Amazon eyes partnerships with Saudi SMEs, tech startups

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According to figures by research firm Statista, e-commerce revenue in Saudi Arabia is set to reach $7.051 billion this year and grow at an annual rate of 5.38%. (Supplied)
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According to figures by research firm Statista, e-commerce revenue in Saudi Arabia is set to reach $7.051 billion this year and grow at an annual rate of 5.38%. (Supplied)
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According to figures by research firm Statista, e-commerce revenue in Saudi Arabia is set to reach $7.051 billion this year and grow at an annual rate of 5.38%. (Supplied)
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According to figures by research firm Statista, e-commerce revenue in Saudi Arabia is set to reach $7.051 billion this year and grow at an annual rate of 5.38%. (Supplied)
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Updated 26 July 2021

Amazon eyes partnerships with Saudi SMEs, tech startups

  • Retail conglomerate launched a dedicated Saudi platform in June last year, and has seen double-digit growth

DUBAI: Global conglomerate Amazon is looking to partner with more entrepreneurs and technology startups in Saudi Arabia, as it aims to boost the dedicated Saudi retail site it launched a year ago and interact more with the local ecosystem.

The Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM) annual report released this year found that entrepreneurial activity in the Kingdom increased by 24 percent year-on-year in 2020, while a third of Saudis surveyed said they were keen on launching a business within the next three years.

At the same time, research platform Magnitt reported that the value of investment deals in the technology startup sector in Saudi Arabia last year soared by 55 percent year-on-year to $152 million.

Amazon is aiming to capitalize on this fast-growing entrepreneurial ecosystem. “We’re working with the local entrepreneurs and we see a lot of those in the Kingdom. I think the space has changed drastically,” Ronaldo Mouchawar, vice president of Amazon Middle East and North Africa, told Arab News.

“You see a lot more venture capital, family offices investing in tech. So, we want to work with these companies and content developers and content owners,” he added.

The Syrian entrepreneur co-founded online retail platform Souq.com in 2005, which was then sold to Amazon in 2017. While direct acquisitions on that scale may not be on the cards, Mouchawar said the global giant was interested in working more closely with Saudi partners.

“If not totally invest, definitely a lot of partnerships, working to make sure that whatever innovation that’s working locally is available for our customers in the Kingdom,” he said.

On June 17 last year, Amazon launched its dedicated Saudi website Amazon.sa, rebranding the old Souq.com website. 




Ronaldo Mouchawar, Vice President of Amazon MENA. (Supplied)

“This was kind of the first Amazon Arabic site. We had to put the infrastructure in Saudi Arabia — 14, 15 stations. We had about 2,000 people and trained them on the systems,” Mouchawar said, adding that the site has performed well.

“We’re seeing high double-digit growth obviously in most of our locales. Very good growth. We don’t report growth by region, but overall the industry is growing and Amazon being newly launched is attracting a lot of customers.”

In its annual report for 2020, Amazon reported a 38 percent growth in net sales in North America and a 40 percent spike in sales internationally. While individual sales figures are not available for individual countries or regions, a review of Google search term trends shows that searches for the term Amazon in Saudi Arabia over the last five years peaked in mid-June last year and the volume of searches for the company has increased by 38 percent in the last 12 months.

A clear indication of the success of the site is the fact that Amazon announced plans in March to hire 1,500 new employees in Saudi Arabia and add 11 buildings to its network. The expansion will boost storage capacity in the Kingdom by 89 percent and its geographical delivery network by 58 percent.

FASTFACTS

• Amazon currently operates three warehouses — known as fulfillment centers — in Riyadh and Jeddah.

• It has 11 delivery stations and two sorting centers in the Kingdom.

• By the end of the year, Amazon will boost the numbers to six warehouses and 13 delivery stations.

• Eleven brand new buildings will be added to the network, while some older facilities will be closed or upgraded.

The global conglomerate currently operates three warehouses — known as fulfillment centers — in Riyadh and Jeddah, as well as 11 delivery stations and two sorting centers. By the end of the year, this will be increased to six warehouses and 13 delivery stations. Eleven brand new buildings will be added to the network, while some older facilities will be closed or upgraded.

By the end of 2021, Amazon’s fulfillment network will reach across a total floor area of over 867,000 square feet. The Seattle-based company is also partnering with Saudi Post and a network of 10 service partners.

According to figures by research firm Statista, e-commerce revenue in Saudi Arabia is set to reach $7.051 billion this year and grow at an annual rate of 5.38 percent to reach $8.697 billion by 2025. The largest segment for consumers is fashion and the average revenue per user is estimated at about $248.69.

Mouchawar said there are three main differences with the Saudi market, which they have adapted into their strategy in the Kingdom. “Obviously the language is one — we had to take care of the language to suit. It’s a very mobile-heavy user base: 80 percent of our customers are on mobile phones. So, as you market to these customers, we have to be aware of that.  “The Saudi customer is fairly younger in demographic,” he added. “We had to make sure also the selection — the product offering — is catering to a younger audience and larger families. Consumables and groceries, for example, are important to us because of the family sizes and the consumption nature,” he said.

A lot of retailers, such as Carrefour, have been setting up their own fulfillment centers in the Kingdom, to cater to the demand in online sales. While some have been adopting artificial intelligence and robotics into their warehouses and are looking at driverless vehicles and drones for transport, Mouchawar believed manpower will still be the core focus of the workforce for some time to come.

“I know there are technologies such as drones and robotics — some help in improving the service and the quality, but also some things are still far away, like a drone delivery in the region requires a lot of different changes to different things,” he said.

As a result, he believes the continued growth of the site will present employment opportunities for young Saudis. “I think there’s a huge opportunity to add people from the region to the team. We’ve been doing that consistently in Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Egypt. I’m very excited about the opportunities that we are able to provide to young people, especially in this sector of content and tech,” he said.

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ACWA Power bets big on Uzbekistan growth

Updated 10 min 40 sec ago

ACWA Power bets big on Uzbekistan growth

  • ACWA has invested about $1.2 billion in Uzbekistan thus far
  • ACWA plans to contribute to $100 million Uzbekistan fund

MOSCOW/RIYADH: In the crowded corridors of the Hilton Tashkent City, ACWA Power Chairman Mohammad Abunayyan talks quietly with key delegates of the Islamic Development Bank’s annual meeting in Uzbekistan, who approach him one after another.

Abunayyan, a lean, middle-aged, intelligent-looking man is with IDB officials celebrating the launch of the $100 million Economic Empowerment Fund for Uzbekistan earlier this month.

ACWA Power is planning on becoming one of the Saudi investors that will make up 45 percent of the fund, which is also being financed with money from the Islamic Development Bank and the Uzbek government.

ACWA’s contribution would be the latest in a long line of investments in the Central Asian nation, where the utility now has assets worth $4.6 billion having invested about $1.2 billion, according to the prospectus for its initial public offering that was launched earlier this month.

Although that is less than one tenth of the SR248 billion ($66 billion) of assets ACWA has accumulated globally since it was established in 2004 with what Abunayaan describes as a small equity investment. Abunayaan joined the board in 2008.

Beyond its home market in Saudi Arabia, ACWA also owns assets in Turkey, South Africa, Vietnam and Egypt.

Still, Uzbekistan is an important market for ACWA Power.

In 2020, the company was awarded three projects: Sirdarya Combined-Cycle Gas Turbine (CCGT) independent power producer (IPP) with 1,500 MW of gross contracted power capacity; the 500 MW Bash Wind IPP; and the 500 MW Dzhankeldy Wind IPP.

The company’s fourth and largest Uzbek asset in Uzbekistan is the Karakalpakstan 1,500 MW Wind IPP project, valued at $2 billion. The Karakalpakstan, Bash and Dzhankeldy projects are at advanced stages of development and Sirdarya IPP is under construction.

ACWA Power’s investments in Uzbekistan represent a sizeable chunk of total foreign direct investment (FDI) that the country has received in recent years.

“Uzbekistan attracted $2 billion in FDI in 2020 and targets another $5 billion this year,” Atabek Nazirov, director general of the Direct Investment Fund of Uzbekistan, told Arab News on the sidelines of the IDB’s two-day conference on Sept. 3.

Such investments mean a long-term relationship between ACWA Power and Uzbekistan.

“[In our projects] we need to lay the foundation for a long-term partnership, this is a relationship that lasts for 20, 25, 30 years,” Tom Teerlynck, executive vice president of ACWA Power, told Arab News at the IDB meeting.

“The early years go very smoothly because everybody is happy — agreements signed, infrastructure is being built, the services being provided,” he said. “But problems come in later when people in ministries or private companies change. So, it’s very important to lay very robust foundations.”

Uzbekistan officials are confident that ongoing reforms will propel economic growth, despite the global shock caused by COVID-19.

“In 2020, Uzbekistan was the only economy in the Central Asia region that did not have a negative gross domestic product [GDP],” said Direct Investment Fund of Uzbekistan’s Nazirov. “We were able to achieve just above 1 percent growth.”

The government is forecasting economic growth of 6.5 percent this year although that is a conservative scenario and it is hoping for closer to 7 percent, Ilhom Norkulov, Uzbekistan’s deputy minister of economic development and poverty reduction, told Arab News at the IDB meeting.

“For the next five years our target is to increase GDP to $100 billion so we are working to create conditions for the economy to grow 6-7 percent a year,” he said.

However, Uzbekistan’s economy is facing tailwinds in the form of a high inflation rate – expected at 10-11 percent this year – unemployment of 10.5 percent in 2020 (up from 5.8 percent in 2017) and a decline in average monthly wages to a low of $226 in the fourth quarter of 2018 from a peak of $415 in 2016, but back to $280 in the second quarter 2021, according to official data.

Government officials say they are fully aware of the issues, and maintaining economic reforms and income growth should ease the employment and wage conditions over the long run.


Lebanon’s soaring inflation led by 250 percent jump in fuel costs amid currency slump

Updated 18 September 2021

Lebanon’s soaring inflation led by 250 percent jump in fuel costs amid currency slump

  • Lebanese CPI jumped 123 percent in the year to July 2021
  • Food and non-alcoholic beverages prices rose 248 percent

DUBAI: Lebanese residents were forced to pay more than double for consumer goods in July compared with a year earlier as prices soared amid a partial lifting of fuel subsidies and a record plunge in the local currency.

The latest data from Lebanon’s Central Administration of Statistics shows the consumer price index leaped 123 percent year-on-year last month as officials struggled to contain an economic meltdown the likes of which have not been seen since the end of the country’s 1975-1990 civil war.

The biggest contributor to surging prices has been the cost of transportation, which soared by 253 percent from July 2020, reflecting the rise in fuel costs after the previous government priced gasoline at the exchange rate of 3,900 pounds to the dollar in June. Two months later, the central bank began providing fuel importers with dollars at an exchange rate of 8,000 pounds to the dollar.

The Lebanese pound has been officially pegged at 1,507.5 pounds to the dollar since 1997, but is worth a lot less on the black market. Following the resignation of former Prime Minister-Designate Saad Hariri in July, it plummeted to a record 24,000 per dollar.

This pushed prices of food and non-alcoholic beverages up by 248 percent in the year to July 2021, while health care services rose by 178 percent. Prices at restaurants and hotels grew 246 percent and clothing and footwear prices almost doubled.

The formation of Najib Mikati’s government last week, following a 13-month political vacuum, provided Lebanese with slight reprieve.

The pound stabilized at around 14,000 to the dollar on Thursday amid the new government’s pledges for reforms and a resumption of talks with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) which had hit a dead-end following bickering over the size of the banking sector’s losses.

Reforms demanded by the international community include a forensic audit of the central bank’s accounts and a restructuring of the banking sector.

On Thursday, a meeting took place at the Economy Ministry with the president of the syndicate of supermarket owners and the president of the syndicate of food importers to discuss lowering the prices of goods.

The meeting touched on a new pricing mechanism for goods in the wake of the Lebanese pound’s surge, with new economy minister Amine Salam saying that ” both unions have committed to start reducing the prices of commodities.”

“The ministry will not tolerate this issue and will be strict in monitoring price,” he said.


Saudi mining law will attract ‘incredible’ private investment to $1.3tn sector – Golden Compass CEO

Updated 18 September 2021

Saudi mining law will attract ‘incredible’ private investment to $1.3tn sector – Golden Compass CEO

  • The Saudi Industrial Development Fund is also offering 60 percent loans to investors in a bid to attract global players into the Kingdom
  • Alcoa Group, The Mosaic Co. and Barrick Gold have invested in the Kingdom's mining sector

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s new mining law will attract private investment from home and abroad as the Kingdom looks to exploit an estimated $1.3 trillion of potential value in the sector, according to Meshary Al-Ali, founder and CEO of mining consultancy Golden Compass.

In January, the Kingdom moved to capitalize on the vast wealth hidden below ground in Saudi Arabia with the establishment of a mining fund and support for geological surveys and exploration program activities.

The Saudi Industrial Development Fund is also offering 60 percent loans to investors in a bid to attract global players into the Kingdom, while the Ministry of Industry and Mineral Resources is investing $3.7 billion in the sector.

The deputy minister of Industry and Mineral Resources Khaled Al-Mudaifer talked up the potential riches beneath the Kingdom’s soil last month, telling CNBC that studies have estimated $1.3 trillion in reserves of phosphates, gold, copper, zinc, nickel, rare earth metals and other minerals.

Speaking to Arab News, Al-Ali was confident the Kingdom’s enthusiasm for the sector would attract worldwide attention.

“It’s a very flexible and very transparent system, and it’s one of the most powerful in mining around the world,” Al-Ali said. “The system is new and it can encourage investors to come to Saudi Arabia.”

Under Vision 2030, mining is the third pillar of Saudi Arabia’s economic development, after energy and petrochemicals, as it aims to diversify the country’s economy away from dependency on oil.

The Saudi Geological Survey has announced 54 locations for exploration, with more to be revealed in the coming months that will be auctioned to investors.

The National Geological Database is being created to allow investors to find the locations of mineral deposits in a bid to increase the transparency and competitiveness of the sector in Saudi Arabia.

The Kingdom has already attracted major international investors, including US firm Alcoa Corp., which has a 25.1 percent stake in Ma’aden Bauxite and Alumina Co., and Ma’aden Aluminium Co., as part of $10.8 billion joint venture with Saudi miner Ma’aden, located in Ras Al-Khair Industrial City in the eastern province.

Fertilizer producer The Mosaic Co., another US company, has a 25 percent stake in the $8 billion Ma’aden Wa’ad Al-Shamal Fertilizer Production Complex located in Wa’ad Al-Shamal Minerals Industrial City in the northern province of Saud Arabia.

Canada’s Barrick Gold Corp. has a 50 percent stake with Ma’aden in the Jabal Sayid underground copper mine and plant.

“The private sector contribution will be incredible within the next couple of years,” said Al-Ali.

The mining sector is expected to create thousands of jobs in the Kingdom in the coming years with the goal of 256,000 geologists, engineers and others by 2030, he said.

“The ambitions will be reflected in a doubling of the sector’s contribution to GDP,” said Al-Ali.

“The income for the mining sector was above SR96 billion ($26 billion) in 2020 and we are targeting SR176 billion by 2030.”


Saudi military industry delegation meets investors in London defense show

Updated 17 September 2021

Saudi military industry delegation meets investors in London defense show

  • Officials from Saudi Arabia’s General Authority for Military Industries (GAMI) and Saudi Arabian Military Industries (SAMI) met with a number of major international investors in the fields of defense and military security

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s military industry delegation concluded on Friday its participation in the four-day Defense and Security Equipment International (DSEI) trade fair held at the ExCel Center in London with meetings with investors.

Officials from Saudi Arabia’s General Authority for Military Industries (GAMI) and Saudi Arabian Military Industries (SAMI) met with a number of major international investors in the fields of defense and military security from the United Kingdom and European countries, as well as a number of people from other countries interested in the defense and security military industries sector, GAMI said in a statement.

These meetings were attended GAMI Governor Eng. Ahmed bin Abdulaziz Al-Ohali, GAMI’s partners in the sector, as well as Saudi and British officials and stakeholders from the industry and investment sectors.

The UK Minister of defense Ben Wallace and a number of official delegations at the regional and international levels also inspected the Saudi pavilion, learning about the key targets of the military industry sector in the Kingdom, its promising investment opportunities and the pursuit of GAMI to reflect the ambitious vision of the wise leadership aiming at the Saudization of more than 50 percent of spending on military equipment and services by 2030.

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Saudi Arabia in negotiations to localize vaccine industry: deputy minister

Updated 17 September 2021

Saudi Arabia in negotiations to localize vaccine industry: deputy minister

  • The Saudi Ministry of Industry and Mineral Resources is working to transfer technology and localize vaccine industries and production platforms

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia plans to follow up its agreements with Pfizer and AstraZeneca to produce vaccines in the Kingdom with further initiatives to localize the pharmaceutical industries and to become a regional center for these companies, said Deputy Minister of Industry and Mineral Resources Osama Al-Zamil.

The Saudi Ministry of Industry and Mineral Resources, the King Abdullah International Center for Medical Research (KIMAR), and the Pfizer Scientific Foundation signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) on Tuesday, to build the foundations for the manufacture of viral and genetic vaccines in the Kingdom.

The MoU, signed during the activities of the Riyadh Summit for Medical Technology 2021, held in Riyadh, also includes providing technical support for the establishment of a human stem cell platform.

The ministry is working to transfer technology and localize vaccine industries and production platforms to manufacture, accelerate and provide vaccines in what is known as CDMO, as a basis for building suitable industrial clusters in this promising sector, and this is indeed the core of the agreement signed at the summit with Pfizer, Alzamil told Al Arabiya.


The agreements need a follow up as they aim in the long run to establish the infrastructure, not just direct manufacturing or commercial production, he said.

The first aim is to establish a research center through which different types of vaccines will be produced and clinical trials will be conducted, after which work will be done on manufacturing and commercial production.

There are 40 Saudi factories working in the drug manufacturing sector, and there are three or four factories that are ready to manufacture directly with these companies, he said.

The Ministry of Industry was entrusted with the task of achieving pharmaceutical security in the Kingdom, especially after it became a priority amid the effects of the pandemic on supply chains, Al-Zamil said.

Saudi Arabia wants to be the first choice for international companies working in the field of pharmaceuticals, and its platform for access to the countries of the Middle East.

“We are working to secure our needs in cooperation with government agencies and our international partners,” he said.

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