The Business Times in its section Global Enterprise tells us how opportunities arising from Middle East’s Asian pivot are moving up the ladder of development in both regions. Or could it be mainly about Leveraging Asean’s strengths Let us see what by Mindy Tan.
The Middle East has always been considered an energy exporter to Asean, but this relationship has become more nuanced in recent years, especially as the former has shifted its focus to boosting non-oil exports.
Notably, countries such as Indonesia and Singapore have benefited.
Late last year, the Indonesian government announced they had secured US$32.7 billion worth of investment commitments from United Arab Emirates (UAE) businesses in various sectors, such as vaccine manufacturing and distribution.
“Indonesia is a very typical case of how I think Asean is becoming a magnet for foreign direct investment (FDI) from the Gulf countries,” said Gyorgy Busztin, a visiting research professor at the Middle East Institute, National University of Singapore.
Dr Busztin cited Asean’s political stability (outside of Myanmar) as well as a general lack of labour unrest as key factors that draw these Gulf countries to the region, even as he qualified that these countries have to be looked on a case-by-case basis.
“Compatibility, stability, and predictability, which are, of course, combined with the presence of a large, young, and highly trained workforce – it all comes together very nicely.”
Singapore too has benefited from the relationship.
A spokesperson from the Singapore Business Council, Qatar, noted that with Qatar is diversifying its economy away from oil and gas as part of its National Vision 2030, some of the key sectors they are looking at include sustainability and technology.
These are sectors in which Singapore has strong capabilities, he said.
“This makes businesses that wish to expand outside of the Middle East region look to Singapore as one of the key destinations to explore opportunities and use it as a base to springboard into the wider region due to its strategic location and easy access from the Middle East,” he said.
Alessandro Arduino, principal research fellow at the Middle East Institute at the National University of Singapore, added: “Expertise from Singapore will be beneficial to development in the Gulf and at the same time, can increase profitable cooperation between the Gulf and South-east Asia in areas ranging from artificial intelligence to Internet of Things, and smart cities.”
Leveraging Asean’s strengths
Economic ties between the Middle East and Asean have strengthened significantly since the first Asean-GCC Joint Vision was adopted in 2009.
In 2019, the two blocs further agreed to finalise the Asean-GCC Framework of Cooperation for 2020-2024 to advance collaboration in multiple sectors including smart cities, energy, connectivity, agriculture and halal products. Bilateral partnerships between individual countries have also risen.
The Singapore-UAE Comprehensive Partnership (2019) and the Malaysian Investment Development Authority’s (MIDA) MoU with the Investment Promotion Agency of Qatar (2019) are notable examples.
Heidi Toribio, Regional Co-head, Client Coverage, Asia, Corporate, Commercial and Institutional Banking at Standard Chartered
Heidi Toribio, regional co-head, client coverage, Asia, corporate, commercial and institutional banking at Standard Chartered, said: “As countries across the Middle East diversify into new non-oil sectors, Asean is emerging as an important trade and investment destination.”
In 2020, investments from the Middle East into Asean reached US$700 million, a three-fold growth from 2017. In the first three quarters in 2021 alone, merchandise imports to Asean from the Middle East grew more than 30 percent year-on-year, reaching US$52 billion in value, she noted.
According to a survey of Middle Eastern companies commissioned by Standard Chartered and prepared by PricewaterhouseCoopers, 82 per cent of Middle East respondents expect more than 10 per cent growth in their Asean business revenues this year.
They identified access to the large and growing Asean consumer market (60 per cent); access to a global market (from Asean) enabled by a network of Free Trade Agreements (58 per cent); and diversification of production footprint (51 per cent) as key reasons why they are interested in the region.
The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) is also expected to attract more investments; all of the respondents agreed that the ratification of the agreement will lead to more investments from their company. Close to 70 per cent said they expect their company to increase investments by more than 50 per cent over the next 3-5 years.
In terms of geographical preference, respondents chose Malaysia (78 per cent), followed by Singapore (69 per cent) and Indonesia (67 per cent).
Of those who picked Singapore, 94 per cent of the senior executives from the 45 companies based in the Middle East said they consider the city-state a major regional R&D/innovation centre.
A further 87 per cent said Singapore is a desirable hub for regional procurement and that Singapore is an ideal place to set up their regional sales and marketing headquarters.
Finding new growth opportunities
The report identified 5 growth sectors which it expects to drive the future of the Middle East-Asean corridor. They are namely refining and petrochemicals; infrastructure and real estate; renewable energy; retail and consumer goods; and digital infrastructure and services.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, consumption of fuels and petrochemicals continues to grow strongly in Asean, driven by rising consumer and industrial demand. To address energy security concerns, the region is also now focusing on boosting local production capacity by building integrated refining and petrochemical facilities.
Similarly, rapid economic and social progress have accentuated Asean’s infrastructure needs.
“The infrastructure segment will continue to dominate the construction industry, maintaining a 46 per cent share in sector GVA (gross value added) by 2025, followed by commercial real estate (32 per cent) and residential real estate (22 per cent),” said the report.
“In particular, demand for healthcare and transport infrastructure as well as logistics and industrial real estate are expected to drive growth, which is creating new investment and business opportunities for Middle East companies.”
Separately, demand for digital solutions and enabling digital infrastructure is expected to see significant growth. Indeed, the region’s flourishing digital start-ups are increasingly attracting capital from leading investment firms globally, including many from the Middle East.
In terms of more nascent sectors, Asean nations are increasingly prioritising solar and wind solutions to meet their future energy requirements. Retail and consumer goods sector in Asean is also expected to regain momentum in the years ahead, led by an expected surge in consumer spending.
“Badia Farms is the first commercial vertical farm to launch in the GCC. We officially started operations in the heart of Dubai in 2016, but the seeds were planted further back. My background is in engineering and banking. I first took the entrepreneurial leap in Saudi Arabia in the hospitality sector by opening multiple unique restaurant concepts.” That’s how Omar Al Jundi, Founder & CEO of Badia Farms, one of the speakers at the upcoming Agritecture Xchange, introduces himself.
Mesmerized by hydroponics
When he decided to enter his next venture, he says “I knew it had to be both challenging and able to add value and make a difference to our society and communities. When I was introduced to the concept of hydroponics, I was mesmerized with this new technique of growing where we don’t require any soil, we can recycle 90% of the water, and it can be grown in a fully closed environment, without even sunlight! Years before we launched I learned as much from experts, conferences, courses, and by working in a high-tech greenhouse facility in Holland.”
Food security is one of the main issues in the MENA region, and the development of sustainable farming is crucial. “We have seen this first hand during the early days of the Covid pandemic,” Omar says. “Produce supply chains were halted, and many countries (especially in MENA) had to reassess their long-term plans and fast-track their commitment to AgTech models such as vertical farming.”
The choice to go vertical
Vertical farming and AgTech is needed in the GCC. Why? Omar explains: “Over-dependence on imported produce and the simple fact that traditional framing does not work in our arid desert climate. I want to tackle an issue that will make a difference to society while preserving our natural resources such as water. Badia products are pesticide and herbicide-free. Since our crops are grown naturally in sterile, soil-free mediums, along with the controlled environment, it removes the need for harmful additives. We can also harvest fresh produce all year round. Our harvest yields 4-8 times the amount of crops in the same space compared to conventional soil farming. As a former restaurateur, it has been amazing to be able to work with the top chefs and restaurants in the UAE and be able to supply them with fresh, better than organic flavourful products that wouldn’t be available to them otherwise. The journey from food to table is much shorter.”
Optimal growth conditions
In this vertical farming environment, Badia Farms is able to control every aspect of the ecosystem to ensure optimal growth conditions are provided for each crop. “For example, our facilities utilize LEDs, artificial lighting to replace the sunlight, we control and monitor all environmental inputs (humidity, temperature, CO2), and we use computer linked dosing units to schedule the irrigation and feed formulas,” Omar points out. “Lastly, our hydroponic growing methods use 90% less water compared to open field growing, and since we recirculate our water there’s no wastage.”
There were also some challenges along the way to achieving this, as AgTech and modern farming are still very new to the region. “The biggest challenge is there aren’t off the shelf solutions that we can purchase and implement immediately,” Omar says. “In the case of vertical farming, which is still at an infancy stage globally, we had to design our own grow system to form our IP and ensure we have a commercial operation that will yield high-quality products and profits to ensure we stay in business. We surely need a lot more support from the government and private sectors for this industry to see the light. For example, the government can support the industry by introducing cost-effective initiatives that reduce the operational cost that will ensure the viability of the projects. Educating the public and consumers on the benefits of modern farming and vertical farming is very important to ensure the continuity of this new industry. We are seeing more regional and global VC’s and investment funds interested in the AgTech sector in our region, but they haven’t made the big investments yet!”
Opportunities in the Middle East
Asked what advice Omar would give to people looking into breaking into the UAE food/ag market, he says: “What’s great right now is that we have barely scratched the surface in the MENA AgTech sector, so there are so many opportunities, which has been propelled by the pandemic. The UAE is an open economy, I suggest whoever is interested to enter the market to come and meet with the different governmental entities, to meet with distributors, understand the market dynamics, pricing, etc. Come and do the work themselves vs hiring a consultant to do the job. The journey won’t be easy. But even with the advent of technology farming is still what it was hundreds of years ago: to grow something needs constant attention, passion, and patience.”
Badia Farms has a lot in store for the future, like increasing their product offering, expanding their facility in the UAE, and growing their team. “We are also excited about the launch of our own e-commerce platform! The crop will be harvested only once a customer places an order and will reach them within a couple of hours. We are also raising our next round of funding. So a lot is going on”, Omar concludes.
Omar Al Jundi will be one of the speakers during the upcoming Agritecture Xchange. When registering, you can use the code ‘HDaily10’ to get 10% off tickets.
In the face of new global changes, what is the exploitation of phosphate and iron in Algeria? University professor, international expert Dr Abderrahmane MEBTOUL elaborates.
At the last Council of Ministers, debates turned to the recovery of iron and phosphate deposits appropriateness. This is not novelty; as a young advisor to the Minister and Industry and Energy between 1974/1977, we discussed such projects within the framework of many studies. Furthermore, since then, how have all these studies in both foreign exchange and Dinars with no conclusive results cost?
The commercialisation of both iron and raw phosphate and derivatives depends as much on the strategy of a few global firms as on internal strategic management. Other factors like the cost of operations as well as the growth of the world economy play an essential role here.
The case of phosphate– As much as for iron, or energy-intensive cement units, the essential input is natural gas having to make arbitrage between the transfer price on the international market and the transfer to the units to generate a high added value. So the cost price of a tonne of ammonia at 4 Dollars/mmBTU would be 114 Euros per tonne, and on the contrary at 7 Dollars, we will have 200 Euros per tonne with a decrease in the last ten years of 10/15% depending on the geographical area. The price of derivatives is wildly fluctuating the urea fertiliser having been quoted between July and September at about 260 Euros per tonne. The increase in the world’s population and the demand for food are a determining factor in the growth of the phosphate market. Competition in the global market is very intense and relatively integrated, with the presence of limited vital players who get a significant share of global revenues. Key speakers include Russia’s Eurochem Group AG and PJSC PhosAgro; Canadian Agrium Inc. and Potash Corp. of Saskatchewan Inc. Norwegian Yara International ASA; C.F. Industries Holdings Inc. and Mosaik Co.; India’s Coromandel International Ltd.; Moroccan giant OCP S.A. and Israel Chemicals Ltd. According to a U.S. geological survey on phosphate rock 2019, mining production (+ réserves) en 2018 thousand tonnes is distributed as U.S. réserves 27,000-production (1,000,000) – Algéria réserves 1,300- production (2,200,000); the Global Total réserves being 70,000 (70,000,000).
The price per tonne of raw phosphate fluctuates; April 2020 $72.50 per tonne, in March 71.88, in April $70.75, in May at $72.90, and in June/July 2020 $75,000 per tonne, having been rated in October 2019 at $77.50 for sheet metal, in January 2020 at $72.50 per tonne. According to the World Bank, the general and medium-term trend in phosphate prices remains downward, and crude phosphate would trade in 2020 at around US$80-85 per metric ton, DAP around US$377.5 per metric ton and TSP at nearly US$300 per metric ton. According to the global rating agency, phosphate rock prices remained on average at $100 per tonne (at no charge onboard) in 2019/2020 and prices per tonne of phosphate rock (at no charge onboard) remained at $110 in the long run. Thus, if Algeria exports three million tonnes of raw phosphate annually at an average price of $100, a very optimistic assumption about world prices, at constant prices 2020, for 30 million Tonnes, it would get three billion Dollars and less than 2.5 billion Dollars at current prices. It must be said that in this sector, the expenses are very high (depreciation and salary expenses in particular) a minimum of 40%, thus making the net profit to about 1.8 billion Dollars for a price of $100 and less than 1.4 billion dollars for a price of $70. In the event of an association with an international partner, the net profit remaining for Algeria would be slightly more than 900/700 million dollars for both scenarios. We are far from profits in the field of hydrocarbons. To increase net profit, it is, therefore, necessary to embark on highly capital-intensive processing units with massive investments and medium-term profitability with the export of noble products, in the E.U., fertiliser/urea sold at more than 350 Euros per tonne in 2014. It was rated on an annual average in 2017 at 270 Euros per tonne. In April 2018, it was at 260 Dollars and at the beginning of May 220 to 250 Dollars per metric ton. In general, prices are very volatile, assuming perfect knowledge of the international stock market in order to avoid large losses in the event of low forecasts. Also, for a sizeable exportable quantity, this requires for Algeria, hefty investments and profitability in the medium term not until 2023/2025 if the project is in operation in 2020. Moreover, for a sizeable exportable quantity, this requires a partnership with international firms.
The Case of Iron – For September 20, 2020, iron is priced at 90 Euros per tonne, stainless steel 1921 Euros per tonne, steel 4520 Euros per tonne, aluminium 1364 Euros per tonne, scrap 148 Euros per tonne, zinc 1817 Euros per tonne, copper 5289 Euros per tonne, lead 1509 Euros per tonne.
As proof, in April 2019, the price of stainless steel was at an average of 2,598 Euros per tonne, rose by 2.8% year-on-year with stabilisation in May 2020 to 2600 Euros per tonne, being in high demand on the world market, depending on its destination and its applications, classified in four categories. Aluminium was at 1,460 Euros per tonne, down 9.4% month-on-month and 20.9%. The price of lead was at $1,658 per tonne, down 4.4% on a month-on-month basis and 14.5% year-on-year. The price of zinc was at 1,903 Euros per tonne, stable over one month and down 35.1% year-on-year. Furthermore, in November 2019, the price of steel was at $5,400 per tonne, down 23.6% year-on-year, and in May 2020, 4,740 Euros due to the coronavirus outbreak. In April 2020, the price of iron stood at $85 per tonne, down 4.7% month-on-month and 9.6%. International agencies estimate the world’s iron reserves at between 2018/2019, 85,000 million tonnes (M.T.). Australia leads with 23,000 MT, followed by Russia 14,000 MT, Brazil 12,000 MT, China 7,200 MT, India 5,200 MT, United States 3,500 MT, Venezuela 2,400 MT, Ukraine 2,300 MT, Canada 2,300 MT and Sweden 2,200 MT, Algeria according to Algerian reserves data would be about 3000 Tonnes but with exploitable deposits, estimated between 1,500 and 2,000 MT. The main iron ore producing countries are Australia: 39.8% (with 879 MT)- Brazil: 19.8% (with 436 MT) – China: 8.6% (with 191 MT) – India: 7% (with 154 MT) – Russia: 4.6% (with 101 MT) – Ukraine: 3.3% (with 73 MT) – South Africa: 3,2% (with 69 MT) – Iran: 2.6% (with 57 T – Canada: 2.2% (with 49 MT) – United States: 2% (with 44 MT) – Sweden: 1.2% (with 27 MT) – Kazakhstan: 0.6% (with 13 MT) – Other countries: 5.1% (with 113 MT) (Source: Natural Resources Canada). Steel is a fundamental product to our way of life and is essential for economic growth, the 10 largest producing countries between 2017/2018 are: China: 831,728,000 Tonnes, Japan: 104,661,000 T, India: 101,455,000 T, United States: 81,612,000 T, Russia: 71,491,000 T , South Korea: 71,030 T, Germany: 43,297,000 T, Turkey: 37,524,000 T, Brazil: 34,365,000 T and Italy: 24,068,000 T. In April 2020, copper was $5,058 per tonne, down 21.4% year-on-year. Evolution has not fundamentally changed since 2018. At a favourable price of $100 per tonne crude iron, for export of 30 million tonnes, we will have gross revenue of $3 billion. However, with this amount and more than 50% of expenses (the operating costs are very high), we are left with a net of the remaining $1.5 billion. This amount is to be shared with the foreign partner that in case of 30 million T, would be less than 800 million Dollars. This is because the exploitation of Gara Djebilet’s iron will require large investments in power plants, transmission networks, rational use of water, distribution networks that are lacking because of the remoteness of the sources of supply while avoiding the deterioration of the environment because the units are very polluting. Therefore, as with phosphate, only the transformation into noble products can provide greater added value for export. Because of the oligopolistic structure of the mining industry, at the global level, the only solution, if we want to export these noble products, is a win-win partnership with the reputable firms that control the segments of the international market that will not accept the restrictive 49/51% rule with bureaucratic burdens, with decisions taking place in real-time at the international trade level.
It is a question of avoiding the mistakes of the past by serious evaluations in terms of profitability and without a solid partnership, it is futile to penetrate the global market let alone the mining sector controlled by some international firms.
In the case of gold mines, let us avoid the unfortunate experience, with a massive liability, with the Australian company, Gold Mining of Algeria (GMA) where reserves of 173 tons have not increased one iota since 2007. All this raises the problem of mastery of strategic management. Like this drift of car assembly where we have now seen that it was a set for currency transfer traffic, going to predictable bankruptcies, after having perceived considerable financial and fiscal benefits. Like this utopia of dozens of cement complexes where we are currently witnessing the underuse of production capacity, the risk of plants cooling if storage is long-lasting, would increase the costs. The situation would result in unusable products for construction, except for those with points of support in Africa through their subsidiaries; otherwise, it would be difficult for other units to export, where, contrary to some discourse not based on any serious market research, market shares are already taken with many complexes being realised at the level of the Mediterranean basin. For this case, new construction methods worldwide are being saved from concrete round, cement and energy and as in Germany, is to use concrete to build roads often returning cheaper than imported bitumen. Algeria needs a strategic vision in which industrial policy must fit, in order to adapt to the new global sectors driven by perpetual innovation. Let us avoid utopias: Algeria will continue for many years to depend on hydrocarbons, with other raw materials making just an average profit to invest in democratic institutions, education, digital and energy transition. No country in the world that has relied solely on raw materials has succeeded in its development. Since the world is a world and this proves true with the fourth global economic revolution 2020/2030/2040 the prosperity of different civilisations has always rested on good governance, work and theoretical and applied research, a country without its elite being like a soulless body.
The value of a liberal arts education has become a pivotal discussion within the global higher education sector over the last decade. No longer confined to the hallowed halls of ivy-covered American colleges, this multidisciplinary approach, which focuses on developing creative thinking skills, has begun to transform the curricula of institutions worldwide.
To examine this further, the Times Higher Education MENA Universities Summit 2020, taking place at NYU Abu Dhabi on 10-12 March, will explore the benefits and challenges of broadening the liberal arts educational model across Middle Eastern and North African countries.
Fostering discussions on how to prepare students for a variety of career paths after graduation is high on the list of the summit’s objectives. Hoda Mostafa, director of the Center for Learning and Teaching at the American University in Cairo, will share useful practices to facilitate the leap between an interdisciplinary education and careers both in and out of academia.
Wasif Rizv, founding president of Habib University, Pakistan’s first liberal arts and science institution, will provide an instructional model from south-east Asia to demonstrate how a liberal arts education can develop talent to meet the demands of a global workforce.
Another key focus will be enhancing the research culture in countries where talent attraction has faced challenges. Rana Dajani, associate professor at Hashemite University, who established stem cell research ethics law in Jordan, will debate with other panellists which tools are needed to support the next generation of researchers in the MENA region.
Safwan Masri, the current vice-president for Global Centers and Global Development at Columbia University, who has written extensively on the role of Tunisia in the Arab Spring, will deliver the summit’s closing keynote, underlining the power of research and knowledge transfer in the region to ultimately promote a greater cultural understanding and bridge political boundaries.
The summit will include an exclusive THE rankings masterclass that will dissect the methodology behind the World University Rankings, giving an analysis of the MENA region’s successes and future opportunities. Additionally, delegates will enjoy a deep-dive into THE’s new University Impact Rankings, which are based on universities’ successes in working towards the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals.
John Gill, editor of THE, said: “We are at a crucial moment for the world on numerous fronts – from how to respond to global threats such as climate change, to how to navigate a path to greater understanding and collaboration. Higher education and research will play crucial roles in finding the answers.
“At this summit, we will discuss the role of liberal arts education, at a time of debate about how best to prepare students for the new economy, and how to support societies in transition. We will consider how a global perspective can transform the impact of education, and address the interplay between education and research in the MENA region. These topics touch on every aspect of what universities do, as institutions that educate, create new knowledge, and drive economic and social progress, so we are delighted to have such a diverse programme of speakers, and to be meeting at NYU Abu Dhabi, itself a great example of innovation.”
The Times Higher Education MENA Universities Summit 2020 will take place 10-12 March at NYU Abu Dhabi. Find out more.
“A multi-faceted investment strategy is needed to achieve the three objectives of income, growth and stability,” points out Willem Sels, chief market strategist, HSBC Private Banking.
The outlook for the Middle East and North Africa (Mena) region for the new decade is a “fascinating” one, full of continued economic reforms, transformation and market liberalisation, according to HSBC. “With these developments, opportunities are expected to be widespread, across multiple industries and across the region. The combination of supportive monetary policy and responsive central banks are a few of the additional supportive variables for the region,” it said in a release yesterday.
The new decade will not be as kind to investors as the last and this will mean a new path for investments, said HSBC Private Banking in its first quarter’s investment outlook. “We will most likely see a US recession at some point in the next ten years, and while central banks’ policies should remain accommodative, it is clear that the new decade will mean a new path for investments,” says HSBC Private Banking in its investment outlook for the first quarter of 2020. “A multi-faceted investment strategy is needed to achieve the three objectives of income, growth and stability,” pointed out Willem Sels, chief market strategist, HSBC Private Banking. In a low growth and low interest rate environment, returns are unlikely to be as high as they were in the past decade, and in an environment where broad-based market upside is lower than in the past, and political risks remain high, HSBC Private Banking believes diversifying risk exposures will be especially important. HSBC Private Banking says portfolios should avoid excessive cash balances as well as the lowest rated end of high yield. It favours dollar investment grade, emerging markets’ local and hard currency debt, complemented with dividend stocks, real estate and private debt instruments to generate further income. It also sees opportunities to boost the return potential of portfolios by focusing on quality companies with sustained earnings growth and, where appropriate, it believes some leverage can help boost the net income of portfolios. It can also make sense selectively to look to hedge funds and private equity to capture growth opportunities and private equity to look through short-term market volatility. “It’s a new path for investments, but sometimes, new paths lead you to the most interesting sights” Sels noted. In 2020-21, HSBC Private Banking says investors can expect interesting opportunities for long term growth in sectors, geographies or themes related to the ‘Fourth Industrial Revolution’ or ‘sustainability’. It is also optimistic that the ageing, urban, digital, mobile, sharing-based, knowledge-based, circular, fast-paced and increasingly Asian global economy provides companies and investors with plenty of opportunities.
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