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UAE may soon have public debt law

Central Bank building in Abu Dhabi. (FILE)

The United Arab Emirates should soon approve a law allowing the oil producer to issue its first ever federal sovereign bonds and create a local debt market, a finance ministry official said on Tuesday.
 
The long-awaited law, regulating issuance and the amount of debt the world's No3 crude exporter may accumulate, awaits a presidential nod after the UAE's top advisory council passed the bill in December.
 
"The public debt law is now in final stages for approval and as for the ministry of finance it has already started taking measures after the cabinet's resolution to establish a public debt bureau," Nadia Sultan told a conference in the UAE capital.
 
"It is hopefully very soon," Sultan, an officer in charge of establishing the federal public debt management office, later told Reuters.
 
The legislation would limit UAE government debt to 25 per cent of gross domestic product, or Dh200 billion ($55bn). The International Monetary Fund projects that UAE government debt, including that of some of its seven emirates, to fall to 16.4 per cent of GDP this year from 21 per cent in 2010.
 
The federal debt management office is expected to coordinate future issuance with the individual emirates, which until now have been issuers of sovereign bonds in the Gulf Arab country.
 
Sultan also said an issuance plan has been under consideration but neither she nor other finance ministry officials attending the event gave more details, saying the process was still at an early stage.
 
The UAE minister of state for financial affairs said on Saturday that the Opec member -- rated Aa2 by Moody's -- had no plans to issue a sovereign bond this year but it could do so at the beginning of 2012 if needed.
 
Saif Hadef Al Shamsi, senior executive director at the central bank's treasury department, told the same event that the ministry should coordinate debt issuance with the central bank as local bonds would drain liquidity from the market.
 
"Any issuance over one year will be handled by the finance ministry," he said.  "A problem lies in the legislative field ... as the central bank cannot sell short-term bills to people outside of commercial banks." 

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