Sabic chief sees Brexit as start of new era for UK-KSA trade

Ibrahim Al-Omar, the governor of the Saudi Arabian General Investment Authority and Sabic CEO Yousef Al-Benyan address business chiefs in London on Thursday. (AN Photo)
Updated 09 March 2018
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Sabic chief sees Brexit as start of new era for UK-KSA trade

LONDON: Saudi Arabia will firmly support the UK as it embarks on Brexit, the chief of chemicals giant Sabic said on Thursday.
Speaking at a gathering of CEO’s from both countries in London, Sabic CEO Yousef Al-Benyan said: “The UK is going through a journey with Brexit. As a Kingdom that is also going through a journey, we understand.”
He added: “We see this as chance to take advantage of Brexit – this is a new chapter and is the time to make sure our interests in the region are included in the new (UK) vision.”
The SABIC CEO said that changes in Saudi Arabia were “coming in a speedy manner like we have never seen” and that SMEs were going to play a major role in bringing the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 to fruition.
“SMEs will have an ability to play a major role, especially around job creation for males and females,” Al-Benyan said. “In order for the SMEs and companies to be sustainable they have to grow globally and invest in technology advances to stay ahead. This is why partnerships with the UK and other partners is going to be a very important catalyst for success.”
Speaking on the same panel, Ibrahim Al-Omar, the governor of the Saudi Arabian General Investment Authority (SAGIA), agreed that the development of two-way trade was imperative for the sustainability of the Kingdom’s 2030 vision.
He said: “We look to the UK particularly for health, education and fintech. The UK has a good supply of these skills and we have a big demand.
The SAGIA governor added: “Investors told us they were concerned about transparency, regulation and then customs. So we identified 297 reforms and we have already completed 45 percent of them, including issuing the new companies law and creating the commercial arbitration center. Today, you will be granted a business visa within 24 hours of application.”
Al-Benyan added: “In Saudi Arabia, this is the first time we have a clear vision of where we are going – but we need to be realistic, there are so many challenges to implementation.”
Speaking at the event, former UK secretary of state Peter Mandelson agreed the proof of the vision’s success lies in its execution.
He said: “The Saudi vision is clear and ambitious and, if it delivers, it will be a point of transformation.”


France unveils major tax cuts as growth flags

Updated 24 September 2018
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France unveils major tax cuts as growth flags

  • Critics say most people have been left behind by President Emmanuel Macron’s policies so far
  • Patience is wearing thin for many as unemployment has barely budged since Macron’s election in May 2017

PARIS: The French government on Monday unveiled billions of euros in tax relief for businesses alongside further budget cuts, as President Emmanuel Macron struggles to deliver more jobs and higher growth as promised.
The former investment banker’s poll ratings have dived in recent weeks as growth has slowed despite a series of reforms presented as unavoidable shock treatment for getting France on solid financial footing.
Critics say most people have been left behind by Macron’s policies so far, which have seen him raise taxes on retirees while cutting a wealth tax on top earners.
Pensions and welfare benefits will be shaved further in the 2019 budget — Macron complained in June that France spends “a crazy amount of dough” on social programs.
And 4,100 more public sector jobs will be axed as Macron aims for a deficit of 2.8 percent of GDP, below the 3 percent limit set for EU members.
Higher taxes on fuel and cigarettes will also hit consumers next year.
But the government says the pillar of the 2019 budget will be a combined €20 billion ($23.5 billion) of tax cuts for businesses and six billion euros in tax relief for households, including a gradual end to an annual housing tax.
“The long-term goal is to build a new French prosperity that will benefit all French people in all regions,” Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said as he presented the budget in Paris.
But he acknowledged that results from Macron’s reform drive so far “are unsatisfactory compared with our European neighbors, and we certainly don’t intend to stop here.”
“We’re doing less well than our European partners on unemployment, growth, the deficit and debt,” Le Maire said.
Patience is wearing thin for many as unemployment has barely budged since Macron’s election in May 2017, standing at 9.1 percent.
The 40-year-old centrist captured the presidency with a pledge to shake up an economy he says is held back by excessive regulations and rigid labor laws.
But growth has been slowing and is now widely expected to reach just 1.6 percent this year, and the government is forecasting an uptick to just 1.7 percent next year.
A poll released Sunday found just 29 percent satisfied with Macron’s leadership, while a separate survey last week said only 19 percent of French people held a positive view of his record.
He has promised to balance the budget in France for the first time in more than 40 years by the end of his term in 2022 — a task that will require an overhaul of state spending.
That has led him to take on France’s powerful labor unions to a degree not seen in decades, overcoming stiff resistance to new laws making it easier to fire people and ending the privileged status of rail workers.
He has also promised to cut 120,000 public sector jobs by the end of his term in 2022, a daunting prospect in a country known for its expansive bureaucracy which guarantees civil servants jobs for life.
Yet Macron has appeared to be dismissive of the concerns of everyday voters, most recently telling an unemployed gardener to go get a job in a restaurant or construction instead.
His reformist zeal has also exposed him to criticism that his policies favor businesses in particular, and he has struggled to shake off perceptions that he is “president of the rich.”
The vow to cut social spending is unlikely to reassure the lowest earners in France, where the number of people living below the poverty line has swelled to 14 percent of the population, according to national statistics office INSEE.