US-Saudi Arabia business relationship moves beyond ‘guns for oil’

Saudi Arabia’s King Abdul Aziz meets with American President Franklin D. Roosevelt on Feb. 14, 1945. (SPA)
Updated 20 March 2018
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US-Saudi Arabia business relationship moves beyond ‘guns for oil’

DUBAI: Nothing fundamental has changed since the very first meeting between a king of Saudi Arabia, Abdul Aziz bin Saud, and an American president, Franklin D. Roosevelt, in the spring of 1945 on board the USS Quincy in the Suez Canal in Egypt.
Then, according to historians of the meeting, the key themes were: Security and oil. The two men found common interests in their desire to fix regional borders in the wake of World War II (though they differed significantly over the issue of Palestine) and both wanted to guarantee markets for crude oil.
But the business of America is business, and the political relationship that was struck that day cemented an already existing commercial relationship in the oil fields. Since then, US-Saudi business relations have gone from strength to strength, even in such difficult times as the oil “spikes” of the 1970s and the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks on the US.
Daniel Yergin, the Pulitzer-winning author of the “The Prize,” told Arab News: “This is a partnership that goes way back. It is striking that the crown prince will be coming to the United States on the 80th anniversary of the discovery of oil in Saudi Arabia by American geologists.”
The relationship has broadened significantly from the simple “guns for oil” formula of the past. Now, US companies play a major role in the overall economic development of the Kingdom, from infrastructure and industry, through finance and investment, to health and entertainment.
Even in the early days, US companies saw the opportunities that came with the opening up of the Kingdom, with big corporations such as engineering group Bechtel following the oil companies’ lead to build roads and other essential infrastructure.
Ellen Wald, American Saudi expert and author, describes in her forthcoming book “Saudi, Inc.” how Bechtel moved from laying oil pipelines to building royal palaces, highways, schools, power plans, hospitals and hotels. “It saw the Saudi public works campaign as a sure source of profit,” she wrote.
Many US businessmen have spoken about the big transformation going on in the Kingdom under the Vision 2030 strategy in much the same way — as a gigantic and potentially very profitable program of public works.
An overview of mutual business reveals the scale and the depth of US-Saudi business links, and also underlines the fact that it is a two-way street.
Figures from the Washington DC-based US-Saudi Arabian Business Council (USSABC) showed total bilateral trade at $35.2 billion, with the Kingdom holding a slight balance advantage from its $18.9 billion of exports. Saudi Arabia is in the top 20 US trade partners, while America is the second biggest partner for merchandise into the Kingdom.
Saudi Arabia is the second biggest source of imported oil into the US and the third biggest source of international students in the US educational system.
Saudi Arabia — private sector and government — is estimated to have more than $1 trillion invested in the US, including a big holding of US Treasury bills.
There are some eye-watering investments within those overall figures. Saudi Aramco’s Motiva Enterprises is the largest oil refinery in the US, based in the oil state of Texas, which will also be home to a $3.9 billion petrochemicals plant joint-venture led by Exxon Mobil and Saudi Basic Industries Corporation (SABIC).
The pace of investment has increased in recent years. The Saudi sovereign investor Public Investment Fund (PIF) has put $3.5 billion into high-tech mobility company Uber, while PIF has teamed up with Blackstone in a $40 billion program of infrastructure investment.
The flow is far from one-way. Chemicals giant Dow is the largest foreign investor in the Kingdom, thanks to its $20 billion joint venture with Aramco in the Sadara petrochemicals plant. GE, the engineering conglomerate, has pledged billions of investment in power and energy in Saudi Arabia as part of its long-running business partnership. Exxon Mobil continues to be a major investor in Saudi energy.
And, of course, there is the defense industry. Saudi Arabia is America’s biggest customer for military sales, with all the big US defense manufacturers working as suppliers at all levels of the security business.
At the Riyadh summit last year, President Trump was able to announce $110 billion of defense deals with Saudi Arabia, including deals with Lockheed Martin, Boeing and Raytheon. Analysts expect those transactions to be taken to the next level during the royal visit to the US.
The USSABC estimates that the total amount of foreign direct investment (FDI) from the US to Saudi Arabia amounts to $9.83 billion — the highest of any foreign country into the Kingdom — while $12.3 billion went in the opposite direction, supporting 10,600 American jobs in affiliates of Saudi-owned firms.
There was much speculation after last year’s anti-corruption drive in the Kingdom that foreign firms might hold back on FDI, but so far there have been no reports of US firms canceling any FDI projects. The USSABC declined to comment on the effects of the anti-corruption campaign.


Saudi Arabia, South Korea reach agreement on visas

King Salman chairs the Cabinet session in Riyadh on Tuesday. (SPA)
Updated 16 January 2019
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Saudi Arabia, South Korea reach agreement on visas

  • Cabinet OKs air transport pact with Indonesia

JEDDAH: The Saudi Cabinet met to discuss a series of national and global developments on Tuesday, in a session chaired by King Salman.

At the forefront of the agenda was the escalation in tensions between Israel and Hamas along the Gaza border, and the continuing encroachment on Palestinian land by Israeli settlers in the West Bank. The Cabinet responded by demanding that the UN Security Council intervene. King Salman also relayed to ministers the outcome of his talks with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, which covered many regional issues.

The minister of media, Turki bin Abdullah Al-Shabanah, announced that after reviewing proposals from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and a decision from the Shoura Council, a memorandum of understanding between the government and the Republic of Korea on granting visit visas had been agreed upon.

The Cabinet approved the amendment of the air agreement on regular air transport between Saudi Arabia and Indonesia.

The Cabinet, meanwhile, praised the progress of the 2025 Sustainable Agricultural and Rural Development Program, aimed at enhancing farming techniques by promoting sustainable water and renewable energy sources.

They also discussed the framework in Vision 2030 and the National Transformation Program 2020 for building a sustainable renewable energy sector, reiterating aims to lead global renewable energy developments over the next decade, and create projects such as the wind-powered plant at Dumat Al-Jandal, as part of the King Salman Renewable Energy Initiative.

In a statement, though, Al-Shabanah said: “The Cabinet discussed the announcement made by the minister of energy, industry and mineral resources about the Kingdom’s oil and gas reserves, which highlighted the importance of Saudi Arabia as a secure source of oil supplies in the long term.”

He added, in closing, the Cabinet’s praise for the efforts of Saudi security forces in the tracking and arrest of seven people in Qatif, which foiled a planned terrorist attack.