Brexit seen boosting UK-Saudi Arabia trade ties

In March 2018, the UK and Saudi Arabia agreed a goal of £65 billion ($90 billion) of mutual trade and investment in the coming years during a meeting between the UK’s Prime Minister Theresa May and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. (AFP)
Updated 11 July 2018
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Brexit seen boosting UK-Saudi Arabia trade ties

  • UK and Saudi Arabia agreed a goal of £65 billion ($90 billion) of mutual trade and investment in the coming years
  • Addressing Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 reform plan, Innes-Hopkins described the Kingdom’s blueprint for its future as a “win-win” for both countries

LONDON: Brexit will lead to stronger trade and investment opportunities between the UK and Saudi Arabia, and attracting listings such as Saudi Aramco would be among a string of important deals Britain hopes to secure after it breaks with Europe, according to a leading business connector between the two countries.
Chris Innes-Hopkins, UK executive director for the Saudi British Joint Business Council (SBJBC), said it is not a question of the UK choosing whether to have trade with Europe or the rest of the world — it aims to have both, and Saudi Arabia is uppermost in its sights.
“Brexit does provide many opportunities for the UK and Saudi Arabia,” he said, speaking to Arab News after his address at the 12th BMG Economic Forum at the London Stock Exchange Group on Wednesday.
“I think it also has led to a change in perception on the Saudi side that we are raising our horizons.
“We are clear in that we are looking to develop our relationship with Saudi Arabia, and that was highlighted with the forming of the UK-Saudi Arabia Strategic Partnership Council that was launched following the crown prince’s visit here earlier this year.”
In March, the UK and Saudi Arabia agreed a goal of £65 billion ($90 billion) of mutual trade and investment in the coming years during a meeting between the UK’s Prime Minister Theresa May and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
On attracting the mega-float of part of the oil giant Saudi Aramco, Innes-Hopkins said the London Stock Exchange is a key of member of the SBJBC and they are “very keen to cooperate” with Saudi Arabia.
“This includes the proposed IPO,” he said. “There are lots of areas where they and the Saudi Stock Exchange (Tadawul) can work together. Obviously, post-Brexit, we are very keen for the UK to continue to attract investment from across the board — including from Saudi Arabia which is a very important source of investment to us. Within that context we are very keen to work with the Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia to attract more Saudi investment into new sectors in the UK.”
Addressing Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 reform plan, Innes-Hopkins described the Kingdom’s blueprint for its future as a “win-win” for both countries.
“I think the Saudi Vision 2030 is a turning point,” he said. “It does represent a realization that there is no alternative to diversify the economy and grow new sectors because Saudi Arabia can no longer rely on oil revenue. We all realize the goals of Saudi Vision 2030 are very ambitious but, in the longer-term, there is no alternative to the vision that has been set out.
“This can provide a win-win situation; there are a lot of new sectors including education and health care reform, smart cities — and not forgetting entertainment and tourism — where UK companies can help and get involved to implement new projects and provide the assistance needed.
“Infrastructure and financial services have traditionally been out bread and butter but now the opportunities are so much wider. We see that as very positive development and one in which the UK can play an important role.”
The UK in particular has a strong part to play in some of the expertise and growing the human capacity needed to implement the reforms set out under the Saudi Vision 2030.
But Innes-Hopkins said UK companies should be looking to build long-term links with Saudi Arabia and playing a central role in making its development vision a reality, rather than just “selling things and going away.”
“What is needed is not such much consultants going in and doing long reports — that may have been necessary to frame the vision — but what we are looking at now is implementation,” he said.
“We as a country, and as a business council, see a big opportunity for UK professional advisers, companies and the British government to provide some of the expertise that is needed working in partnership with our Saudi colleagues to implement these reforms.
“Business in Saudi Arabia is now much more about partnerships; it is not just about British companies trying to sell things and going away — it is about getting companies who can maintain a long-term presence in Saudi Arabia, who can share technology, share skills and invest for the long-term and create a win-win partnership.”
He said an immediate target of the SBJBC is helping build the infrastructure that will support the grown small and medium sized companies (SMEs) in Saudi Arabia, which are important to all economies around the world but will specifically play a major role in the non-oil-reliant Saudi economy.
ELITE, London Stock Exchange Group’s international business support and capital raising program for high-growth companies, announced earlier this year that it has partnered with the Small and Medium Enterprises Authority in Saudi Arabia (Monhsa’at) to support the launch of ELITE in Saudi Arabia.
“I think we do have a good record in the UK of small business creation,” said Innes-Hopkins. “What we think there is room for cooperation is on things like is access to finance for SMEs and access to mentoring and the necessary advice to grow your company. There is definitely room for cooperation and ultimately we want to bring these businesses — and our countries — together.”


Selling sketches and clothes, Libyan women set up businesses against the odds

Updated 25 June 2019
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Selling sketches and clothes, Libyan women set up businesses against the odds

  • Libya has only a tiny private sector and the economy is dominated by the state
  • Cumulative inflation over the last four years has seen real incomes lose more than half of their purchasing power

TRIPOLI: When inflation began eating into her state-paid salary Libyan architect and assistant professor Seham Saleh started selling drawings over the Internet to help pay the bills.
She joins a growing number of Libyan women launching start-ups in the conservative Arab country, where many still think a woman’s place is in the home but where the strains on personal and family income following years’ of political chaos have forced women to look for more work.
Libya has only a tiny private sector, which means there is a market for locally-produced goods. The economy is dominated by the state, which employs most adults under a structure set up by Muammar Qaddafi, who was toppled in 2011.
Men are the traditional breadwinners, although around 30 percent of women were in the labor force as of 2015, according to a UN report.
“I cannot live on my assistant professor salary of 1,000 dinars ($256) even if it is paid out,” said Saleh. She has been selling drawings of people in Libyan dress or book marks she created on a computer.
“Thank God... people wanted to buy the products,” she said. She also does freelance work as an architect.
Once one of the richest countries in the region, the chaos and civil war that ensued after the fall of Qaddafi has seen Libya’s living standards erode. Little is now produced in Libya other than oil, even milk is imported from Europe.
Cumulative inflation over the last four years has seen real incomes lose more than half of their purchasing power, and the government effectively devalued the dinar last September.
A cash crisis means public servants often do not get their salaries paid out in full. Lenders have no cash deposits as the rich prefer to hold their cash themselves, rather than deposit it in a bank.
Women rarely had jobs outside of sectors such as teaching, although the need for more family income has changed the situation, said Jasmin Khoja, head of a women’s business support venture.
Her organization, the Jusoor center for studies and development, has trained some 33 would-be female entrepreneurs, offers legal advice and office space as women often can’t afford their own.
While Seham’s “Naksha” art business is in its early stages, others such as Najwa Shoukri’s start-up are growing fast. She started designing clothes from home in 2016, and selling them online.
Now, together with five other women, she has a workshop selling 50 pieces a month and plans to open a shop next year on Jaraba Street, the main fashion shopping avenue in Tripoli.
To make the shop a success her output would have to rise to 150 pieces a month. Her brother and family have contributed to investments worth 10,000 dinars.
The biggest challenges for start-ups are legal hurdles and the lack of electronic payment systems.
Some Libyan commercial laws go back to the 1960s and are aimed at big corporations such as oil firms, not start-ups. Under these regulations firms need to deposit thousands of dinars.
“Banks do not give loans, which stops projects and makes them unable to grow or employ other women and young people,” Khoja said.
Undeterred, Mayaz Elahshmi started a business last week training women to fix computers and smartphones.
“There is big demand as many women are reluctant to go to a phone shop where men work, as they have personal files on their phones.”
Six people came to her first training session, each paying 30 dinars.