ine months after it was announced at the MEED Gulf Petrochemicals conference, the Gulf Petrochemicals & Chemicals Association (GPCA) entered the world on 1 March.

The new association says it will concentrate on the environment, safety and other benign topics. Production, competition and price will not be discussed. No-one should be able to accuse the GPCA of being a cartel.

Yet, Gulf petrochemicals has passed an important milestone. More than 20 new petrochemical units will begin operating by the start of the next decade. Equate Petrochemical Company chief executive officer (CEO) Hamad al-Terkait, GPCA vice-chairman, and others are warning that overproduction is possible as early as 2008.

The GPCA, which is chaired by Saudi Basic Industries Corporation (Sabic) chief CEO Mohammed al-Mady, will be a useful meeting place for regional petrochemicals leaders. Its eight founders will account for at least 25 million tonnes of production by 2015. By then, Gulf producers will account for about 20 per cent of the world total.

Iran has not joined the GPCA. Its petrochemicals plans are among the world’s most ambitious. But this is not the right time to bring it into a regional grouping, though it will follow the GPCA with interest.

The next step is a Middle East petrochemicals association. Osama Kamal, vice-chairman of Egyptian Petrochemicals Holding Company (Echem), told the MEED Natural Gas conference in Cairo last month that it is on his agenda. The fact that he too is thinking along these lines is another indication that the balance of petrochemical power is moving inexorably away from Europe and the US to the Middle East. You can hear all about it at the MEED Gulf Petrochemicals 2006 conference in Bahrain on 5-6 June.

Bush’s Dubai travailsDP World has declared it will complete its purchase of P&O. But it is unwise to make irrevocable financial commitments before every uncertainty is ended.

There is no evidence this will soon happen. Hoping to quell the US political row, the port company announced on 25 February that it is seeking a new review of the takeover of six American ports by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS), a multi-agency body that cleared the deal once before. The second review is due by 11 April. Its recommendations will form the ground on which Bush will make a fresh decision about whether the deal should be blocked on national security grounds. This must happen no more than 15 days later.

So all this could run to the end of April. The hope is that CFIUS, chaired by the US Treasury, will not change its mind. And why should it? Nothing has changed since its first review at the end of last year – apart from the fact that most Americans now oppose the deal. A CNN opinion poll on 5 March showed that 66 per cent want it stopped.

No American politician wants to get on the wrong side of public opinion in an election year. But it would be a disgrace and a monumental error if Bush, under pressure from panicking Republicans, was to reverse his original decision. This cannot yet be ruled out.

Banking marginsGulf International Bank vice-president Rajan Malik struck a chord at the MEED Middle East Project Finance conference when he declared that he was frustrated by the lengthening tenors and finer margins secured by Gulf borrowers.

There was no evidence of shame among borrowers. Qatar Petroleum finance director Abdulrahman al-Shaibi told delegates that there would be no letting up on margins. It was a message repeated by Ras Laffan Liquefied Natural Gas Company finance manager Tom McHale and Saudi Aramco project finance director William Mathe.

Wooing F1’s EcclestoneThe competitive spirit at the third Gulf Air Bahrain Grand Prix was intensified by talk that Formula 1 (F1) owner Bernie Ecclestone is being wooed by Dubai Autodrome. Bahrain’s F1 deal is for five years, but the Gulf could cope with two an