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Security Concerns Impact Private Investment in Afghanistan


Private investment in Afghanistan dropped significantly last year due to security concerns, and Australia's consumer watchdog is complaining about high gasoline prices set by international oil companies. Claudia Blume in Hong Kong has more on these and other stories in our weekly round up of business news from the Asia-Pacific region.

Private investment in Afghanistan dropped by half in 2007 compared to a year earlier, to about $500 million. The Afghanistan Investment Support Agency says the main reason for the drop was the worsening security situation in the country. Other factors mentioned include Afghanistan's troublesome bureaucracy, and an inadequate power supply.

But the agency, created by the Afghan government to support local and foreign investors, said it expects investments to rise to more than $1 billion in 2008 - driven in part by a major Chinese investment in Afghanistan's Aynak copper mine.

Australia's consumer watchdog has accused major international oil companies of keeping the price of gasoline in the country artificially high. Graeme Samuel, chairman of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, says motorists are paying up to six cents a liter too much for their gas.

Australia takes the price of refined fuel from Singapore as its benchmark price. Samuel accused such oil companies as Caltex and Shell of moving away from the benchmark for questionable reasons.

"Now they are saying - well yes, we are now going to move away from that benchmark whenever we have supply problems in Australia related to our refineries," Samuel said. "They are saying, we have got some refinery breakdowns, therefore we have got some supply problems, therefore - guess what? We are going to lift our prices in Australia."

The state-controlled Indonesian mining group Antam has joined one of China's largest zinc producers to launch a $448 million takeover bid for Australian mining company Herald Resources. Antam's partner in the takeover attempt is Chinese zinc producer Shenzhen Zhongjin Lingnan Nonfemet.

Herald Resources owns 80 percent of the Dairi zinc and lead project on the Indonesia island of Sumatra, while Antam controls the remaining 20 percent.

The Dubai-based developer Jafza International signed an agreement to develop port, industrial, residential and tourism facilities in the Philippines' Subic Bay Freeport. Jafza said it will invest up to $250 million over the next three to five years in the development.

Subic Bay, in the northern Philippines, used to be the Asian-Pacific base of the U.S. naval forces. In the mid-1990's, it was converted into a free port, industrial zone and tourism center.

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