Saudi FDI reforms poised to deliver transformative impact

Reforms to the Kingdom’s economy are not new, with a World Bank report in 2020 noting the significance of measures primarily concentrated on starting a business, dealing with construction permits, and facilitating trade. (SPA)
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Updated 10 December 2023
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Saudi FDI reforms poised to deliver transformative impact

  • Main contributors to investment surge include France, Japan, Kuwait, Malaysia, Singapore, the UAE, and the US

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia continues to vigorously pursue its reform agenda, with a focus on bolstering foreign direct investment inflows and diversifying investment strategies despite a recent deceleration in its financial account as reported by the Saudi Central Bank and the Ministry of Finance.

In the second quarter of 2023, FDI inflows experienced a 21 percent decline compared to the same period last year, amounting to SR6.2 billion ($1.65 billion).

FDI outflows, which encompass the capital invested by Saudi entities in foreign countries, reached SR18.34 billion, a 53 percent decrease from the corresponding quarter of the previous year.

Albara’a Al-Wazir, an economist at the US-Saudi Business Council, said: “Despite the recent decline in FDI to SR6.2 billion, the number of investment licenses issued by the Ministry of Investment … reached 1,819 in Q2, marking a 94 percent increase compared to the previous year.”

He added: “Saudi Arabia has implemented significant legal, economic, and social changes to attract higher levels of foreign direct investment since the launch of Vision 2030.”

Al-Wazir highlighted that the Ministry of Investment granted licenses to 180 companies to establish regional headquarters in the Kingdom ahead of the January 2024 deadline.

The economist anticipates that the regional headquarters program will expedite FDI in Saudi Arabia.

“As companies seeking government projects will need to relocate, the full impact of this program is expected to manifest in the medium term, albeit with a potential lag,” he said.

Saudi Arabia has also announced tax incentives for foreign companies establishing their regional headquarters in the Kingdom, including a 30-year exemption from corporate income tax.

These measures also encompass zero income tax for foreign entities relocating their regional headquarters, effective from the issuance date of the license, as outlined by the Ministry of Investment. 




Riyadh has announced tax incentives for foreign companies establishing their regional headquarters in the Kingdom, including a 30-year exemption from corporate income tax. (SPA)

Al-Wazir said the newly introduced NEOM Investment Fund is strategically positioned to draw investors and play a role in the development of the new city.

Despite the decline in FDI in the second quarter of 2023, he emphasized that the Kingdom achieved the second-highest amount in the Middle East and Africa region during this period.

As per information disclosed by the Ministry of Investment, the FDI stock, representing the cumulative FDI in Saudi Arabia, saw a 2.89 percent increase during this period.

The ministry highlighted that this rise signifies the growing confidence of foreign investors in the Saudi investment ecosystem.

Reforms to the Kingdom’s economy are not new, with a report from the World Bank issued in 2020 noting the significance of a series of measures primarily concentrated on starting a business, dealing with construction permits, and facilitating international trade.

Additionally, the report noted that protections for minority investors were strengthened, a value-added tax was introduced, and notable improvements in trading and contract enforcement were implemented.

These reforms collectively demonstrate Saudi Arabia’s commitment to creating a more efficient and investor-friendly business environment.

According to the International Bar Association report on the Kingdom’s FDI legal framework and outlook in April 2023, Saudi Arabia is witnessing an increasing flow of FDI across various sectors. The main contributors to this investment surge include France, Japan, Kuwait, as well as Malaysia, Singapore, the UAE, and the US.

As outlined in the report, key sectors drawing substantial FDI include the chemical industry, real estate, fossil fuels, as  well as automobiles, tourism, plastics, and machinery. This diversification indicates a growing interest and confidence from international investors in Saudi Arabia’s economic landscape.

Data from the Ministry of Investment indicated a 135.4 percent annual increase in the number of investment licenses issued, reaching 2,192 in the third quarter of this year.

According to the ministry, this surge underscores Saudi Arabia’s appeal as an attractive investment destination, offering competitive advantages within a stable and supportive business environment. 

FASTFACT

Data from the Ministry of Investment indicated a 135.4 percent annual increase in the number of investment licenses issued, reaching 2,192 in the third quarter of this year.

Gross Fixed Capital Formation, reflecting investment in tangible assets like buildings, machinery, equipment, and infrastructure for production, saw a notable 7 percent increase during this period totaling SR278.9 billion, as reported by the ministry.

Within this, non-government GFCF accounted for approximately 85 percent of the total, reaching SR236.6 billion. This marked a 7.6 percent growth compared to the corresponding period last year.

In contrast, government GFCF held a 15 percent share during this quarter, with a 3.5 percent increase, reaching a total of SR42.3 billion. This data underscores the significant role of both non-government and government sectors in driving capital formation within Saudi Arabia’s economy.

The Kingdom’s financial account, which includes net values for direct investment, portfolio investment, and reserve assets, amounted to SR42.97 billion. This figure represents a 70 percent decline compared to the corresponding period last year, according to the report from the Kingdom’s central bank.

Portfolio investment, the second component of Saudi Arabia’s financial account, experienced a 66 percent decrease, primarily attributed to the Kingdom’s increased borrowings.

Meanwhile, the net acquisition of financial assets showed a robust 25 percent annual growth in the second quarter, totaling SR50.14 billion. However, this increase was countered by a rise in the portfolio’s liability section, with debt securities increasing from -SR18.53 billion to SR25.69 billion during the same period.

According to Al-Wazir: “The Kingdom signaled that it would utilize debt markets to raise liquidity to fund its projects. The increase in borrowing via debt securities underscores its commitment to achieve its desired diversification goals.”

He added: “The Kingdom has more recently issued both external and domestic debt, with domestic riyal-denominated debt accounting for approximately 63 percent of the total. In H1 2023, the government issued SR23 billion in domestic debt, while growing total domestic debt from SR615 billion to SR624 billion.”

Reserve assets, encompassing special drawing rights and currency, deposits, and securities, witnessed a 70 percent decrease. This decline is attributed to the devaluation of securities within this category.

“The topic of drawing down reserves, in this case securities, is a strategic move to decrease SAMA’s reserve holdings and redirect cash across a diversified set of vehicles,” explained Al-Wazir.

“Saudi has been adjusting its investment strategy in recent years whereby it is allocating money to national funds like the Public Investment Fund and National Development Fund. An example of this is when SAMA transferred SR150 billion from its foreign reserves to PIF in 2020,” he added.

The economist concluded by asserting that public debt remains sustainable, comfortably staying below the 50 percent debt to gross domestic product ceiling, and the fiscal capacity is substantial. He emphasized that the government’s borrowing strategy primarily aims to lengthen maturities, reduce refinancing costs, and establish a yield curve.


FII Priority: Leaders in Miami and the Kingdom are fostering environments for growth and talent

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FII Priority: Leaders in Miami and the Kingdom are fostering environments for growth and talent

  • Diversity, inclusivity are key ingredients to make a place attractive, panelist said
  • Kingdom has made great improvements to rebrand itself as global talent hub

MIAMI: Leaders in Saudi Arabia and Miami share common ground in their efforts to foster environments conducive to growth and talent, experts highlighted at the FII Priority conference in Miami on Friday.

Over the past few years, both have prioritized initiatives aimed at improving living standards for their residents, focusing on socio-economic policies that promote diversity and inclusivity.

“There are so many parallels between what’s going on here (in Miami) and what’s going on there (Saudi Arabia),” said Jeff Zalaznick, restaurateur and managing partner of hospitality company Major Food Group.

During a session titled “The special sauce: what is the recipe for a vibrant city?” he added: “Both are fostering environments where people can grow (and) excel in their fields. They want to attract talent.”

Zalaznick noted that both regions strike a balance between cultivating diversity and talent locally while also attracting the best from around the world, fostering their potential across various domains such as sports, music, and culinary arts.

Aligned with its Vision 2030, Saudi Arabia has undertaken significant policy reforms, placing diversity and inclusion at the forefront of its development agenda.

This shift has been especially pivotal for the Kingdom’s youthful demographic, as they aspire to leverage this momentum and carve out their niches in various industries.

“(When you make) young people feel optimistic about what they can do, you basically are writing the future,” said Steve Stoute, CEO of marketing agency Translation and music label UnitedMasters.

“I do believe that this idea of multiculturalism, of embracing emerging subcultures and helping enforce that, are (fundamental) ingredients that this city gets and (only) a couple other cities get really well.”

He emphasised that places lacking diversity and inclusive support systems miss out on attracting the brightest young talent, as they fail to cultivate the dynamic and vibrant environments necessary for growth and innovation.

Renowned as a haven for retirees, Miami has undergone a transformation in recent years, enticing a younger demographic with a blend of job prospects and reduced tax obligations.

Similarly, Saudi Arabia has embarked on a campaign to redefine itself as not just a regional hub, but a global magnet for young talent.

With its population surpassing 32 million, as per a 2022 census by the General Authority for Statistics, Saudi Arabia boasts a youthful majority, with those under the age of 30 constituting 63 percent of the total.

Drawing parallels between these two “renaissances,” Zalaznick noted the evolving criteria for vibrant cities and the changing preferences of city dwellers.

He highlighted the growing importance of cultural dynamism and multiculturalism in city selection, particularly for companies seeking diverse talent pools and innovative environments.

“It’s about young people,” said Tom Garfinkel, vice chairman, president and CEO of the Miami Dolphins and Hard Rock Stadium and managing partner of the Formula One Miami Grand Prix.

“We have to attract young people, we have to have cultural dynamics where young people can afford to live, where business opportunities exist, where it’s easy to start businesses and to create.

“The talent goes to the city that attracts, that has the culture that attracts young talent, and the companies go there and not the other way around,” he concluded.


UAE and Kenya finalize terms of Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement

Updated 23 February 2024
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UAE and Kenya finalize terms of Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement

RIYADH: The UAE and Kenya have concluded negotiations on a trade deal that will boost investment flows in logistics, healthcare, and travel and tourism between the two countries. 

The Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement will enhance market access for businesses on both sides, according to a press release.

Investments in the infrastructure and ICT sectors are also set to benefit, and the deal will also see a platform for small and medium enterprise cooperation and expansion on both sides.

Kenya's economy experienced real annual GDP growth of 5 percent in 2023, up from 4.8 percent in the previous 12 months. 

Its services sector, which accounts for 53.6 percent of Kenya’s economy, and agriculture sector, comprising around a quarter of national GDP, offer vast potential for UAE businesses looking to expand into the region, the release added.

The UAE’s Minister of Foreign Trade Thani bin Ahmed Al-Zeyoudi described the new agreement as marking a “significant milestone” in the country’s trade deal program.

He added: “It is a testament to our commitment to strengthening economic ties with the African continent and to creating new opportunities for businesses and investors in both of our countries. 

“The UAE-Kenya CEPA will not only boost trade and investment, but also foster innovation and sustainable growth in key sectors such as agriculture, technology and tourism. 

“We look forward to deepening our relationship with Kenya and to further expanding our presence in Africa as a trusted partner and investor.”

Kenya’s Cabinet Secretary for Investments, Trade and Industry Rebecca Miano said the agreement was testament to her government’s drive to use international commerce as “a key lever of economic growth and transformation.”

She added: “The Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement with the United Arab Emirates will play a key role in these efforts, enabling our exports to reach important markets in Asia and the Middle East, and also in stimulating the investment inflows that will further develop our national capabilities. We look forward to its implementation and the mutual benefits it will deliver.”

In 2023, the UAE’s non-oil trade in goods reached an all-time high of $710 billion, a 12.6 percent increase on 2022 – and 34.7 percent more than 2021. 

The UAE has already concluded 10 CEPAs, including with India, Israel, and Indonesia, as well as Türkiye, Georgia, and South Korea.


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

Updated 23 February 2024
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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
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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
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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.