Saudi education and health sectors to open full foreign ownership

Ibrahim Al-Omar, governor of the Saudi Arabian General Investment Authority (SAGIA).
Updated 25 August 2017
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Saudi education and health sectors to open full foreign ownership

JEDDAH: Saudi Arabia will allow foreign investors to take 100 percent ownership of companies in its health and education sectors, the head of the kingdom’s investment authority told Reuters.
It is the latest move by the country to gradually ease ownership restrictions on foreign firms, which have previously been required to set up a joint venture with a local partner.
“We are opening up education centers to have ownership 100 percent, all types of education even from primary school. This is something new for Saudi,” Ibrahim Al-Omar, governor of the Saudi Arabian General Investment Authority (SAGIA), said.
In the health sector, the ministry will “just be a regulator and not a service provider anymore,” said Omar. This will open up $180 billion of investment opportunities in that sector over the next five years, he said.
He did not say when the relaxation on foreign ownership would come into effect.
The Saudi government, seeking to diversify the economy beyond oil exports amid a slump in oil prices, told Reuters in April that it was launching a privatization program that would raise more than $200 billion.
However, it has not so far clarified foreign ownership and operating rules in many sectors. Many private equity firms and other potential foreign investors say majority or full control of projects is important to allow them to cut costs and improve efficiency.
The government is studying whether to sell off all public hospitals and 200,000 pharmacies, and has begun the process for the King Faisal Specialist Hospital, Vice Minister for Economy and Planning Mohammed Al-Tuwaijri said in April.
Meanwhile, the education ministry has hired HSBC as financial adviser for its plans to privatise construction and management of school buildings.
SAGIA’s efforts to ease ownership restrictions for foreign firms in recent years have included opening the wholesale and retail sectors in 2015. This month it announced it would allow full foreign ownership of engineering services companies.


Search engine Baidu becomes first China firm to join US AI ethics group

Updated 42 min 20 sec ago
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Search engine Baidu becomes first China firm to join US AI ethics group

  • The Partnership on AI (PAI), which counts Alphabet Inc’s Google, Apple Inc. and Facebook Inc. as members, is a body that develops ethical guidelines for AI research
  • Baidu’s inclusion in the group comes as Chinese and US companies are looking to ramp up cooperation on AI

BEIJING: Chinese search engine Baidu has become the first Chinese company to join an artificial intelligence (AI) ethics group led by top US tech firms, amid wider political clashes over AI competition between China and the US.
The Partnership on AI (PAI), which counts Alphabet Inc’s Google, Apple Inc. and Facebook Inc. as members, is a body that develops ethical guidelines for AI research, including ensuring research does not violate international conventions or human rights.
Last year China’s industry ministry named Baidu as one of four national AI champions, and the search firm has invested heavily in autonomous driving and deep learning in recent years.
“Baidu’s admission represents the beginning of PAI’s entrance into China. We will continue to add new members in China and around the world as we grow,” said PAI in a statement on Tuesday.

 

Baidu’s inclusion in the group comes as Chinese and US companies are looking to ramp up cooperation on AI, despite a looming political scuffle between the US and China over technology transfers.
Last year China set out a roadmap to become a world leader in AI by 2025, with plans to invest roughly $400 billion in the industry in the coming years.
The ambitions have rankled the US government, which has discussed plans to bolster security reviews of cutting-edge technology, including AI, over fears that China could access technology of strategic military importance.
China’s AI roadmap encourages technology sharing between private, public and military research groups.
Despite the clash, US companies have expanded their AI presence in China while Baidu and other Chinese firms have launched AI research labs in the US.
Last month China’s cyber ministry hosted Google, Amazon Inc. and Microsoft Corp. at its annual AI forum. All three companies have launched AI research labs in China over the past year, despite tightening censorship and data restrictions that limit the companies’ involvement in the market.
At the forum, top government officials stressed that China’s development of AI technology would be ethically conducted, adding that they have plans to retrain workers who lose their jobs to AI.

Decoder

China’s AI roadmap encourages technology sharing between private, public and military research groups.