Saudi GDP growth speeds up in Q3, non-oil sector still slow

Riyadh earlier released a state budget for 2019 that would increase spending by 7 percent from this year’s actual level. (AFP)
Updated 31 December 2018

Saudi GDP growth speeds up in Q3, non-oil sector still slow

  • The Saudi economy has been hit hard in recent years by low oil prices and state austerity measures to curb a huge budget deficit
  • Growth in the non-oil sector slowed to 2.1 percent from 2.4 percent

DUBAI: Saudi Arabia’s economy grew in the third quarter at its fastest rate since early 2016, boosted by expansion of the oil sector while non-oil growth stayed sluggish, statistics agency data showed on Monday.
Gross domestic product grew 2.5 percent from a year earlier. That was an acceleration from the second quarter, when GDP rose 1.6 percent, and the fastest since the first quarter of 2016, when the same rate was registered.
The Saudi economy has been hit hard in recent years by low oil prices and state austerity measures to curb a huge budget deficit. In 2017, it shrank for the first time since the global financial crisis nearly a decade earlier.
Monday’s data suggested the recovery from that slump was still tentative. GDP growth picked up largely because of higher oil output. The oil sector expanded 3.7 percent from a year ago in the third quarter, after 1.3 percent in the second.
Growth in the non-oil sector, key for job creation and Saudi Arabia’s effort to diversify its economy, slowed to 2.1 percent from 2.4 percent.
Saudi officials have predicted a gradual acceleration of the non-oil economy next year. Bank lending to the private sector rose 2.3 percent from a year earlier in November, its fastest growth since 2016.
This month Riyadh released a state budget for 2019 that would increase spending by 7 percent from this year’s actual level. Investment spending and bonuses for state employees in the budget could revive the private sector.
But senior officials have refused to rule out further austerity steps next year, including a planned hike in fees for hiring foreign workers and a possible increase in domestic fuel prices. Such steps have weighed heavily on private sector firms.
Meanwhile, global producers agreed early this month to cut oil production in an attempt to prop up prices. Saudi Arabia said it would cut output in January by almost 5 percent from December, which would shrink the oil sector and dampen headline GDP growth.


Japan’s Uniqlo pulls ad after South Korean fury

Updated 21 October 2019

Japan’s Uniqlo pulls ad after South Korean fury

  • South Korean and Japanese relationship is deeply strained by the legacy of Tokyo’s 20th-century expansionism
  • Seoul and Tokyo are currently locked in a bitter trade and diplomatic row stemming from historical disputes
SEOUL: Japanese retail giant Uniqlo has pulled a commercial featuring a 98-year-old US fashion figure from South Korean screens, it said Monday after it was accused of whitewashing colonial history.
South Korea and Japan are both US allies, democracies and market economies faced with an overbearing China and nuclear-armed North Korea, but their relationship is deeply strained by the legacy of Tokyo’s 20th-century expansionism.
The latest example is an advert for Uniqlo fleeces showing elderly fashion celebrity Iris Apfel chatting with designer Kheris Rogers, 85 years her junior.
The last line has the white-haired Apfel, asked how she used to dress as a teenager, innocuously responding: “Oh my God. I can’t remember that far back.”
But Uniqlo’s Korean arm subtitled its version of the ad slightly differently, reading: “I can’t remember things that happened more than 80 years ago.”
That would put the moment as 1939, toward the end of Japan’s brutal colonial rule over the Korean peninsula, where the period is still bitterly resented, and some South Koreans reacted furiously.
“A nation that forgets history has no future. We can’t forget what happened 80 years ago that Uniqlo made fun of,” commented one Internet user on Naver, the country’s largest portal.
The phrase “Uniqlo, comfort women,” in reference to women forced to become sex slaves to Japanese troops during the Second World War, was among the most searched terms on Naver at the weekend, and demonstrators protested outside Uniqlo shops on Monday.
Seoul and Tokyo are currently locked in a bitter trade and diplomatic row stemming from historical disputes, and South Korean consumers have mounted boycotts of Japanese products.
Uniqlo — which has 186 stores in South Korea — has itself been one of the highest-profile targets, while Japanese carmakers’ sales dropped nearly 60 percent year-on-year in September.
The company denied the allegations in a statement, saying the text was altered to highlight the age gap between the individuals and show that its fleeces were for people “across generations.”
“The ad had no intention whatsoever to imply anything” about colonial rule, a Uniqlo representative said on Monday, adding the firm had withdrawn the ad in an effort at damage control.
Analysts said the controversy demonstrated the politicization of the neighbors’ complex history.
The reaction was excessive, said Kim Sung-han, a former foreign affairs vice minister who teaches at Korea University, involving a “jump in logic” that “assumes everything Uniqlo does is political as a Japanese company.”
“I don’t see how her remark could be linked to the comfort women issue,” he added. “This is overly sensitive.”