LONDON: The Saudi ambassador to the UK on Wednesday praised the opportunities now open to his country as a result of its presidency of the G20.
Prince Khalid bin Bandar bin Sultan bin Abdul Aziz Al-Saud was speaking at a roundtable attended by Arab News and organized by the Arab British Chamber of Commerce (ABCC).
It was hosted by ABCC Chairwoman Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean, and joined by its CEO and Secretary-General Bandar Reda, and the chairman of the Council of Saudi Chambers and the Riyadh Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Ajlan Al-Ajlan.
“It’s a historic year for us, and it’s an incredible opportunity for us to take advantage of the G20 presidency — to set a new agenda for the world that has our regional perspective,” Prince Khalid said.
“We have an opportunity to put forward to the world a Muslim perspective, a young developing nation’s perspective, and a Middle Eastern perspective. This is something that hasn’t happened before,” he added. “It’s not just about creating jobs, but how we improve people’s lives.”
The speakers talked about opportunities between UK and Saudi businesses, the impact of Brexit, prospects for the Vision 2030 project, and the endless tourism possibilities between the two countries as the world reopens from the COVID-19 pandemic.
“If I was a young person moving into the business community, I’d be tremendously excited by the opportunities that are out there today,” said Prince Khalid.
“We (in Saudi Arabia) are proving that you can do things better, that you can do things more efficiently, and that you can do things in a new way — our way, one that suits our region. We welcome everyone to participate in that,” he added.
“We live in a connected world, and if we don’t do it with our friends and our partners, we’re not going to be able to do what we want. It’s very important that people do get involved with us.”
Al-Ajlan raised the prospects now open to many UK businesses in his country, and said the Saudi government had made billions of dollars available, not to mention state bodies and advisors, for companies wishing to invest there. “They provide anything you need to start a business,” he added.
“I think now that Saudi Arabia, when I look now at our region, at India, Pakistan, Turkey, Egypt, is the best place for investment. There’s active government, there are a lot of resources, there are young people.”
Reda said: “There are so many businesses that haven’t been touched yet, and there are also the megaprojects.”
He added: “For the financial sector of the UK, it would be a great opportunity for them to start providing seed investment money, supporting SMEs (small and medium enterprises), whether Saudi SMEs or UK SMEs, to enter the Saudi market. The sky is the limit when it comes to opportunities.”
Prince Khalid suggested that Vision 2030 is another vehicle, like the G20 presidency, for improving the world.
“It’s about improving the lives of Saudis, and I think in doing so you improve the lives of those involved with Saudi Arabia, so the knock-on effect of providing a better place to be is a positive thing,” he said.
“That’s really what’s at the heart of Vision 2030. The heart of what we’re trying to achieve is to make the world a better place.”
Prince Khalid expressed optimism for the future of the tourism industry, especially with the UK, in the aftermath of Saudi Arabia’s issuance of a new tourist e-visa scheme, easing the process of visiting the Kingdom for foreigners.
“In the first month after we announced our tourist visa, we had 40,000 tourist visas issued to UK nationals. Up until COVID-19 closed the world, the UK was the second-largest tourist visa applicant in the world for Saudi Arabia,” he said.
“People forget, it (Saudi Arabia) is a country that’s almost a quarter the size of the US — it’s the size of Western Europe. There’s so much to see,” he added.
“It’s a unique environment that has tremendous history … There’s so much to attract people, and opening up that sector has been huge for us.”
Al-Ajlan concurred, saying: “There’s Neom, there’s the Red Sea, there are many places. We saw it in Riyadh before COVID-19 — we had 7-8 million visitors in (the first) three months (of 2020).”
Tourism “is new in Saudi Arabia, and this is a big opportunity for any company that wants to invest in this kind of business, because it will start from zero,” he added.
“Many people from the US, from Europe, from China and Japan, they want to come to Saudi Arabia.”
Prince Khalid said: “It’s not just in the basic tourism economy — it’s things like sports, it’s things like all the different side businesses that open up, whether it’s cars required to get around, jet skis and boats, food.”
He added: “There are so many ancillary businesses and side opportunities that arise as a direct result of the rise of tourism. We’re hoping to bring 40,000 new jobs a year in the tourism industry alone.”
On the subject of Brexit, all the speakers expressed optimism that business between the UK and the Gulf, with the prospect of new bilateral trade agreements, will flourish.
They said there are plentiful resources available to help those in the UK wishing to open ties and business prospects in the region.
Reda said: “We work hand in hand with the Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia here in the UK to give them full support and to open new channels for them, and to negotiate on their behalf if asked to do so. There’s a great open-ended discussion. I could always say it will be positive.”
Prince Khalid said: “The UK is one of five countries where we have a commercial attache as part of the embassy. It’s a role that I’m looking at enhancing.”
He added: “We have an economics office, and we have SAGIA (the Saudi Arabia General Investment Authority) here in London. But I want to unify the efforts to enhance the ability to gain information about investing in Saudi, to learn about the regulation, to learn about what opportunities there are.
“There are organizations here (in the UK) that can provide advice — the Arab British Chamber of Commerce, the Saudi British Joint Business Council — that can be helpful, and that can enhance people’s knowledge of what and where and how to invest in Saudi. The opportunity is tremendous.”