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.


Energy giants spent $1bn on climate lobbying, PR since Paris: watchdog

Updated 23 March 2019
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Energy giants spent $1bn on climate lobbying, PR since Paris: watchdog

  • Firms under pressure to explain how greener laws will hit business models

PARIS: The five largest publicly listed oil and gas majors have spent $1 billion since the 2015 Paris climate deal on public relations or lobbying that is “overwhelmingly in conflict” with the landmark accord’s goals, a watchdog said Friday.
Despite outwardly committing to support the Paris agreement and its aim to limit global temperature rises, ExxonMobil, Shell, Chevron, BP and Total spend a total of $200 million a year on efforts “to operate and expand fossil fuel operations,” according to InfluenceMap, a pro-transparency monitor.
Two of the companies — Shell and Chevron — said they rejected the watchdog’s findings.
“The fossil fuel sector has ramped up a quite strategic program of influencing the climate agenda,” InfluenceMap Executive Director Dylan Tanner told AFP.
“It’s a continuum of activity from their lobby trade groups attacking the details of regulations, controlling them all the way up, to controlling the way the media thinks about the oil majors and climate.”
The report comes as oil and gas giants are under increasing pressure from shareholders to come clean over how greener lawmaking will impact their business models.
As planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions hit their highest levels in human history in 2018, the five companies wracked up total profits of $55 billion.
At the same time, the International Panel on Climate Change — composed of the world’s leading climate scientists — issued a call for a radical drawdown in fossil fuel use in order to hit the 1.5C (2.7 Fahrenheit) cap laid out in the Paris accord.
InfluenceMap looked at accounts, lobbying registers and communications releases since 2015, and alleged a large gap between the climate commitments companies make and the action they take.

 

It said all five engaged in lobbying and “narrative capture” through direct contact with lawmakers and officials, spending millions on climate branding, and by employing trade associations to represent the sector’s interests in policy discussions.
“The research reveals a trend of carefully devised campaigns of positive messaging combined with negative policy lobbying on climate change,” it said.
It added that of the more than $110 billion the five had earmarked for capital investment in 2019, just $3.6bn was given over to low-carbon schemes.
The report came one day after the European Parliament was urged to strip ExxonMobil lobbyists of their access, after the US giant failed to attend a hearing where expert witnesses said the oil giant has knowingly misled the public over climate change.
“How can we accept that companies spending hundreds of millions on lobbying against the EU’s goal of reaching the Paris agreement are still granted privileged access to decision makers?” said Pascoe Sabido, Corporate Europe Observatory’s climate policy researcher, who was not involved in the InfluenceMap report.
The report said Exxon alone spent $56 million a year on “climate branding” and $41 million annually on lobbying efforts.
In 2017 the company’s shareholders voted to push it to disclose what tougher emissions policies in the wake of Paris would mean for its portfolio.
With the exception of France’s Total, each oil major had largely focused climate lobbying expenditure in the US, the report said.
Chevron alone has spent more than $28 million in US political donations since 1990, according to the report.
AFP contacted all five oil and gas companies mentioned in the report for comment.
“We disagree with the assertion that Chevron has engaged in ‘climate-related branding and lobbying’ that is ‘overwhelmingly in conflict’ with the Paris Agreement,” said a Chevron spokesman.
“We are taking action to address potential climate change risks to our business and investing in technology and low carbon business opportunities that could reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”
A spokeswoman for Shell — which the report said spends $49 million annually on climate lobbying — said it “firmly rejected” the findings.
“We are very clear about our support for the Paris Agreement, and the steps that we are taking to help meet society’s needs for more and cleaner energy,” they told AFP.
BP, ExxonMobil and Total did not provide comment to AFP.

FACTOID

$ 28m

Chevron alone has spent more than $28 million in US political donations since 1990, according to the report.