‘One-stop shop’ needed to lure big business to Saudi Arabia

Arab News editor in chief Faisal Abbas, left, with panelists Dr. Afnan Al-Shuaibi and Salman Al-Ansari, during the event at the 12th BMG Economic Forum. (Ziyad Alarfaj)
Updated 12 July 2018

‘One-stop shop’ needed to lure big business to Saudi Arabia

  • Arab News-moderated panel hears Saudi Arabia is heading toward a bright future
  • But challenges remain to encourage more investors to the Kingdom

LONDON: Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 will bring tangible opportunities — but better communication of the reforms, quicker processes, and a “one-stop-shop” for businesses looking to enter the Kingdom are needed to attract long-term investors, an Arab News-moderated panel heard Wednesday. 

Greater transparency and clarity when it comes to the judiciary and the rule of law was one of the key areas highlighted at the event at the 12th BMG Economic Forum at the London Stock Exchange Group.

During a panel on “Brand KSA: Tackling Investors Perception of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia,” moderator Faisal J. Abbas, editor in chief of Arab News, the official media partner of the event, questioned panelists on the gap between what Vision 2030 aims to achieve and the reality on the ground, as well as investors’ common misconceptions and stereotypes about the Kingdom.

Dr. Afnan Al-Shuaibi, former Secretary General of the Arab-British Chamber of Commerce (ABCC) in London, responded to some media reports that questions whether Saudi Arabia is doing too much, too soon. 

“People think we are going too fast, I don’t think we are — it’s because before we were too slow,” she said. “Right now the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is not a place for people who are slow. You are either in or your are out.”

Praising the move by the Kingdom to lift the ban on women driving, Al-Shuaibi spoke how she recently traveled to Saudi Arabia to obtain her driving licence — and spoke how easy the online processes were to secure the documentation allowing her behind the wheel. 

This, she highlighted, is a demonstration of the forward-thinking nature and digitalization of the Kingdom and how the country is evolving in line with the Vision 2030 reforms.

That being said, there is room for further improvement before Saudi Arabia determines its ambitious goals for the future.

Abbas asked the audience for a show of hands of those who felt there was enough information in the public sphere about investing in the Kingdom.

Addressing the overwhelming majority who felt that more information is needed, Al-Shuaibi said the problem is a combination of many factors.

“I think there are good efforts, but not efforts combined,” she said. 

“The problems with any investor or anyone wishing to do business in Saudi Arabia (is) they don’t know where to start. Do they start with the commercial office or the embassy? Do they start with organizations dealing with business, whether it is the Chamber of Commerce, whether it is a business council? It is not really clear where to get the accurate information from. 

“I think there has to be a one-stop shop that offers that.”

Al-Shuaibi said the one stereotype about Saudi Arabia that needs to be challenges is that it is an “easy cash-in-cash-out” pace to invest. 

That is not the case any more, she said. 

“Saudi Arabia is looking for partners, it not looking for people to make a quick business deal. We need long and sustainable relationships with investors.”  

Fellow panelist Salman Al-Ansari, president of the Washington-based Saudi American Public Relation Affairs Committee (SAPRAC), said Vision 2030 needs to be put into context before addressing what needs to be done in order for the country to be more approachable to foreign investment.

“Look at Saudi Vision as like a chair with four legs; the first is economic diversification, the second is government, the third is accountability and the fourth is investing in human capital. It’s absolutely true that we have not been doing enough to tell the people outside and also inside Saudi Arabia about these four pillars and what they mean for the future of the Saudi economy. It still needs a lot of work.”

Al-Ansari said while there are a lot of regulations helping investors come to Saudi, there is still a long way to go and said implementing new controls to reduce restrictions on foreign investments is “10 times more important than PR campaigns encouraging investment into Saudi Arabia.”  

“It is all about perception; most of the companies that do business in Saudi Arabia — they have regional hubs mostly in Dubai, and what they do they go and visit Saudi Arabia and get the deal signed and go back,” he said. “Saudi Arabia wants to get rid of this business model. It has enough geography and resources to be the hub.” 

The panelists also discussed how foreign investors coming into the Kingdom need to understand that the idea of “quick and easy cash” no longer exists and the uncertainty surrounding the potential fallout of Brexit may be a deterrent for Saudi investors into the United Kingdom. 

Abbas also raised the question on the ease of doing business to members of the audience, who raised the the challenges of dealing with the judicial system and the transparency of its operations and processes and the difficulties of issuing visas to international business visitors.

Al-Ansari said there was “doubt there are some ambiguity” and clarity was needed. 

Al-Shuaibi said that, while there is criticism toward some of Saudi Arabia’s policies and approaches, the time is now for investors to turn to the Kingdom for business opportunities.

“There is a great potential now in Saudi Arabia and I think it is very important that our partners, whether it here in the UK, or in Washington, or anywhere else, this is the time for people to join in what is happening in Saudi Arabia,” she said.

“All the negativities that have been discussed — although I prefer to call them challenges — I want to say, look where we were and now look where we are. Because of the vision from the leadership, we are following a path that has been very well instructed and I think the golden objective is very clear.

“So I hope each and every one who has attended this forum can be part of it because the end result can be amazing.”

Al-Ansari concluded by saying: “There is no doubt that Saudi Arabia is heading towards a bright, bright future. We want to accelerate that and attract foreign investors who can contribute to the Saudi vision.”

Gulf airlines Emirates, Etihad, Qatar Airways seen flying under radar at Farnborough Airshow

Updated 15 July 2018

Gulf airlines Emirates, Etihad, Qatar Airways seen flying under radar at Farnborough Airshow

  • Over 1,500 exhibitors and 100,000 trade visitors are expected to attend this week’s airshow
  • Farnborough and the Paris Airshow — held on alternate years — have accounted for around 30 percent of annual commercial business

LONDON: The aviation industry heads to the UK’s Farnborough International Airshow on Monday in rude health, with higher oil prices and a strong global economy leading to predictions of a large number of orders at the week-long show.
But this time around, significant orders from Gulf carriers such as Etihad, Emirates and Qatar Airways are unlikely to materialize, as the region’s carriers continue to take stock after a period of bruising losses.
Over 1,500 exhibitors and 100,000 trade visitors are expected to attend this week’s airshow, one of the most important events for the global aviation industry.
Farnborough and the Paris Airshow — held on alternate years — have accounted for around 30 percent of annual commercial business for manufacturers like Boeing and Airbus since 2012, according to aviation consultancy IBA Group.
Some $124 billion worth of orders and commitments were placed at the 2016 show, according to organizers.
The aviation industry is in rude health in 2018, with passenger numbers and load factors rising internationally thanks to global economic growth.
Plane makers bagged around 900 firm or provisional orders in Paris last year, the consultancy said. And while the international order backlog is high, a similar number of orders is expected next week on the back of recent rises in the price of oil.
“The trend between oil price and annualized orders has been uncannily strong,” said IBA’s Chief Executive Officer Stuart Hatcher in a report issued July 9.
“This is not surprising given that most orders have been placed for new fuel-efficient technology, but even with such large backlogs in play, orders continue to come in as oil rises.”
This time around however, the big three Gulf carriers — Etihad Airways, Emirates and Qatar Airways — are unlikely to feature too heavily among the big spenders next week, analysts predict.
Etihad Airways made headlines in Farnborough in 2008, when it made $20 billion worth of orders from Boeing and Airbus.
Fast forward 10 years though, and the Abu Dhabi carrier is in consolidation and restructuring mode, its international expansion plan on hold following the insolvency of its European partners Air Berlin and Alitalia.
After posting an annual loss of $1.5 billion for 2017 (albeit an improvement on the previous year), Etihad earlier this month announced a reorganization into seven business units to be accompanied by further job cuts, significantly scaling back its international ambitions.
The main deals the carrier is reportedly working on with manufacturers are attempted price reductions for previously placed orders.
“It’s not the done thing to cancel existing orders at airshows,” said Saj Ahmad, chief analyst at Strategic Aero Research.
Etihad did not respond to a request for comment.
John Strickland, director of JLS Consulting, said the other two big Gulf carriers were also unlikely to splash significant cash at Farnborough.
“It’s probable that any statements by Emirates and Qatar Airways will be more modest,” he told Arab News.
Dubai’s Emirates has fared better than its Abu Dhabi counterpart, reporting a $1.1 billion profit for the year ending March 2018.
Despite the airline’s continuing recovery, recent headline orders from both Boeing and Airbus are tempering the expectations for what will be announced at Farnborough.
“Emirates has placed recent orders for Boeing 787s and more Airbus A380s so large headline orders are unlikely,” said Strickland.
Emirates declined to comment.
Qatar Airways has been hit hard by the boycott of its home market by the Anti-Terror Quartet — Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt — last year, with the group’s CEO Akbar Al-Baker admitting the airline is likely to report a large loss for the past year.
But the company has been in acquisition mode, acquiring a 9.6 percent stake in Cathay Pacific in November for $662 million, and has expanded a number of its routes in recent months.
“Qatar Airways may plump up for more (Boeing) 777Fs as it looks to build its freight capacity in the wake of the (boycott) to alleviate import pressures on goods and services,” Ahmad told Arab News.
IBA forecasts that aircraft leasing firms may dominate Farnborough orders, accounting for between 30 and 50 percent of orders.
Ahmad told Arab News that Dubai-based DAE Capital may be one of the firms preparing to place large orders, with rumors of 100 jets apiece for Airbus and Boeing.
DAE, Airbus and Boeing did not respond to requests for comment.