Local partner condition may be scrapped to bolster FDI

Updated 07 February 2016
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Local partner condition may be scrapped to bolster FDI

JEDDAH: New steps being taken to increase the flow of foreign investments into Saudi Arabia this year have raised the expectations of the business community.
A triple sectorial committee, including Saudi Arabian General Investment Authority (SAGIA), Ministry of Commerce and Industry, and Ministry of Labor, is seriously reviewing factors that hinder investment in the Saudi market, Asharq Al-Awsat reported Saturday.
Quoting sources, the report said that the study is aimed to facilitate global companies’ investment in the Saudi market and to present them with incentives.
The daily also stated that the committee’s review would shift the current situation to a new standpoint, which eliminates all obstacles slowing down global investment.
The condition to have a local partner in a foreign investment project for it to be granted access to the Kingdom’s direct market has reduced the scale of foreign investment in Saudi Arabia.
The condition for the need for a local partner is likely to be removed when the committee concludes its studies, the report indicated.
James Reeve, deputy chief economist and assistant general manager, Samba Financial Group, said: “Saudi Arabia needs to attract FDI to help stem losses of international reserves.”
He told Arab News: “The main obstacle for foreign investors is the lack of clarity on bankruptcy laws. That, and the hiring and firing of nationals.”
Reeve said: “Retail is the main growth sector of the next few years. It is already in pretty good shape. One might expect some consolidation (i.e. fewer smaller independent outlets) and some bigger players.”
Said Al-Shaikh, group chief economist of the National Commercial Bank, commented: “Probably one of the things making it difficult for foreign investors is the issue of legal enforcement.”
The lengthy process of resolving commercial disputes is a major concern, he said. “Within the legal system there are until now no special courts for commercial disputes. They go to general courts.”
Al-Shaikh said: “The lengthy process in obtaining licenses is another hindrance.”
Fawaz Alfawaz, a Riyadh-based economic consultant, told Arab News: “It really depends on the type of investments we the Kingdom aspires to. The existing state of the economy makes energy intensive and distribution more attractive because of the cost structure in the Saudi economy. But as the Kingdom strives to modernize its economy the types of foreign investment we need becomes radically different.”
Alfawaz added: “SAGIA can help with streamlining the bureaucracy, the information, the rules and regulations but the heavy lifting is really on the total eco-system starting with public sector, private sector to find the right partners and the productivity of the Saudi labor market.”


Time to tear down Mideast trade barriers, Davos panel hears

Updated 23 January 2019
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Time to tear down Mideast trade barriers, Davos panel hears

  • Mohammad Al-Tuwaijri, Saudi minister of economy and planning, said a move to ease movement of traffic across the border could be followed elsewhere
  • Majid Al Futtaim CEO Alain Bejjani: Now there’s this seriousness between Saudi Arabia and the UAE, I hope it gets to frictionless trade

DAVOS: Amid global trade wars and the rise of protectionism, Middle East economic and business leaders on Tuesday issued a clarion call for the exact opposite: To ease customs restrictions in the region.
A panel at Davos heard how an agreement between Saudi Arabia and the UAE to boost cooperation — including the reduction of obstacles to trade across the shared border — could be a blueprint for the wider region.
Mohammad Al-Tuwaijri, Saudi minister of economy and planning, said a move to ease movement of traffic across the border — partly through the use of technology — could be followed elsewhere. “We want to establish a reference for others to follow,” he said.
Alain Bejjani, CEO of retail and leisure group Majid Al Futtaim, said “frictionless trade” would give the region a boost.
“Now there’s this seriousness between Saudi Arabia and the UAE, I hope it gets to frictionless trade,” he told Arab News on the sidelines of the Davos forum.
Bejjani declined to say whether that would involve a customs union, a common market or a common currency. Given the imposition of trade tariffs between the US and China, and the rise of Brexit, globalization — something espoused by many Davos delegates — is seen as on the wane.
But Bejjani said breaking down barriers in the Middle East could help it better compete with Western Europe and the US.
“For the past almost century now… we’ve been ingeniously working on making sure we put barriers across the Arab world. The reality is we have a market that’s as big as most of the largest markets in the world… if we’re smart enough to work together,” he told the Davos panel.
Khalid Al-Rumaihi, chief executive of the Bahrain Economic Development Board, agreed that Saudi-UAE cooperation was “a great template” for others to follow.
Aside from “opening up” Middle East markets, Al-Rumaihi said harmonizing regulation in the region would also be beneficial to businesses and entrepreneurs.
“If the rules are changing in each country, if they’re not harmonized, it’s very difficult… for an entrepreneur (to understand) the regulatory environment. So they don’t scale very quickly, and that’s something we need to solve,” he said. Talk of freer trade within the Middle East is especially relevant when it comes to the Palestinian territories, which are subject to Israeli occupation and blockade.
Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah said freer movement and a reduction of duties would help the economy grow.
“We need to see our products being waived (of) customs,” he said. “We need mobility — we’re under occupation.”