Saudi-Swiss ties get a new traction

Updated 11 November 2016
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Saudi-Swiss ties get a new traction

JEDDAH: Saudi Arabia and Switzerland are celebrating 60 years of partnership this year.

The official relationship was formalized in 1956 when the first Saudi envoy, Fakhri Sheikh El-Ard, presented his credentials to Swiss Confederation President Markus Feldmann and the Swiss envoy in Cairo, Jean-Luis Pahud, presented his credentials to King Saud in 1957.
However, according to information released by the Swiss Embassy in Riyadh, the first contact between Saudi Arabia and Switzerland took place in 1927 when Switzerland responded favorably to a request to officially recognize King Abdul Aziz Al-Saud.
Still, Switzerland’s relationship with Saudi Arabia dates back even further.
The first Swiss who is officially documented to have visited the Arabian Peninsula was Jean Louis Burckhardt, from Lausanne. He is also known under his Arabic name of Sheikh Ibrahim ibn Abdallah.
A Middle East and Islamic expert, he visited the holy cities of Makkah and Madinah in 1814 and 1815. He wrote detailed accounts about his travels.
In an interview with Arab News on Wednesday, Swiss Ambassador Heinrich Schellenberg said: “In December 1957, the Swiss government decided to open a legation in Jeddah, which later was upgraded to an embassy in 1971.”
Schellenberg said the Swiss presence in the Kingdom had mainly relied on the economy.
“Companies like ABB, Schindler, Sulzer and Nestle established early on a presence in Saudi Arabia,” he said.
“Many official agreements have been concluded over the years in order to foster trade and economy.”
According to the ambassador, in the second half of the 20th century, Saudi tourists discovered Switzerland, and especially Geneva, as a prime destination for holidays.
“Ever since, the number of Saudi guests visiting our country has been growing substantially,” he said.
To leverage the good ties, the Swiss Business Network Saudi Arabia (SBNSA) was launched recently in Riyadh.
“The network’s aim is to support our members in carrying out their business activities in Saudi Arabia,” said Schellenberg.
“This will contribute to the further development of the relations between Switzerland and Saudi Arabia.”
The network was launched in Jeddah two days ago.
Schellenberg said the idea was to gather all Swiss companies and connect them with each other, and with their Saudi partners, with a view to creating business opportunities and giving more visibility to the Swiss business community in Saudi Arabia.
The envoy said more than 100 companies are currently doing business in Saudi Arabia.
“We have a very diversified economic presence, yet it is not really perceived as such. I have seen that the Saudis don’t usually realize the significance of Swiss economic part, and the same in Switzerland as well; they don’t realize the importance of the Saudi role,” said the ambassador.
“We established, not long time ago, a unique free trade agreement between European Free Trade Association (EFTA) and Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries, but we, are the only European country, together with our EFTA partners Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein, to have such an agreement with the GCC. So, this is a great opportunity to develop business ties between our countries,” he said.
Regarding the Saudi Vision 2030 program and Switzerland’s potential role in implementing it, the ambassador said: “Saudi Vision 2030 is an ambitious project with a lot of innovation and a lot of opportunities for foreign countries and businesses to invest in Saudi Arabia.
“Switzerland has been ranked for the third time in a row as a top country in innovation (Global Innovation Index). Switzerland constitutes a fertile ground for businesses to develop themselves and be creative. This starts already in the Swiss dual education system in which young people not only get a theoretical education, but also a combination of practical and technical apprenticeship.
“Swiss companies and businesses, with their highly skilled employees with a lot of know how, are good and strong partners that can provide a lot of innovation requested by Saudi Vision 2030.
“The Swiss leading role in innovation is also reflected in the strong development of sustainable industries. For the Vision 2030, Swiss companies can provide a lot of know how and experiences in this area.”
The ambassador said there are many students from Saudi Arabia attending private high schools and colleges in Switzerland.
“In public universities, however, there are only a few students from Saudi Arabia, which is in part due to the fact that the local language (German, French or Italian) is essential for undergraduate studies,” he said.
According to the Federal Department of Finance, Saudi Arabia is the second largest export market for Switzerland in the Middle East.
In 2015, the total volume of trade between the two countries reached 4.9 billion Swiss francs. In the same year, Saudi Arabia’s total volume of imports from Switzerland reached 4.8 billion Swiss francs.
Saudi and Gulf tourists to Switzerland are among the most valuable, according to Schellenberg.
In 2015, Saudi citizens spent slightly over 375,000 nights in Swiss hotels, with an average stay per guest of almost three nights, long by Swiss standards.


Davos organizer WEF warns of growing risk of cyberattacks in Gulf

Updated 43 min 57 sec ago
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Davos organizer WEF warns of growing risk of cyberattacks in Gulf

  • Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Qatar particularly vulnerable
  • John Drzik spoke to Arab News about the state of cybersecurity in the Gulf

LONDON: The World Economic Forum (WEF) has warned of the growing possibility of cyberattacks in the Gulf — with Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Qatar particularly vulnerable.

Cyberattacks were ranked as the second most important risk — after an “energy shock” — in the three Gulf states, according to the WEF’s flagship Global Risks Report 2019.

The report was released ahead of the WEF’s annual forum in Davos, Switzerland, which starts on Tuesday.

In an interview with Arab News, John Drzik, president of global risk and digital at professional services firm Marsh & McLennan said: “The risk of cyberattacks on critical infrastructure such as power centers and water plants is moving up the agenda in the Middle East, and in the Gulf in particular.”

Drzik was speaking on the sidelines of a London summit where WEF unveiled the report, which was compiled in partnership with Marsh and Zurich Insurance.

“Cyberattacks are a growing concern as the regional economy becomes more sophisticated,” he said.

“Critical infrastructure means centers where disablement could affect an entire society — for instance an attack on an electric grid.”

Countries needed to “upgrade to reflect the change in the cyber risk environment,” he added.

The WEF report incorporated the results of a survey taken from about 1,000 experts and decision makers.

The top three risks for the Middle East and Africa as a whole were found to be an energy price shock, unemployment or underemployment, and terrorist attacks.

Worries about an oil price shock were said to be particularly pronounced in countries where government spending was rising, said WEF. This group includes Saudi Arabia, which the IMF estimated in May 2018 had seen its fiscal breakeven price for oil — that is, the price required to balance the national budget — rise to $88 a barrel, 26 percent above the IMF’s October 2017 estimate, and also higher than the country’s medium-term oil-price target of $70–$80.

But that disclosure needed to be balanced with the fact that risk of “fiscal crises” dropped sharply in the WEF survey rankings, from first position last year to fifth in 2018.

The report said: “Oil prices increased substantially between our 2017 and 2018 surveys, from around $50 to $75. This represents a significant fillip for the fiscal position of the region’s oil producers, with the IMF estimating that each $10 increase in oil prices should feed through to an improvement on the fiscal balance of 3 percentage points of GDP.”

At national level, this risk of “unemployment and underemployment” ranked highly in Bahrain, Egypt, Morocco, Oman and Tunisia.
“Unemployment is a pressing issue in the region, particularly for the rapidly expanding young population: Youth unemployment averages around 25 percent and is close to 50 percent in Oman,” said the report.

Other countries attaching high prominence to domestic and regional fractures in the survey were Tunisia, with “profound
social instability” ranked first, and Algeria, where respondents ranked “failure of regional and global governance” first.

Looking at the global picture, WEF warned that weakened international co-operation was damaging the collective will to confront key issues such as climate change and environmental degradation.