Saudi Arabia sets up business councils with Slovenia, Singapore 

Saudi Minister of Economy and Planning Faisal Alibrahim attending the Slovenia-Saudi Business Roundtable Meeting in Ljubljana. (SPA)
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Updated 28 September 2023

Saudi Arabia sets up business councils with Slovenia, Singapore 

  • Energy, mining on agenda at discussions by ministers in Riyadh
  • At meeting in Ljubljana, officials focused on tourism, commerce

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia has boosted business ties with Slovenia and Singapore as the Kingdom looks to develop trade links amid its economic diversification initiative Vision 2030. 

The Kingdom’s Minister of Economy and Planning Faisal Al-Ibrahim oversaw the signing of a memorandum of understanding to establish a dedicated business council with Slovenia during a trip to the country, the Saudi Press Agency reported. 

Likewise, the Minister of Commerce Majid Al-Qasab was present for the creation of a similar body with Singapore as he met with officials in the Asian country, according to SPA. 

The Slovenia agreement was inked on the sidelines of a business roundtable meeting that featured several presentations on investment opportunities in the Kingdom. 

Speaking at the event, Al-Ibrahim said: “There is substantial untapped potential for collaboration between Saudi and Slovenian private sectors. This synergy can lead to innovative ventures and investment opportunities that create mutually beneficial outcomes for businesses in both countries.” 

During his trip, the minister held meetings with senior Slovenian government officials, including Minister of Economy, Tourism and Sport Matjaz Han, Minister of Finance Klemen Bostjancic and Chamber of Commerce and Industry President Tibor Simonka. 

Al-Ibrahim’s visit is part of the Kingdom’s efforts to build bridges and boost cooperation with the rest of the world, in line with the Vision 2030 initiative. 

That goal was echoed by Al-Qasab’s trip to Singapore, where a business forum was held to increase trade between Saudi Arabia and the Asian nation. 

At this event, the Federation of Saudi Chambers and the Singapore Business Federation announced the launch of the Joint Business Council. 

The body will focus on opening new qualitative areas of economic cooperation, facilitating continuous interaction between the business sectors of the two countries, exchanging information about opportunities and markets, and organizing exhibitions and conferences. 

It will also organize visits by trade delegations. 

The Kingdom and Singapore have strong economic relations, with the volume of trade exchanged reaching about SR45.2 billion ($12.05 billion) in 2022. 

Another international commerce boost came when Saudi Arabia’s Minister of Industry and Mineral Resources Bandar Alkhorayef held a meeting on Wednesday with his Bahraini counterpart Abdullah Fakhro, focusing on improving economic ties between the countries. 

The discussions at the ministry’s headquarters in Riyadh focused on the objectives of Saudi Vision 2030 and Bahrain’s Economic Vision 2030, emphasizing strengthening industrial cooperation, fostering private-sector exchange of expertise and technology and boosting trade, particularly non-oil exports, SPA reported. 

In 2022, the Kingdom’s non-oil exports to Bahrain amounted to SR7 billion, while imports were SR9.8 billion. 

The Saudi Industrial Development Fund contributed to financing 13 projects worth SR1.5 billion. 

Oil Updates – crude falls after US Fed governor says no rush to cut interest rates

Updated 7 sec ago

Oil Updates – crude falls after US Fed governor says no rush to cut interest rates

SINGAPORE: Oil prices fell on Friday after a US Federal Reserve official said interest rate cuts should be delayed at least two more months, but indications of healthy demand and concerns over supplies could boost prices in the coming days, according to Reuters.

Brent crude futures were down 38 cents, or 0.5 percent, at $83.29 a barrel at 8:24 a.m. Saudi time, while US West Texas Intermediate crude futures were 40 cents, or 0.5 percent, lower at $78.21.

US Fed policymakers should delay interest rate cuts by at least another couple of months to see if a recent uptick in inflation signals stalling progress toward price stability or is just a bump in the road, Fed Gov. Christopher Waller said on Thursday.

Higher interest rates for longer slow economic growth, which could curb oil demand in the world’s largest oil consumer. But some analysts say demand has remained largely healthy, including in the US.

Analysts at ANZ research said US crude oil inventories rose at a less-than-expected rate last week, while run rates at refineries ended a streak of declines and may increase in coming weeks.

JPMorgan’s high frequency demand indicators are showing oil demand rising 1.7 million barrels per day month-over-month through Feb. 21, its analysts said in a note on Friday.

“This compares to 1.6 mbd increase observed during the prior week, likely benefitting from increased travel demand in China and Europe,” the analysts said.

Oil benchmarks pared some of their Thursday gains after Waller’s comments.

The US central bank has held its policy rate steady in the 5.25 percent-5.5 percent range since last July, and minutes of its policy meeting last month show most central bankers were worried about moving too quickly to ease policy.

Waller also pushed back on the idea that the Fed risks sending the economy into recession if it waits too long to cut rates, saying the Fed can afford to “wait a little longer.”

Oil futures had settled higher on Thursday as hostilities continued in the Red Sea, with Houthis stepping up attacks near Yemen to show support for Palestinians in the Gaza war.

Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s war cabinet has approved sending negotiators to truce talks taking place in Paris on Friday as pressure mounts in the Middle East, according to a source briefed on the matter and Israeli media. 

AI can bridge North-South divides, Accenture CEO tells FII summit

Updated 23 February 2024

AI can bridge North-South divides, Accenture CEO tells FII summit

  • Julie Sweet: ‘One of the things that’s been great to see is Saudi Arabia taking the lead in many places’
  • ‘It’s really important to always stay focused on what are the opportunities with AI to solve the world’s problems’

MIAMI: Artificial intelligence has the potential to bridge North-South divides, Accenture’s CEO told the Future Investment Initiative Priority summit in Miami on Thursday.

Julie Sweet explored the far-reaching impact of AI on addressing global challenges in a panel discussion titled “FII Priority Compass: What matters most to citizens?”

She said: “The question is how much AI can actually help the Global South and the countries that need help through precision farming, through telemedicine and better healthcare.”

Highlighting Saudi Arabia’s proactive stance in leveraging AI for societal advancement, Sweet stressed the importance of global collaboration in harnessing AI’s potential to tackle complex issues.

“One of the things that’s been great to see is Saudi Arabia taking the lead in many places to think through how can AI help and how can they be a leader.

“So I think it’s really important to always stay focused on what are the opportunities with AI to solve the world’s problems.”

However, Sweet acknowledged that the definitive solution to utilizing AI to close existing divides is not currently available.

Highlighting the vital efforts of organizations such as the UN, she emphasized the urgency of understanding how technology can be harnessed to avoid widening disparities.

Since the increased accessibility of AI in the public market and its “democratization,” experts have emphasized the need to regulate the technology.

“Regulation needs to be the outcome of a very strong public-private partnership, because most governments in the world don’t have the access or the talent inside to know it,” Sweet said, adding that there have been a few successful examples of governments balancing innovation and safety.

“That’s one of the most important things that governments need to do, particularly because the technology is changing rapidly. And I think the good news is that everyone has agreed that some regulation is needed.”

Regarding AI-related risks in the upcoming US election, Sweet cautioned against relying solely on government regulation. Instead, she advocated for increased collaboration among private entities.

“That’s as important as government regulation,” she said. “It’s responsible companies coming together in an agile fashion to solve the risks.”

Addressing concerns about job displacement due to AI, Sweet said while her role as a lawyer would persist, the nature of the job would evolve. She emphasized the need to reskill workforces and prepare the new generation to use AI.

Sweet highlighted Accenture’s annual investment of $1.1 billion in staff training, and stressed the importance of adapting school curricula to future-proof the younger generation through enhanced communication skills and basic technology education.

“All of us will have to continue to adapt and learn … because our skills have to constantly be improved and there’s so much change,” she concluded.

Oman opens its market to Brazilian live cattle

Updated 23 February 2024

Oman opens its market to Brazilian live cattle

  • Announcement made following meeting of officials from both countries in Muscat
  • Both sides emphasized interest in expanding governmental cooperation, commercial partnerships

SAO PAULO: The Brazilian livestock sector is now authorized to export live cattle for slaughter and fattening to Oman.

The announcement was made after a meeting between Roberto Perosa, Brazil’s secretary for trade and international relations, and Ahmed Nasir Al-Bakri, undersecretary at Oman’s Agriculture Ministry. There were other members of the Omani government at the meeting.

“This new market adds to the other 14 opened this year, totaling 93 since the beginning of last year, during President Lula’s third term,” Perosa said.

“At the request of (Agriculture) Minister Carlos Favaro, we continue our mission in the Middle East, visiting countries aiming to expand Brazilian agricultural trade, opening new markets, obtaining approvals for plants through the pre-listing system (eliminating the need for local audits), and negotiating the import of nitrogen fertilizers.”

The Brazilian delegation visiting Oman also includes Julio Ramos, deputy secretary for trade and international relations, and Marcel Moreira, director of trade promotion and investments.

These new markets are the result of joint work by Brazil’s ministries of agriculture and livestock, and foreign affairs.

Representatives of both countries’ agriculture ministries emphasized their interest in expanding governmental cooperation and commercial partnerships.

They identified synergies between Oman’s Vision 2040 plan, which includes food security, and the Brazilian program to convert degraded pastures into agricultural areas.

They also discussed the possibility of partnerships in areas such as fertilizers, sugar, grains for animal feed, live animals, chicken meat and fish.

The Brazilian delegation also met with Ibtisam Ahmed Said Al-Farooji, undersecretary for investment promotion at Oman’s Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Investment.

She presented an Omani program that aims to increase investments in her country and abroad, focusing on food security and Oman’s interest in becoming a hub for the Gulf region.

Al-Farooji also underlined Oman’s neutrality and stability, adding that Brazil could be a great partner.

During the meeting, Perosa emphasized the good relations and complementarity between the two countries, saying Brazil could contribute even more to Oman’s food security and encourage Brazilian companies to process their products in Oman, as is the case with chicken and beef.

He added that the program to convert degraded pastures into agricultural areas represents a great opportunity to strengthen this partnership, including the possibility of acquiring nitrogen fertilizers from Oman.

The Omani side welcomed the idea and said that along with the Oman Investment Authority and Nitaj, the government arm for promoting food security, it will help build the partnership strategy between the two countries.

Transformation of Saudi economy creates opportunities, Public Investment Fund official tells investors

Updated 23 February 2024

Transformation of Saudi economy creates opportunities, Public Investment Fund official tells investors

  • Jerry Todd tells Future Investment Initiative Priority forum in Miami that structural economic changes in the Kingdom require global resources and talent, capital and operating capacity
  • Former US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin highlights opportunities for investment in clean energy and energy transformation in the wider Middle East

LONDON: It is important that investors understand the long-term structural changes to the Saudi economy that are taking place and the opportunities they offer, the head of the National Development Division at the Saudi Public Investment Fund said on Thursday.

Speaking at the Future Investment Initiative Priority forum in Miami, Jerry Todd said the three pillars of this transformation are industrialization of the economy, the development and expansion of service sectors, and the building-up of green energy capacity.

“Vision 2030 is the blueprint for this economic transformation, and it is a national project but it requires global resources, global talent, capital and operating capacity,” he said. “The attraction of those into the Kingdom is embedded into that blueprint.

“The question of what happens next is really a function of whether people in this room, and people in rooms like this, are learning more and trying to understand what’s happening (in the Kingdom). Personally, I’m optimistic, I think there’s a growing awareness of the opportunities being created.

“(Another thing that is changing) is the ability of the domestic economy to absorb longer-term investment, in large part through the industry-building that’s happening as part of Vision 2030. It’s creating chances for people to come in and capture asset-level opportunities.”

Former US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said there are a lot of opportunities for investment in the wider Middle East region in relation to clean energy and energy transformation. (Screenshot/FII Priority)

Former US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin echoed that sentiment and said there are a lot of opportunities for investment in the wider Middle East region in relation to clean energy and energy transformation.

He warned, however, that if the region is to remain an attractive investment hub, the threat Iran poses to regional stability and security must be addressed, primarily through tougher and more rigidly enforced sanctions on the regime in Tehran.

AI will drive efficiency amid global economic slowdown, leading financiers tell FII Priority Summit

Updated 23 February 2024

AI will drive efficiency amid global economic slowdown, leading financiers tell FII Priority Summit

  • 'AI is the bicycle of the minds — we are all going to have to learn how to ride it,' said the head of Claure Group
  • Johnson of Franklin Templeton noted that the supply chain was shifting

MIAMI: The chiefs of four of the world’s leading corporations stressed on Thursday, during the first day of the Future Investment Initiative Miami Summit, that while artificial intelligence has the potential to drive higher investment and economic growth across the world despite the current slowdown, it can cause significant harm if not regulated at the right pace.

Marcelo Claure, founder and CEO of Claure Group, told the “Board of Changemakers” panel that when it comes to AI, it is hard in many cases “to differentiate (between) what is hype versus what is reality,” but regardless, all businesses would have to incorporate the technology into their work if they wanted to succeed in the next few decades.

“AI is the bicycle of the minds — we are all going to have to learn how to ride it,” he said.

Claure pointed out that when the browser was invented 30 years ago, it “made the cost of information zero,” which led to the creation of global companies like Google.

He added that AI is going to “reduce the cost of three very important things to basically zero: cognition, creativity, and problem-solving.”

He said: “In our companies, we hire thousands of people, we pay them to do what? We pay them to think, we pay them to problem solve, we pay them to be creative, and AI is going to enhance that.”

As an example of how Claure’s company utilized AI for higher efficiency, he mentioned that his teams used to require about 100 hours to manage a marketing campaign. However, after employing AI, the same process took less than an hour.

“So, think about a 99 percent efficiency,” he said.

Highlighting that generative AI, such as ChatGPT, will develop an IQ level of 12,000 in the next three to four years, Stephen Schwarzman, chairman and CEO of Blackstone Group, stressed the importance of “ethics in AI.”

He told the panel of CEOs: “In terms of the downsides of the technology, that in the hands of bad actors, call them rogue states, will have the use of this very powerful technology — that is a bad thing.”

Schwarzman highlighted that AI technologies are “moving so quickly,” making it more of a challenge to “catch up” and “protect systems.”

He added that experts in the field, such as MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) scientists, “are really cautious about this technology.”

He said: “In other words, they love it. It can do marvelous things, but unlike most of the business community, they are not against regulation. In fact, they are pretty enthusiastic about regulation because they see the downsides, and they want those downsides addressed.

“And one of the things I have tried to do with both AI ethics centers at MIT and at Oxford, is try and be part of that dialogue, encourage people to be thinking about this — there is a lot of stuff going on in the regulatory world.”

Echoing Claure’s observation that AI is advancing rapidly, Schwarzman emphasized the importance of responding with the appropriate regulations at a fast pace.

“This is moving so fast, whatever you come up with, it’ll be obsolete pretty quickly,” he said.

In addition to AI, Jennifer Johnson, president and CEO of Franklin Templeton, identified five broad trends that may define the next decade in investments: demographics, deglobalization, digitization, decarbonization, and debt.

Like the rest of the speakers, Johnson stressed the importance of regulating AI.

“The problem is, it is scary,” she said. “But on the other hand, if we do not create environments where the good folks are learning how to use AI, the bad guys become the experts on it.

“And, so, you have to create and allow for innovation to happen.”

Speaking about deglobalization, Johnson highlighted that the supply chain was shifting.

She said: “It’s the China plus one, the nearshoring, the French shoring. But the key is that capital is moving.”

She added that “capital goes where capital is treated well — where there is a political will to create policies like the Kingdom (of Saudi Arabia) is doing to create opportunities for investment.”

Johnson referred to the shifting of supply chains as “disinflation,” but she also noted that “the raising of interest rates to slow down the economy” means that while there is a global growth slowdown, there are also “pockets of strength … like (in) India.”

Alongside Claure, Johnson and Schwarzman, panelists partaking in the roundtable discussion also included Pierre Beaudoin, chairman of the board of Bombardier, and Pam Liebman, president and CEO of The Corcoran Group.