turkey," presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin wrote on Twitter. "Turkish-Qatari relations are based on solid foundations of true friendship and solidarity," he said. The announcement came after Qatar's emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani held lunchtime talks with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. A presidential source also confirmed Doha's pledge to "rapidly implement the $15 billion investment package." Turkish Finance Minister Berat Albayrak, who is Erdogan's son-in-law, and his Qatari counterpart Ali Sharif Al-Emadi were present at the talks in the capital Ankara. Turkey and Qatar, a very close US ally, have become close economic and political partners in recent times.

Turkey has been rocked in recent days by a sharp decline in the value of its lira after US President Donald Trump tweeted last Friday that Washington was doubling aluminium and steel tariffs for Ankara.

Washington's move came during an ongoing dispute over Turkey's holding of an American pastor for two years.

In response, Erdogan has called for a boycott of US electrical goods while Ankara has sharply hiked tariffs on some US goods.

US blacklists Russian, Chinese firms over N Korea embargo

WASHINGTON (AFP): The US Treasury announced sanctions on Russian and Chinese companies Wednesday for violating the economic embargo on North Korea as Washington seeks to keep pressure on Pyongyang over its nuclear program. The Treasury accused China-based Dalian Sun Moon Star International Logistics Trading Co and its Singapore-based affiliate, SINSMS Pte., of falsifying documents to facilitate shipments of alcohol and cigarettes to North Korea. Those shipments helped fuel what the Treasury alleged was a huge "illicit" cigarette trade earning the Pyongyang regime $1 billion a year. It also blacklisted Russia-based Profinet Pte. for violating UN sanctions by providing port services like loading and refueling to sanctioned North Korean-flagged ships at three eastern Russia ports. Also named was Profinet director general Vasili Aleksandrovich Kolchanov, whom the Treasury said "was personally involved" in deals with the North Koreans.

"Treasury reminds the shipping industry, including flag states, ship owners and operators, crew members and captains, insurance companies, brokers, oil companies, ports, classification service providers, and others of the significant risks posed by North Korea's shipping practices," the Treasury said in a statement.

Despite having opened direct talks with Pyongyang, Washington continues to enforce the embargo on trade with North Korea in order to put pressure on the country to end its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile program.

"Treasury will continue to implement existing sanctions on North Korea, and will take action to block and designate companies, ports, and vessels that facilitate illicit shipments and provide revenue streams to the DPRK," Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in the statement Wednesday.

"Consequences for violating these sanctions will remain in place until we have achieved the final, fully verified denuclearization of North Korea."

On Tuesday, State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said those talks are making progress "in the right direction," 11 weeks after President Donald Trump held a groundbreaking summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Singapore.

US industrial output barely changed

WASHINGTON (AFP): Output by American industries was barely changed in July, with a modest gain in manufacturing unable to offset bigger declines in mining and utilities, the Federal Reserve reported Wednesday. US manufacturing of vehicles and computer and electronic products jumped last month compared to June, while oil and gas extraction continued to increase. However, mining output dropped for the first time in months, though it remains well above the 2017 level, and electricity production fell for the third consecutive month, according to the report. Overall industrial production edged up just 0.1 percent compared to June, when output increased one percent. That was far below the 0.4 percent gain analysts had expected, but production was 4.2 percent higher than July 2017. Manufacturing industries saw output rise 0.3 percent in the month, but that was coupled with declines in mining and utilities of 0.3 percent and 0.5 percent, respectively. Compared to the same period of last year, manufacturing is 2.8 percent higher, mining has surged nearly 13 percent and utilities is up 2.3 percent.

Industrial capacity in use held steady at 78.1 percent. Manufacturing use rose two-tenths to 75.9 percent, but remained below its longer-run average, while the rate for mining and utilities are well above.

Iran produces 92pc of world saffron output

TEHRAN (AFP): According to figures released by Iran's Agricultural Jihad Ministry, Iran produced 336 tonnes of saffron in the year to March 2018. In an interview with Tehran-based English newspaper, Iran Daily,An official, Gholamreza Miri said ,Iran produced saffron valued at $373.33 million in the year to March 2018. Miri said in this period, saffron was sold at about $1,111 per kilogram in domestic and foreign markets. He put the area of land under saffron cultivation in Iran at 125,000 hectares in the same time-span, adding this area has increased by 20 percent since March 20, 2018. Miri said a number of measures have been taken to boost efficiency and productivity in domestic saffron production including leveling the farmlands and improving their quality, using suitable fertilizers, planting bigger saffron corms and applying more effective irrigation systems. These measures, he added, have helped increase average saffron production, noting thanks to these measures, Iran's average saffron production is expected to reach 4.5 kilograms per hectare in the year to March 2019, from 3.5 kilograms in the previous 12 month period.

'Thus, Iran's saffron production is expected to rise 15 percent by March 2019.'

He said according to unofficial figures, domestic saffron output, which reached 450 tonnes in the 12-month period ending March 2018, will amount to 500 tonnes by March 2019.

Saffron harvest begins as of October 17, Miri said, adding since the crop grows on a daily basis in the form of flower, it not very much possible to estimate or predict the amount of its annual output in advance.

'Some 75 percent of Iran's saffron output is exported and the rest is sold in domestic markets.'

He said currently, Iran exports saffron to 47 countries including the UAE, Spain, China, Hong Kong, India, Germany and France as well as the Persian Gulf littoral states.

'Iran is pragmatically unrivalled in the world in saffron production. Spain, which is deemed Iran's rival in this field in global market fails to produce more than one ton of the product per annum. However, this country has managed to gain a major share of global saffron markets by importing, packaging and re-exporting Iranian saffron.

'Thanks to the cheap facilities and loans they receive from their banks, Spanish companies purchase Iranian saffron in bulk and store in their depots.'

Miri said they, then, give their international customers the guarantee that, given the stability of foreign currency and monetary market in the country, they will be able to meet their saffron demand within a year at a fixed price.

This comes as, he regretted, 'We fail to provide our customers with such a guarantee due to the current condition of Iran's foreign currency market.'