Tehran (AFP) April 15, 2011
Chinese companies, widely present in Iran thanks to the vaccum created by the departure of Western firms, dominated the Iranian oil, gas and petrochmemical exhibition that began Friday, an AFP reporter said.
"This year, 166 Chinese companies are present at the fair compared to 100 companies last year," a senior oil ministry official said.
"The number of foreign companies are up 35 percent," to 496 out of the total 1,550, he said.
He said that despite UN sanctions and bilateral punitive measures by the United States and the European Union against Iran, "Germany is present with 64 companies, Italy with 36, Britain with 37, Spain with 14, France with 15 and South Korea with 33 companies."
Major Western energy groups such as Total of France, Norwegian Statoil and OMV of Austria, who have withdrawn from Iran, made a "symbolic" appearance at the fair.
In recent years, Chinese companies have claimed many contracts since Western firms exited Iran before the sanctions were imposed on Tehran over its nuclear programme.
Oil prices fall as China inflation rockets
New York's main contract, light sweet crude for delivery in May, dropped 25 cents to $107.86 a barrel.
Brent North Sea crude for June delivery shed 20 cents to $121.80 in London trade.
"The news from China today is having a dampening effect on oil prices because the market is expecting the Chinese government to raise (interest) rates" following the inflation data, said Thina Saltvedt, analyst at Nordea Bank Norge.
China on Friday said its inflation had hit a 32-month high, suggesting Beijing's efforts to rein in soaring costs are still falling short.
China's consumer price index rose 5.4 percent year-on-year in March -- the fastest pace since July 2008 and well above the government's 2011 target of four percent -- and 5.0 percent in the first quarter.
The oil market was also looking ahead to weekend elections in Nigeria, a key exporter of crude but which is regularly hit by supply disruptions owing to unrest between rebels and the African nation's government.
"Any political unrest created from the polls in Nigeria could further increase the geopolitical risk and may retrace recent losses in the price of oil," said Nick Campbell, an analyst at energy consultants Inenco.
Nigeria votes for a president Saturday in what may be a historic moment for Africa's most populous nation as it bids to end years of vote-rigging and hold its cleanest polls for head of state in two decades.
An enormous effort has been undertaken to organise a fair vote and break with a series of deeply flawed ballots, but violence poses a serious risk, with bomb blasts and other attacks having killed dozens in the run up to polls.
The clear favourite is President Goodluck Jonathan, who has had an almost accidental rise to power that culminated with him being thrust into office last year following the death of his predecessor, Umaru Yar'Adua.
His main challenger is ex-military ruler Muhammadu Buhari, whose reputation as a stern anti-corruption figure in one of the world's most graft-ridden nations has won him significant backing.
The oil-producing Niger Delta region, hit by years of violence, has meanwhile seen relative calm following a 2009 amnesty deal, but the situation remains fragile, and many have warned of a likely eventual return to unrest.
"The strong participation of foreign companies is a response to the illusion of (Western) sanctions," quipped the oil official.
The UN Security Council imposed its fourth set of sanctions on Iran in June last year which were followed by other bilateral measures.
The separate sanctions by the United States and the European Union bar foreign companies from investing in Iran's energy sector.
Iran is OPEC's second-largest oil exporter, with production of 3.7 million barrels per day.
Oil Minister Masoud Mirkazemi said earlier Friday that the country has "oil reserves of around 155 billion barrels and 33 trillion cubic metres of gas reserves."
He also said that, by 2015, Iran would invest "$150 billion (104 billion euros) in upstream and $50 billion in downstream" projects to develop its energy sector.
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Philippines to boost Spratly patrols
Manila (AFP) April 15, 2011
The Philippine military said Friday it planned to use a new US-made vessel to boost patrols in disputed South China Sea waters, amid a flare-up in tensions with China over rival claims. The navy was looking to use the modern Hamilton-class patrol craft, recently bought from the United States, around the Philippine-claimed area of the Spratly archipelago, military spokesman Brigadier-General ... read more
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