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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Business in Brief

EU Pushes WTO Bid

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -- The European Union on Friday applied subtle pressure on the United States to finish talks this year with Russia and three other countries on their bids to join the World Trade Organization.

"I hope that when we meet in Hong Kong in December [for the WTO's next ministerial meeting] we can welcome into the WTO four important economies that remain outside: Russia, Ukraine, Saudi Arabia and Vietnam," EU Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson said in a speech to a U.S. business group.

Saudis Agree on Oil

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia (AP) -- Saudi Arabia and Russia agree that stability in oil prices is best for the global economy, the Saudi oil minister said Saturday.

"The goal of the two countries is the regularity of the international oil market and that the prices remain stable and not fluctuate sharply," Ali Naimi said after meeting with the head of the Federal Energy Agency, Sergei Oganesyan.

Naimi added that it was important that prices "remain within a convenient range for producing countries and consuming, industrial countries so that it helps the growth of the global economy."

LUKoil's Iraq Contract

MOSCOW (Bloomberg) -- Iraq agreed to review a contract first awarded by Saddam Hussein's regime to LUKoil, allowing the company to develop the West Qurna field.

"The contract's terms don't need to be changed," Abdul Karim Hashim Mustafa, Iraq's ambassador to Russia, said Friday at a news conference. Iraq hopes the discussions will have positive results.

LUKoil is trying to salvage the development project to tap the 15 billion-barrel field, one of the world's largest. Hussein's government ended the 1997 contract in the months before the U.S.-led invasion in March 2003, saying LUKoil was not developing the field quickly enough. "LUKoil started work on the field and this will be taken into consideration," Mustafa said.

LUKoil in Venezuela?

CARACAS, Venezuela (Bloomberg) -- LUKoil said it may invest in a heavy oil project in Venezuela and may bid in the country's planned auction of offshore oil and natural gas tracts.

The company may also seek projects in Venezuela's mature oil fields, LUKoil president Vagit Alekperov said in a statement. Alekperov met Thursday in Caracas with Rafael Ramirez, Venezuela's energy minister and president of the state oil company, Petroleos de Venezuela .

"Venezuela has unique reserves of oil and natural gas," Alekperov said. "All oil companies are interested in the country."

Mazeikiu Deal Close

VILNIUS, Lithuania (Reuters) -- Troubled oil major Yukos could soon give up control of the only refinery in the Baltics, Mazeikiu Nafta, a senior member of the Lithuanian government said Friday.

Parliamentary chairman and No. 2 in the government Arturas Paulauskas told state radio that Yukos was set to relinquish control of Mazeikiu.

The Lithuanian government, which holds 40.66 percent, has sent a formal proposal to Yukos to buy another 10 percent, which would give it control.

Turkmen Gas Fight

ASHGABAT, Turkmenistan (AP) -- Turkmenistan and Russia failed to resolve a natural gas price dispute in the latest round of talks in the Turkmen capital, Ashgabat, according to official reports Friday.

Turkmenistan seeks to raise the price of gas it sells to Russia by about 30 percent. However, Russia insists that under earlier agreements between the two countries the old price is effective until 2006. The price offered by Russia is "unacceptable, as it does not reflect the real cost of the delivered gas," Gazprom chief Alexei Miller was told by Turkmen officials during the negotiations on Thursday, the newspaper Neutral Turkmenistan said.

Copter Deal Defended

SOFIA, Bulgaria (AP) -- Bulgaria's defense minister on Friday defended the government's decision to hire a U.S.-Israeli consortium to upgrade its Soviet-made military helicopters, saying Russian companies could not ensure the aircraft meet NATO standards.

"We talk about modernization along NATO lines, so it is impossible to seek Russian certification," Defense Minister Nikolai Svinarov told reporters.

In December, Bulgaria's defense ministry chose Lockheed Martin and Israel's Elbit Systems to upgrade 12 Mi-24 combat helicopters and six Mi-17 transport helicopters.

Tatneft Production Up

MOSCOW (Bloomberg) -- Tatneft, Russia's seventh-largest oil producer, increased production 2.8 percent in January from the year-ago period, as the company tries to maintain production from aging fields that are being depleted.

Output rose to 2.16 million tons (512,000 barrels per day) of crude in January, Tatneft said Friday, without giving figures for the same month of 2004.

Transneft Forecast Up

MOSCOW (Bloomberg) -- Transneft expects net income to rise 17.3 percent this year, according to the company's business plan, Interfax reported Friday, citing an unidentified person close to Transneft's board.

Net income to international accounting standards is expected to reach 48.2 billion rubles ($1.7 billion), Interfax reported. Last year, net income rose to 41.1 billion rubles, according to preliminary figures posted Thursday on Transneft's web site.

Alrosa Forecast Up

MOSCOW (Bloomberg) -- Alrosa, which mines a quarter of the world's rough diamonds, expects that rising world prices for diamonds will drive the value of its output one-fifth higher this year even as it digs out fewer stones.

The miner's supervisory board approved a plan to produce $2.19 billion worth of rough diamonds this year, the company said in a statement late Friday. That compares with $1.82 billion worth of stones in 2004. Alrosa's physical mining output is expected to decline 3.5 percent this year, the company's vice president for production, Vladimir Kalitin, said in the statement.

Sistema GDR Sale

MOSCOW (Bloomberg) -- Morgan Stanley and Credit Suisse First Boston sold shares in Sistema that they received in a so-called over-allotment option, increasing Sistema's share sale to $1.56 billion, the Russian company said.

The banks sold 11.9 million Sistema global depositary receipts, in addition to 79.6 million GDRs Sistema sold to investors on Feb. 9 at $17 each, Sistema said in a statement late Friday.

Sistema raised $1.35 billion in the initial offering.

Usmanov in $59M Deal

LONDON (Reuters) -- Russian tycoon Alisher Usmanov locked in profit from his stake in Anglo-Dutch steelmaker Corus Group by lending stock to investment bank Credit Suisse First Boston, sources close to the deal said on Friday.

CSFB then placed the 54.8 million Corus shares with fund managers in a rapid auction at around 58 pence each, in a deal worth ?31.78 million ($59 million). CSFB performed a similar transaction for Usmanov in December. The bank declined to comment on the news.

$300M VTB Loan

LONDON (Reuters) -- No. 2 bank Vneshtorgbank has mandated three banks to syndicate a $300 million, three-year loan facility, one of the banks said in a statement released late Thursday.

VTB mandated ABN Amro, Citibank and ING to be the joint managers of the deal.

"The facility is structured as a term loan, with a tenor of three years, with a quarterly amortization schedule starting on month 18 and carries a margin of 1.20 percent per annum. The purpose of the facility will be general trade finance," the statement from Citibank said.

$150M for Eurochem

LONDON (Bloomberg) -- Eurochem Group, Russia's biggest nitrogen fertilizer producer, got a $150 million loan from banks led by HVB Group and ING Groep Holding, lenders said.

The money will be used to finance the export of fertilizer products and to refinance existing loans, the banks said in a press release.

VimpelCom Debt Plan

MOSCOW (Reuters) -- No. 2 mobile phone firm VimpelCom plans to raise $1 billion in new debt and spend $1.474 billion on capital expenditure in 2005, a company document and an official said Friday.

Nokian Leads Pack

HELSINKI (Reuters) -- Finnish tire maker Nokian Renkaat expects to keep its top spot among foreign tire makers in Russia, partly as Western companies are reluctant to set up production there, its chief executive said Friday.

Kim Gran also said he sees little competition in coming years from local producers in Russia's premium car tire market, which was worth about $300 million to $400 million in 2004 and seen at close to $1 billion by 2008, according to Nokian estimates.

Nokian plans to start a new tire plant near St. Petersburg this summer, while Europe's largest tire maker, Michelin, opened its Russian plant in July 2004.