Saudi Arabia ‘committed to global economic prosperity,’ says Finance Minister Al-Jadaan

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Finance Minister Mohammed Al-Jadaan stresses a point in his keynote address at the opening session of Euromoney Saudi Arabia Conference 2019. (AN photo/Ahmed Fathi)
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Delegates at the 14th edition of the Euromoney Saudi Arabia Conference 2019 in Riyadh on Wednesday. Senior government officials and ministers attended the event. (AN photo/Ahmed Fathi)
Updated 19 September 2019

Saudi Arabia ‘committed to global economic prosperity,’ says Finance Minister Al-Jadaan

  • Government spending on economic and social development has increased over the past year

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia is committed to working with other nations toward achieving global economic prosperity, Finance Minister Mohammed Al-Jadaan said in his keynote address at the opening of the 14th edition of the Euromoney Saudi Arabia Conference here on Wednesday.

Al-Jadaan also said that the Kingdom’s upcoming presidency of the G20 next year will “consolidate the Kingdom’s international standing and affirm its leadership in supporting the stability of the global economy.”

He added: “Under Saudi Vision 2030 and the Financial Sector Development Program, Saudi Arabia is keeping pace with global developments and achieving qualitative leaps in the field of financial services, in line with business and service development. The growth of talented and active youth, as well as an increase in women’s participation in the labor market, are also important elements toward achieving our goals.”

The minister also welcomed Saudi Arabia’s inclusion in the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), insisting that the Kingdom’s financial sector is “committed to introducing further reforms in order to expand financial services and implement legislation and measures to combat money laundering and the financing of terrorism.”

“Our progress in these areas recently led to the Kingdom’s inclusion in the FATF, taking its place alongside 37 other countries, and it was the first Arab country to (do so),” he added.

Al-Jadaan went on to explain that government spending on economic and social development has increased over the past year.

“The total expenditure growth, in both the operational and capital sectors, reached nearly 16.1 percent in 2018, while the increase in the first half of 2019 reached about 6.3 percent. At the same time, non-oil revenues increased during 2018 by approximately 15.2 percent and the increase continued during the first half of the year by 14.4 percent as a result of the improvement of economic activity and continued implementation of reforms and initiatives aimed at developing revenues and diversifying their sources,” he said.

The budget deficit during the first half of the year amounted to SR5.7 billion ($1.52 billion), compared to SR41.7 billion in the same period in 2018, while the real GDP growth rate in Q1, 2019 was 1.7 percent, compared to 1.4 percent in Q1, 2018, he said. The Kingdom’s non-oil sector grew by 2.1 percent, driven by the private sector’s growth of 2.3 percent, compared to 1.7 percent in the same quarter last year, while FDI inflows increased by 23.8 percent in the first quarter of the current year with increased investment opportunities for the private sector.

The total credit facilities provided by banks and financing companies to SMEs in the first half of 2019 amounted to SR113 billion — an increase of 11.6 percent against the corresponding period last year.

Banking performance also improved, he said, with the total assets and liabilities of commercial banks during Q2, 2019 reaching SR2.4 trillion, an increase of 3 percent — equivalent to SR 69.1 billion — compared to an increase of 0.04 percent in the corresponding quarter of the previous year.

“On the other hand, the demand for investment in domestic and international debt issues increased by more than three times during the first half of the year,” the finance minister said.

He added that the government’s first bond denominated in euros —  issued in July —  was oversubscribed by over four times, adding, “The nominal value of government sukuk was reduced to SR1,000 in order to diversify the investor segment and enhance trading and individual savings.”

The minister concluded by congratulating the Kingdom and Saudi Aramco for reestablishing full-capacity oil production after the recent drone attacks on oil facilities.

“I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate the country, and Aramco in particular, for bringing production back to normal which proves our ability to deal effectively and efficiently with the unprecedented crisis,” he said.

Minister of Commerce and Investment Majid Al-Qassabi also gave a speech, in which he said that the Kingdom is witnessing a qualitative leap in attracting investors, explaining that 259 licenses for foreign investment were granted in 2015, while 792 have been issued so far this year.

The Kingdom has “undertaken comprehensive reforms to improve the business sector,” he continued, which has led to an almost 60 percent increase in the number of commercial enterprises registered with the Ministry of Commerce and Investment over the last four years —  meaning there are now 1,027,000 enterprises registered, compared to 650,000 in 2015.

“The Kingdom has worked on a number of tracks — all of which are aimed at creating an environment conducive to foreign investors: Government restructuring, combating bureaucracy, improving procedures, and preparing legislation that will motivate investors,” said the minister.

He noted that Saudi Vision 2030 has created new sectors for investment and given investors an opportunity to enter new areas, including entertainment, tourism, sports, and logistics.

“We are on a continuous journey of development,” he said. “Vision 2030 is the compass by which we are (navigating), setting goals, and directing investments.”

Al-Qassabi stressed the importance of the SME sector, calling it “the first engine of the country” and explaining that the Kingdom has licensed 50 accelerators and 49 incubators to help support it.

Capital Market Authority (CMA) chairman Mohammed El-Kuwaiz said the CMA is continuing to make “huge advancements” and highlighted the importance of new capital markets laws recently approved by the Cabinet.

“These new laws have two priorities, firstly to protect investors through improved mechanisms for compensation, strengthening the independence of judicial committees, increasing the scope of reporting, rewarding those who report violations and strengthening penalties to deter violators, and secondly to enhance the capital market by modifying financial organization through the introduction of a depository center and the creation of new categories including the establishment of a ‘clearing house’ to create a new derivatives market,” El-Kuwaiz said.

He also outlined how judicial procedures in the capital market have been strengthened. “Prosecution processing time to deal with financial disputes has been reduced from 24 to 10 months, with the aim of a further reduction to 6 months,” he said, adding that many other reforms have also been completed, including the automation of judicial processes for claims. “We are also moving toward the introduction of group claims, which will also help to speed up the process,” he explained.

He also mentioned a range of positive indicators contributing to the growth of the capital market: “There has been an increase of 49 percent in investors in close-end funds, an increase in the index of 6 percent compared to 2018 and foreign cash flow in the capital market has reached SR76 billion.”

The opening day of the Euromoney Saudi Arabia Conference highlighted the transformation of financial institutions in the Kingdom, with a focus on how emerging technologies are driving the explosion of FinTech fueled by digitally savvy millennials.

This year also saw the introduction of an Oxford Union-style debate in which Ammar Al-Khudairy, chairman of Samba Financial Group, presented his vision of the future for the traditional banking sector while Ghela Boskovich, founder of FemTechGlobal, spoke on future trends in e-banking.

The conference included three more new initiatives aimed at providing a more interactive experience for visitors. In the Tech Tent, local and international FinTech companies set out their stalls; the Knowledge Hub ran live briefings on Blockchain, big data and machine learning; while the Finance Lab provided a live simulation of global markets for students and attendees.


G20 ready to limit effects of coronavirus on global economy, Saudi finance minister

Updated 8 min 30 sec ago

G20 ready to limit effects of coronavirus on global economy, Saudi finance minister

  • G20 will continue to take joint action to strengthen international co-operation and frameworks
  • Finance ministers agree measures to tackle global problems, coronavirus

RIYADH: The meeting of G20 finance ministers and central bank governors ended in Saudi Arabia with a determination to tackle pressing global concerns such as geopolitical and trade confrontations, as well as the challenge of the coronavirus outbreak.
The official communique — hammered out among the G20 policy-makers gathered in Riyadh over two days of discussions — said that global economic growth was expected to pick up “modestly” this year and next, on signs of improving financial conditions and some signs of easing trade tensions.
“However, global economic growth remains slow, and downside risks to the outlook persist, inching those arising from geopolitical and remaining trade tensions, and policy uncertainty. We will enhance global risk monitoring, including the recent outbreak of COVID-19 (coronavirus). We stand ready to take further action to address those risks,” the communique said.

On so-called “trade wars” between the US and China — which was not represented at the Riyadh meeting because of the outbreak — the communiqué said: “We will continue to take joint action to strengthen international co-operation and frameworks, and also reaffirm our commitments on exchange rates.”
There was general agreement by the ministers on measures on infrastructure investment, technology development, and plans to boost domestic capital markets across the world, especially in emerging and developing countries.
But a note of caution was also sounded in several areas.The G20 finance ministers said that “we are facing a global landscape that is being rapidly transformed by economic, social, environmental, technological and demographic changes.”
Apart from that mention of the environment, there was little attention given to the contentious issue of climate change. Towards the end of the communique, the ministers and governors said: “The financial stability board (of the G20) is examining the financial stability implications of climate change.”
The finance ministers’ gathering is the first formal event in preparation for the summit of world leaders that will take place in Saudi Arabia in November, with the three key aims of empowering people, safeguarding the planet and shaping new frontiers in technology and innovation.
The international taxation system was an area of focus at the finance ministers meeting, with some countries threatening a controversial digital tax. The communique said that “we continue to support tax capacity building in developing countries,” and called on all countries to sign multilateral agreements on tax matters. “We remain committed to the full, timely and consistent implementation of the agreed financial reforms,” it added.
Other big themes of the financial G20 meeting included inclusion of youth and women in the financial process. “We support the emphasis on digital financial inclusion of under-served groups, especially youth, women and small businesses,” the communique said.
There was also strong support for the work of the global Financial Action Task Force in combating money laundering and terrorism finance. “We reiterate our strong commitment to tackle all sources, techniques and channels of these threats,” the G20 ministers said, also backing measures to tackle the financing of nuclear proliferation. “We ask the FATF to remain vigilant with respect to emerging financial technologies that may allow for new methods of illicit financing,” it added.