Saudi Arabia woos investors with lucrative business environment

Situated at the crossroads of Europe, Asia, and Africa, Saudi Arabia boasts a strategic geographical location that makes it a natural hub for international trade, giving it a unique advantage when it comes to Asia-Europe commerce channels. (SPA)
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Updated 12 May 2024

Saudi Arabia woos investors with lucrative business environment

  • Vision 2030 aims to reduce the nation’s dependence on oil, diversify its economy, and build a vibrant society

RIYADH: With an average growth rate of 4 percent over the past seven years and an upward trajectory buoyed by a pro-business environment, Saudi Arabia has demonstrated remarkable resilience amid global economic challenges.

Given its strategic location, robust economy, and ambitious Vision 2030, it’s hardly surprising that the Kingdom stands as a beacon of progress and growth in the region.

A key to this has been attracting foreign direct investment, as well as working on agreements with neighboring countries to ensure Saudi Arabia is seen as being open for business.

Economist and policy adviser Mahmoud Khairy told Arab News that the Kingdom has “enhanced trade relations and reduced barriers” in this regard as it seeks to put its Vision 2030 strategy into action.

That plan aims to reduce the nation’s dependence on oil, diversify its economy, and build a vibrant society.

Khairy added: “The Kingdom has already started to take serious steps to capitalize on its exceptional location through the establishment of logistics and free trade zones, coupled with efforts to diversify the economy under Vision 2030, attracts foreign investment and fosters trade partnerships.”

Khairy emphasized that investments in digital infrastructure and e-commerce platforms have further modernized the Kingdom’s trade ecosystem, enhancing its connectivity with global markets.

Furthermore, he said, tremendous efforts have been made to advance the financial ecosystem, with new measures planned to improve the ease of doing business and develop the investment environment further.

Khairy’s analysis was echoed by Saudi-based economist Talat Hafiz, who told Arab News: “One of the main pillars of Saudi Vision 2030 is to create a business environment that supports economic growth in the Kingdom and attract FDI as well as diversify the Kingdom’s economy. The only way to reach such a goal is through facilitating doing business and trade.”

Gateway to global trade

Situated at the crossroads of Europe, Asia, and Africa, Saudi Arabia boasts a strategic geographical location that makes it a natural hub for international trade, giving it a unique advantage when it comes to Asia-Europe commerce channels and distributing goods through the Arabian Peninsula.

With access to over 424 million consumers within a three-hour flight radius, the nation serves as an efficient gateway to markets spanning three continents.

The Saudi freight and logistics industry, supported by state-led investments in infrastructure, is a vital component of the Kingdom’s economic landscape.

Saudi Arabia has undertaken extensive expansion and modernization efforts at its ports, such as the King Abdulaziz Port in Dammam and the King Abdullah Port in Jeddah, incorporating cutting-edge technology for efficient cargo handling.

Khairy said that the development of such modern ports “increases the country’s capacity to handle large volumes of cargo, thereby improving efficiency and reducing transit times for goods entering and leaving the region.” 

When compared to many Western countries, Saudi Arabia’s corporate tax rates are notably lower, with certain industries and regions even benefiting from tax exemptions or reduced rates.

Mahmoud Khairy, Economist and policy adviser

Hafiz added: “With a combined total of 290 berths, Saudi Arabia’s ports comprise the Middle East’s largest seaport network that not only contributes a great deal to national growth but also showcases the Kingdom’s formidable regional and international standing.”

He went on to emphasize that the country’s ports are capable of accommodating any form of vessel, which is what drove the Saudi Port Authority, also known as Mawani, to provide specialized terminals for various types of loads.

Furthermore, substantial investments are being made in expanding rail and road networks to enhance connectivity and streamline the transportation of goods domestically.

According to Khairy, the expansion and improvement of transportation networks, including roads, railways, and airports, enhance connectivity both domestically and internationally.

“This seamless connectivity facilitates the movement of goods and people, supporting supply chain efficiency and enabling businesses to access global markets more effectively,” he added.

Saudi Arabia’s well-established logistics infrastructure offers unparalleled opportunities for logistics companies and manufacturers looking to capitalize on its strategic advantages.

Business-friendly environment 

The Kingdom offers a business-friendly environment characterized by stable economic policies, government incentives, and a youthful, tech-savvy population.

Hafiz noted that Saudi Arabia “jumped significant places in the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business index and IMD, making the Kingdom among the world’s top improvers.”

Ease of Doing Business index ranked economies from 1 to 190, with the Kingdom standing at number 62 in the final report issued in 2020.  

Saudi Arabia ranked 30 in 2023’s IMD World Digital Competitiveness Ranking, which assesses the capacity and readiness of an economy to adopt and explore digital technologies as a key driver for economic transformation in business, government, and wider society.

The government, through Saudi Arabia’s General Investment Authority, also known as SAGIA, offers various incentives to attract foreign investors. These incentives comprise low corporate tax rates, streamlined business regulations, and robust infrastructure development.

“When compared to many Western countries, Saudi Arabia’s corporate tax rates are notably lower, with certain industries and regions even benefiting from tax exemptions or reduced rates,” Khairy pointed out.

He went on to say that “the digitalization of bureaucratic processes makes it easier for investors to navigate the business environment and set up operations in the country.”

The incentives play a significant role in investor decisions by enhancing the attractiveness of Saudi Arabia as an investment destination.

Businesses are drawn to markets with favorable tax regimes and simplified regulatory frameworks, as they contribute to higher profitability and operational efficiency, according to Khairy.

Hafiz added: “These developments, which are aligned with Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030, will hopefully increase FDI’s contribution to the Kingdom’s gross domestic product from 3.8 percent in 2016 to 5.7 percent by 2030.”

With this, Saudi Arabia presents lucrative opportunities for foreign investors and entrepreneurs seeking to establish their presence in the region.

Furthermore, initiatives such as the establishment of special economic zones and the growth of the venture capital sector underscore the country’s commitment to fostering innovation and entrepreneurship.

The VC sector has over 80 active firms, with more entering the market, highlighting the commitment to nurturing innovative startups.

Adding to this, the continuous infrastructure development initiatives like NEOM and Red Sea Global underscore the dedication to establishing top-tier business environments and fostering opportunities across diverse industries.

Over 200 international firms, including Northern Trust, PepsiCo from the US, IHG Hotels and Resorts, PwC, and Deloitte from the UK, have opened their regional headquarters in Riyadh.

The Kingdom had previously announced that it would not award any deals to any foreign company or commercial entity with a Middle Eastern base outside Saudi Arabia starting from January 1, 2024.

Driving innovation through technology

Embracing the transformative power of artificial intelligence and machine learning, Saudi Arabia is spearheading initiatives to harness these technologies for economic growth.

Under the leadership of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the nation is investing in AI research, education, and infrastructure to propel its industries into the digital age.

According to Khairy, collaboration between academia, industry, and government can harness AI’s potential to enhance productivity and competitiveness across sectors.

AI adoption can lead to new products, services, and business models, optimizing operations and decision-making, he explained.

Generative AI, a cutting-edge technology, holds immense potential for revolutionizing supply chain and procurement operations in Saudi Arabia.

The National Strategy for Data and AI, initiated in 2019, outlines the country’s commitment to advancing AI capabilities and data-driven decision-making.

Generative AI, powered by large language models like OpenAI’s ChatGPT and Google’s BERT, stands out as a transformative technology with the potential to revolutionize supply chain and procurement operations.

Within the context of Vision 2030, generative AI aligns with goals of economic diversification, localization, and sustainability, positioning Saudi Arabia as a key player in international supply chain management.

“The new National Industrial Strategy of the Kingdom not only focuses on raising the number of factories in Saudi Arabia to 36,000 but also improves its technological capabilities,” according to Hafiz.

A visionary path forward

As Saudi Arabia continues its journey towards economic diversification and innovation, it remains poised to emerge as a global leader in business and technology.

“I believe that the sky is the limit when it comes to business opportunities in Saudi Arabia, especially in economic sectors that could add value to the Kingdom’s economy such as advanced technologies: AI, digital economy, internet of things and other sectors, especially advanced renewable energies,” Hafiz said.

Saudi Arabia’s youth population, combined with its dedication to education and technological advancement, positions it as a powerhouse of talent and innovation.

In the era of supply chain diversification, Saudi Arabia has emerged as a compelling rival in the global logistics market. The Kingdom presents an attractive proposition for businesses seeking to optimize their supply chains and expand their global footprint.

As Saudi Arabia continues on its path to becoming a global supply chain hub and a leader in AI and machine learning, it is prioritizing programs that equip its youth with the skills and knowledge required for these transformative job opportunities.

By all accounts, Saudi Arabia can leverage generative AI to not only enhance its supply chain and procurement processes but also empower its youth to thrive in the workforce of the future.

“The technology sector is experiencing rapid growth, driven by government initiatives and increasing investment in areas such as digital transformation and artificial intelligence,” Khairy said.

Xi calls for more jobs for youth, migrant workers

Updated 28 May 2024

Xi calls for more jobs for youth, migrant workers

  • (We should) insist that employment of young people including college graduates is a top priority: Chinese president

BEIJING: China’s President Xi Jinping called on Monday for efforts to promote high-quality and sufficient jobs for college graduates and migrant workers, while presiding over a Politburo group study session, state media Xinhua reported on Tuesday.

“(We should) insist that employment of young people including college graduates is a top priority,” the Xinhua report quoted Xi as saying at a group study session of the Politburo, a top decision-making body of the ruling Communist Party.

The Xinhua report did not give details on job promotion support measures or plans.

The survey-based jobless rate for 16-24 year-olds, excluding college students, was 14.7 percent in April, down from 15.3 percent in March, official data showed last week.

China’s statistics bureau revised its methodology by removing college students from the survey pool after youth jobless rate surged to around 20 percent last year.

Xi also said the government should take steps to promote the employment of migrant workers, guide them to return to their hometowns and for people to start businesses in the countryside.

He called for stabilizing the income of people who had been lifted out of poverty and preventing large-scale return to poverty due to unemployment, Xinhua said.

Companies and industries with strong job creation capabilities will be supported, the report said.

China created 4.36 million new urban jobs in the first four months, Human Resources Ministry data showed, 36 percent of its annual job creation target.

Saudis spent more money on electronic devices during the 4th week of May: SAMA data

Updated 28 May 2024

Saudis spent more money on electronic devices during the 4th week of May: SAMA data

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s point-of-sale spending reached SR11.2 billion ($2.98 billion) in the fourth week of May, official figures showed.

The latest data from the Saudi Central Bank, also known as SAMA, revealed that spending on electronic and electric devices surged by 9.5 percent to reach SR240.4 million.

Beverages and food, which accounts for the largest share at 14.9 percent, saw a 5.9 percent decline, reaching SR1.66 billion, during the week from May 19 to 25.

Meanwhile, transactions at restaurants and cafes, holding a 14.6 percent share, recorded a slower decline of 4.8 percent, amounting to SR1.64 billion. 

Saudi spending on miscellaneous goods and services, including personal care items, supplies, maintenance, and cleaning, constituted the third-highest share and witnessed a 5.1 percent decline that week, reaching SR1.36 billion. 

Despite composing only 1 percent of the week’s overall POS value, spending on education recorded a minimal increase of 0.1 percent to SR152.48 million.

In the past few years, this sector has been allocated the largest share of government expenditure in comparison to other divisions of the economy. 

Efforts are underway to revamp the education system, aiming to equip the national workforce with the necessary skills to thrive in a technological and information-centric global economy.

The hotel sector experienced the largest decline in POS transaction value, dropping 10.9 percent to SR227.13 million.

According to data from SAMA, 35.44 percent of POS spending occurred in Riyadh, with the total transaction value reaching SR3.97 billion. However, this represents a 1.6 percent decrease from the previous week.  

Riyadh has undergone considerable expansion, evolving into a pivotal center for growth and progress. The city is witnessing a surge in new businesses setting up operations, drawn by its vibrant economic landscape and strategic prospects for investment and innovation.

Spending in Jeddah followed closely, accounting for 14.3 percent of the total and reaching SR1.60 billion; however, it marked a 3.1 percent weekly drop. 

The two cities that registered the highest declines in POS spending were Makkah and Madinah, with decreases of 11 percent and 6.8 percent, respectively. The value of transactions in Makkah reached SR380.98 million, while in Madinah, it was SR393.26 million.

Saudi healthcare to advance with major digital tech partnership

Updated 28 May 2024

Saudi healthcare to advance with major digital tech partnership

RIYADH: The Saudi healthcare system is set to advance as two of the country’s major companies partner to leverage digital technologies to enhance the Kingdom’s capabilities.

SAMI Advanced Electronics Co., a wholly owned subsidiary of SAMI, the nation’s defense and digital solutions provider, has signed a cooperation agreement with the National Unified Procurement Co., a Public Investment Fund company.

The agreement, signed on May 27, will provide solutions for medication tracking and IT infrastructure and increase local content through medical devices manufacturing and maintenance.

This partnership demonstrates SAMI-AEC’s unremitting efforts to build a harmonious and applicable healthcare system in Saudi Arabia based on digital technologies.

Ziad Al-Musallam, CEO of SAMI-AEC, commented on the agreement, saying that they are honored to collaborate with NUPCO, as this deal underscores the unwavering commitment of both entities to bolstering efforts aimed at enhancing the healthcare ecosystem in Saudi Arabia.

“At SAMI-AEC, we firmly believe in the significance of augmenting public health services through digital solutions and delivering e-health services. This involves integrating effective, fast technologies to empower the healthcare sector, aligning with the objectives of Saudi Vision 2030,” he said.

Fahad Al-Shebel, CEO of NUPCO, highlighted the agreement’s importance and its role in fortifying the healthcare infrastructure and facilitating access to the integrated technology offered by SAMI-Advanced Electronics Co.

Aiming to upgrade the healthcare sector by improving its facilities in all public hospitals and medical centers in the Kingdom, NUPCO is the country’s largest central company providing medical purchasing, storage, and distribution services for medicines, devices, and supplies.

With a workforce of over 3,320 individuals, 85 percent of whom are Saudi nationals, SAMI-AEC has positioned itself as a leader in electronics, technology, engineering, and manufacturing. Its services span sectors such as defense and aerospace, digital, energy, and security.

Over 800 of the company’s employees are engineers and certified experts, reaffirming the dedication of SAMI-AEC, which was established in 1988, to excellence and innovation.

On the other hand, NUPCO was established in 2009 with SR1.5 billion in capital. It is the leading company in Saudi Arabia in procurement, logistics, and supply chain management for pharmaceuticals, medical devices, and supplies for governmental hospitals.

Closing Bell: Saudi main index continues downward trend to close at 11,660

Updated 28 May 2024

Closing Bell: Saudi main index continues downward trend to close at 11,660

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s Tadawul All Share Index continued its downward movement for the third consecutive session this week, as it shed 171.28 points to close at 11,659.94 on Tuesday. 

The total trading turnover of the benchmark index was SR5.34 billion ($1.42 billion), with 23 stocks advancing and 202 declining. 

The Kingdom’s parallel market, Nomu, also slipped by 0.81 percent to 26,234.79, while the MSCI Tadawul Index shed 20.97 points to close at 1,449.44.

The best-performing stock on the main index was Sustained Infrastructure Holding Co. The firm’s share price soared by 6.2 percent to SR34.25.

Other top performers were the Mediterranean and Gulf Insurance and Reinsurance Co. and AYYAN Investment Co., whose share prices edged up by 3.98 percent and 3.63 percent respectively. 

The worst-performing stock on the benchmark index was Saudi utility giant ACWA Power, as its share price slid by 4.68 percent to SR456.60. 

On the announcements front, Etihad Atheeb Telecommunication Co. said that it was awarded two projects worth SR45.51 million by Technical and Vocational Training Corp. to provide dedicated Internet services in 77 locations. 

In a Tadawul statement, the telecommunication provider said that the first project has a value of SR23.64 million, while the second one amounts to SR21.87 million. 

Meanwhile, Mouwasat Medical Services Co. announced that its shareholders have approved the board’s recommendation to distribute a 17.5 percent cash dividend, or SR 1.75 per share for 2023. 

In March, Mouwasat Medical Services Co. had revealed that its net profit witnessed a growth of 10 percent in 2023 to SR657.7 million, compared to the previous year. 

Al Moammar Information Systems Co., on Tuesday, revealed that it received new orders to increase the capacity of data centers at a total value of SR 75.2 million. 

In a statement to Tadawul, the company added that further developments of the order will be unveiled in due course. 

PIF’s Halal Products Development Co. invests in Singapore-based cosmetics firm

Updated 28 May 2024

PIF’s Halal Products Development Co. invests in Singapore-based cosmetics firm

RIYADH: In a bid to localize the Kingdom’s cosmetics and personal care industry, the Halal Products Development Co. announced an investment in a Singapore-based fast-moving consumer goods conglomerate.

The Public Investment Fund-owned company signed a binding agreement with Believe — a company specializing in the halal cosmetics and personal care field.

As per the agreement, the company will relocate its headquarters from Singapore to Saudi Arabia and establish a factory to manufacture its products, the Saudi Press Agency reported.

The new headquarters will also serve as a major center for exporting the company’s products to various countries of the world.

This move is in line with the PIF-owned firm’s goal to strengthen the halal industries in Saudi Arabia and provide high-quality products compatible with Islamic standards.

Halal Products Development Co. CEO Fahad Al-Nuhait said that investing in this sector is a very important first step that serves as a major catalyst for developing and localizing the manufacturing of halal cosmetics and personal care.

In return, this is expected to raise the efficiency of the sector and support research as well as development efforts to improve the services provided locally and globally, Al-Nuhait added.

The CEO said it will also facilitate the transfer of the expertise and resources to the Kingdom.

Moreover, it will also contribute to achieving the goals of the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 by creating direct and indirect job opportunities.

Believe CEO Ankit Mahajan said this partnership represents a strategic opportunity to expand the scope of investment and boost manufacturing capabilities.  

The agreement will also provide contract manufacturing services for local brands in the initial stage and will expand to international brands in the future.

In August, Halal Products Development Co. signed a strategic cooperation agreement with the Saudi Exports Development Authority to launch the Halal Products Manufacturing Accelerator Program.

According to a statement, the new program came amid the Kingdom’s efforts to become a global hub for halal food products and accelerate the growth of the sector.