Commerce Minister bets on Saudi to be among top 10 global competitive economies by 2030

Commerce Minister bets on Saudi to be among top 10 global competitive economies by 2030
Commerce minister speaks during Tayseer committee meeting (supplied)
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Updated 27 January 2022

Commerce Minister bets on Saudi to be among top 10 global competitive economies by 2030

Commerce Minister bets on Saudi to be among top 10 global competitive economies by 2030

RIYADH: An ambitious plan of reforms for the Saudi economy aims to make it among the ten most competitive countries globally by 2030, Saudi Press Agency reported citing Commerce Minister Majid Al-Qasabi.

This came during the 200th meeting of the Executive Committee for Improving the Performance of Private Sector Business, also known as Tayseer, headed by Al-Qasabi as part of the National Competitiveness Center.

The minister also launched the new work plan for the center during the same meeting in an attempt to make the Kingdom a global competitive economy.

Al-Qasabi noted that the new scheme will push Saudi private and public businesses a step closer to global peers, adding that the center has established committees to lead the movement in the industry, agriculture, services, and technology sectors.

He added that there will be a focus on the transformation to a green economy and the application of ESG measures on Saudi businesses as this will be a driver to attract investments to them.

The vision for the center stems from plans announced earlier by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who said the economy is expected to get SR27 trillion ($7.2 trillion) in government spending and investments by 2030 as the Kingdom plans to be among the top 15 global economies.

Established in 2016, Tayseer committee comprises 70 leaders in the Kingdom’s public and private sectors. It is linked to the National Competitiveness Center, which was launched to achieve Vision 2030 in line with the National Transformation Program.

The centers will work towards adopting research-based innovation, bringing sustainability to practice, and ensuring operational efficiency to enhance the Kingdom’s global competitiveness in line with Vision 2030.

Through adopting the three pillars of competitiveness – productivity, sustainability, and inclusiveness, the plan comes in line with Environmental, Social, and Governance practices.


Top CEO Conference and Awards to recognize industry leaders in GCC

Top CEO Conference and Awards to recognize industry leaders in GCC
Updated 15 May 2022

Top CEO Conference and Awards to recognize industry leaders in GCC

Top CEO Conference and Awards to recognize industry leaders in GCC
  • Publicly listed firms in GCC bourses are evaluation on their annual financial performance

DUBAI: Braving the setbacks they had faced during the pandemic, head honchos of top companies will be attending the Top CEO Conference and Awards to be held in the city from May 17-18 to celebrate leadership in the Gulf Cooperation Council.

According to the organizer’s statement, the Top CEO Awards are based on the financial performance, size and corporate governance of GCC-listed companies.

Julien Hawari, organizer of the TOP CEO, Special Edition, said in the statement: “All of the publicly listed companies in the Arabian Gulf stock markets are evaluated on their annual financial performance, and the ranking is not a result of a nomination by a jury relying on undisclosed metrics.”

The statement added that companies are evaluated if they are listed on any of the seven GCC stock markets. Moreover, Hawkamah Institute has provided corporate governance guidelines developed by the Top CEO in partnership with INSEAD Business School.

One of the Big Four has audited the results, and KPMG is auditing the Top CEO ranking for the 2022 awards, the statement said, while adding that Arab News and Al Arabiya News channel were chosen as media partners of the event.

According to Hawari, the awards were created in 2012 to recognize those who created value and boosted the region’s economy while maintaining transparency and good corporate governance.


One of the Big Four has audited the results, and KPMG is auditing the Top CEO ranking for the 2022 awards.

The statement added that there are 10 categories of companies to be divided into, and the Top 10 CEOs in each category are recognized, totaling 100 awards.

The 10 categories are banking, energy and utility, financial services and investment, insurance, logistics and industrials, malls, real estate and construction, mining, metals and chemicals, retail, FMCG and consumer care, Shariah-compliant banks and financial services and telecom, tech and media.

Commenting on the event, Hawari said: “Global market forces are coming together in the post-pandemic economies to rebuild communities and businesses, and our region is no different.”

Compared to the pause of business in 2020 and slow growth in 2021, the first three months of 2022 saw Arabian Gulf stock markets increase by the most since the global financial meltdown.

Boeing sees sustainable fuel key to reducing emissions as airlines bill hits $1tr

Boeing sees sustainable fuel key to reducing emissions as airlines bill hits $1tr
Updated 15 May 2022

Boeing sees sustainable fuel key to reducing emissions as airlines bill hits $1tr

Boeing sees sustainable fuel key to reducing emissions as airlines bill hits $1tr

RIYADH: As global airlines increase their spending to meet their net-zero carbon targets, Boeing is investing to find new solutions.
The American aircraft manufacturer is working hard to find better fuel blends that will not only reduce emissions but also help airlines become more efficient, according to a top company’s executive.

International airlines have invested around $1 trillion in the last 10 years to reduce carbon emissions and cut dependence on traditional fuel, said Brian Moran, the vice president of global sustainability policy and partnerships for Boeing.
“In the next 20 years, the world needs 43,000 new airplanes. So it’s on us to make sure that we continue this descend of emissions reduction that we have been on,” Moran told Arab News on the sidelines of the Future of Aviation Forum in Riyadh last week.

“The airlines are buying new, more efficient aircraft. Every generation is about 15 to 25 percent more efficient than the airplane it replaces. At Boeing, we’ve invested $60 billion over 10 years in research and technology to build and design these products,” he added.
Moran said sustainability has become even more important following the outbreak of the pandemic.
“The airlines agreed to reach net-zero emission by the middle of the century. My particular role was looking for new partnerships and supporting the customers on their journey to net-zero,” Moran explained.

One of the main themes at the forum was sustainability and reduction of carbon emissions as speakers from different companies highlighted the efforts of their firms to meet these targets in the future.
A key area where Boeing is investing is sustainable aviation fuel, which Moran considers a vital area for the industry.
“It’s not one silver bullet, but (SAF) sustainable aviation fuel and low carbon fuels on the road to sustainable aviation fuels play a really vital role. And that’s why we’re so invested there,” he added.

Aviation fuel
Moran explained that sustainable aviation fuels are those that are made from different feedstock like biomass residue, different cooking oils, or waste gases.
There are different pathways that have been created to convert recycled carbon by combining it with hydrogen to produce a new fuel, he said.
Sustainable aviation fuel development is part of a larger strategy for Boeing to tackle the issue of sustainability.
Boeing looks at different strategies to do that, Moran added.
First is fleet replacement and renewal. The second is about advanced technology.
The third is operational efficiency, and this is about flying more efficient using digital tools in the cockpit that help the airlines make better choices and to use less fuel.

Boeing's top executive talks to Arab News in an interview on the sidelines of the Future Aviation Forum in Riyadh. AN
Boeing's top executive talks to Arab News in an interview on the sidelines of the Future Aviation Forum in Riyadh. AN

“And here we have an interesting way to look at where fuel is consumed. Fifty percent of flights today are under 1,000 kilometer, but they only emit about 15 percent of the emissions. And on the flip side, 50 percent of the emissions come from 2800 kilometers or more.
“So in the low end, battery electric technology where we’re investing in electric and hybrid propulsion, may have a role.”
“But on the higher end and on the longer ranges, that’s where sustainable aviation fuels come in. And here Boeing has done a lot over the last 15 years.”
“We were there for the first flight in 2008. We started to help certify the first fuel in 2011. We were the first company to fly on 100 percent sustainable aviation fuel on a triple seven and 2018.” 
“Last year, we committed that every one of our products by 2030 will be capable of flying on 100 percent SAF. So you can see it’s a suite of options. It’s an all of the above approach.”
The quest for reducing emissions is non-ending for Boeing, Moran believes.
“If you think back since the 1960s, the dawn of the jet age, we have reduced emissions by 85 percent. Since 1990, alone, we’ve reduced emissions by 50 percent. So going forward, we want to keep on that trajectory.”

Iraq’s prized rice crop threatened by drought

Iraq’s prized rice crop threatened by drought
Updated 15 May 2022

Iraq’s prized rice crop threatened by drought

Iraq’s prized rice crop threatened by drought

AL-ABASSIYA, IRAQ: Drought is threatening the Iraqi tradition of growing amber rice, the aromatic basis of rich lamb and other dishes, and a key element in a struggling economy.

The long-grained variety of rice takes its name from its distinctive scent, which is similar to that of amber resin. It is used in Iraqi meals including sumptuous lamb qouzi, mansaf and stuffed vegetables.

But after three years of drought and declining rainfall, Iraq's amber rice production will be only symbolic in 2022, forcing consumers to seek out imported varieties and leaving farmers pondering their future.

“We live off this land,” Abu Rassul says, standing near a small canal that in normal times irrigates his two hectares (five acres) near Al-Abassiya village in the central province of Najaf.

“Since I was a child I have planted amber rice,” says the farmer in his 70s, his face wrinkled and unshaven, dressed in a dazzling white dishdasha robe. “Water enables us to plant every year.”

Except for this one.

Water shortage

Normally, rice fields planted in mid-May should stay submerged all summer until October — but that is a luxury Iraq can no longer allow.

The country’s available water reserves “are well below our critical level of 18 billion cubic meters,” Shaker Fayez Kadhim, Najaf’s water resources manager, told AFP.

Rice drains between 10 and 12 billion cubic meters during its cultivation period of about five months, so it is “difficult to grow rice in Najaf or other provinces because of the high level of water it needs,” Kadhim said.

Previously, more than 70 percent of the amber crop was grown in Diwaniyah and neighboring Najaf provinces.

In early May, officials limited total rice crop areas to 1,000 hectares (2,471 acres), in Najaf and Diwaniyah only, according to the Agriculture Ministry.

The normal quota is 35 times that.

Water shortages have also led to reduced quotas for wheat farmers.

The country’s annual rice production had been 300,000 tons, according to Mohammed Chasseb, a senior official in the ministry’s planning department.

Climate change

Iraq is known in Arabic as the “country of the two rivers” — the Tigris and the Euphrates. But despite those two legendary water sources, the supply of water has been declining for years and the country is classified as one of five most vulnerable to climate change effects and desertification.

The consequences are dire: Depleted rivers, more intense sandstorms, declining crop yields — all of which add to the multiple challenges the country faces after decades of war and insurgency.

The Tigris and Euphrates, and their tributaries, originate in Turkey and Syria as well as Iran, which dams them upstream. This reduces the flow as they enter Iraq.

Call for action

Kadhim says the Euphrates has dropped to about one-third of its normal level. He wants “political action” to get more water flowing.

Ahmed Hassoun, 51, president of the Najaf farmers’ association, fears the worst.

“There is a risk of seeing rice cultivation disappear for lack of water," he said, blaming authorities.

“We know Iraq will have a shortage of rain in the coming years,” said Hassoun, an agricultural engineer. Despite that, nothing has been done to “modernize the irrigation system,” he complains.

Macro Snapshot — Egypt’s unemployment rate dips to 7.2%; US economic outlook weakens

Macro Snapshot — Egypt’s unemployment rate dips to 7.2%; US economic outlook weakens
Updated 15 May 2022

Macro Snapshot — Egypt’s unemployment rate dips to 7.2%; US economic outlook weakens

Macro Snapshot — Egypt’s unemployment rate dips to 7.2%; US economic outlook weakens

RIYADH: Egypt’s unemployment rate dropped to 7.2 percent in the first quarter, down from 7.4 percent in the previous quarter, the country’s state statistics agency CAPMAS said on Sunday.

US economic outlook 

The US economic outlook has weakened and inflation is set to remain higher than previously expected for a while yet, a Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia survey of professional economic forecasters showed on Friday.

Real gross domestic product is forecast to grow at a 2.3 percent annual rate this quarter, down 1.9 percentage points from the last survey three months ago, with the annual rate seen falling to 2.3 percent next year and 2 percent in 2024, both lower than the previous estimate.

The Philadelphia Fed’s latest snapshot of the views of 34 leading economic forecasters also revealed they project current-quarter headline Consumer Price Index inflation will average 7.1 percent at an annual rate, up from 3.8 percent at the time of the last survey. They also forecast headline Personal Consumption Expenditures inflation this current quarter to be 5.7 percent at an annual rate, up from 3.1 percent previously.

Forecasts for headline and core CPI and PCE inflation in 2022 and 2023 were also revised upward.

Despite the weakening outlook for economic growth as the Fed battles 40-year-high inflation, the forecasters expect only a small bump in unemployment.

They see the unemployment rate at 3.6 percent this quarter. That is the same level they expect in 2022 and 2023, with it only moving up to 3.8 percent over the following two years.

taly’s funding cost 

Market volatility may push Italy’s borrowing costs slightly higher this year, to their highest since 2019, the country’s head of debt said on Friday.

A looming rate hike by the European Central Bank as soon as July along with the end of its asset purchase program has inflated Italian government bond yields, pushing them to their highest since late 2018. 

“Our target for 2022 stands at 0.83 percent. It might be upwardly revised by a couple of basis points back to its 2019 levels,” Davide Iacovoni told Reuters in an interview.

Russian inflation jumps 

Consumer inflation in Russia accelerated in April to 17.83 percent in year-on-year terms, its highest level since January 2002, data showed on Friday, as it got a boost from the volatile rouble and unprecedented western sanctions that disrupted logistics chains.

But monthly inflation slowed to 1.56 percent in April from 7.61 percent in March when it staged the biggest month-on-month increase since January 1999, data from the federal statistics service, Rosstat, showed.

Inflation in Russia has accelerated sharply after Russia began what it calls “a special military operation” in Ukraine on Feb. 24.

The fall in the rouble to record lows in March boosted demand for a wide range of goods from food staples to cars on expectations that prices will rise even more. The rouble has recovered since and firmed to a near five-year high against the euro on Friday. Spain’s April final CPI 

Spain’s consumer prices rose 8.3 percent year-on-year in April, according to data from the National Statistics Institute on Friday, compared with9.8 percent in March and a Reuters poll forecast of 8.4 percent.

Core inflation, which strips out volatile food and energy prices, was at 4.4 percent year-on-year, up from a reading of 3.4 percent a month earlier and the highest rate since December 1995, data from the National Statistics Institute showed.

Spanish EU-harmonized prices rose 8.3 percent from a year earlier, down from 9.8 percent in March and in line with the Reuters forecast of 8.3 percent.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the subsequent pressure on energy and food markets has stoked inflation, which was already accelerating as the global economy emerged from the coronavirus pandemic.

In Spain, INE said that the cost of both food and non-alcoholic drinks in April was higher than in the previous month and a year earlier. This was driven particularly by a surge in the price of oils and fats, along with prices in hotels, cafes and restaurants and, with the resumption of tourism, the cost of package holidays.

This was mitigated by electricity prices being lower than a year before. Gas and heating fuel are now costing more than they did last year, however, it said.

INE noted that prices for cars and air passenger transportation are rising, but petrol and lubricants were cheaper in April than in March.

Norway GDP points to recovery 

Norway’s economy contracted in the first quarter amid coronavirus lockdowns, but growth resumed toward the end of the period, Statistics Norway data showed on Friday.

Norway has scrapped its coronavirus curbs in recent months with most adults and many children now vaccinated. “In March, the activity in the mainland economy was approximately back to the same level as in November, the month before the (latest) lockdown was introduced,” SSB economist Paal Sletten said in a statement.

The January-March quarter saw a decline in mainland GDP of 0.6 percent compared with the October-December period, the statistics office said, more than the 0.5 percent drop predicted in a Reuters poll of analysts.

Mainland GDP, which excludes the often volatile impact of Norway’s oil and gas production, is the most commonly watched measure of how the Norwegian economy is performing.

In March, the final month of the quarter, mainland GDP grew 1.0 percent, beating an average prediction of 0.8 percent.

The crown currency weakened slightly to trade at 10.23 against the euro at 0622 GMT, down from 10.21 just before the data release.

The central bank, which has raised rates three times since last September, plans seven more hikes by the end of 2023.

ECB rate hike 

European Central Bank Governing Council member Mario Centeno said on Friday that the ECB should begin an interest rate hike cycle in early July, and he called for any withdrawal of stimulus to be done gradually.

He said the normalization of monetary policy was “necessary and desirable,” adding that any perception there had not been “a sufficiently vigorous response” might require further, more aggressive tightening to control inflation at a later date.

Normalization must be done gradually, he added, and policymakers should not “overreact” to inflation rising across Europe or risk penalizing economic growth.

He said the ECB is likely to end its bond-buying stimulus program early in the third quarter of this year and then start a cycle of interest rate hikes.

“It is anticipated that this could happen in the first weeks of the third quarter,” he said at a banking conference in Lisbon.

With inflation soaring to a record high of 7.5 percent in the euro zone last month, well above the ECB’s 2 percent target, policymakers are increasingly advocating a rapid unwinding of stimulus, and several have called for a rate hike in July. 

South Africa’s central bank 

South Africa’s Reserve Bank is set to make its first 50 basis point hike to its repo rate in more than six years next week, taking it to 4.75 percent, to prevent potential second-round effects from higher consumer prices, a Reuters poll forecast on Friday.

Despite a cost of living crisis expected to have a severe impact on growth, 16 of 24 economists in the May 9-12 survey concluded the central bank would raise its repo rate by 50 basis points on May 19. The remaining eight opted for a 25 bps increase.

Last month only four of 17 economists thought a 50 bps hike was likely, against 13 who said 25 basis points.

A median of 16 economists showed an almost 60 percent probability the SARB would hike interest rates by 50 bps this month.

“We expect the SARB to step up the pace of policy normalization in its May MPC meeting, delivering a 50 bps rate hike to 4.75 percent,” said Jeffrey Schultz, economist at BNP Paribas


Afghan money exchangers on strike after license fee hike

Afghan money exchangers on strike after license fee hike
Updated 15 May 2022

Afghan money exchangers on strike after license fee hike

Afghan money exchangers on strike after license fee hike

Thousands of money exchangers shut shop across Afghanistan on Sunday after Taliban authorities imposed a steep hike in license fees, the brokers’ commission said, in a bid to slow down money laundering and terrorism financing according to financial analysts.

Afghanistan’s formal banking system collapsed when the Taliban swept back to power in August last year, ending two decades of US-led military intervention in the deeply impoverished nation.

Since then money exchangers — who swap currencies, make informal cash transfers and even give loans — have played a key role in meeting the financial needs of 38 million citizens mired in humanitarian crisis.

“Thousands of money exchangers are shut in most parts of the country to protest against the central bank’s conditions,” Abdul Rahman Zeerak, spokesman for Afghanistan’s Money Exchange Commission, told AFP.

He said the central bank had raised license fees to 5 million Afghanis ($56,000) from around 300,000.

Zeerak also claimed the bank is insisting transactions are conducted online under new licenses and brokers must have a minimum of 50 million Afghanis to operate.

“This is a lot of money,” he said. “Money exchangers are not that strong financially.”

The brokers’ commission said currency traders in the capital Kabul and cities such as Herat and Kunduz were shut as part of the strike.

Meanwhile, Afghanistan’s central bank — Da Afghanistan Bank — warned that exchangers operating without a license “will face legal action.”

Spokesman Mohammad Sabir Momand said in a statement that the institution was “committed to transparency and security” in the financial sector.

While informal money exchangers provide a vital service, they also lack oversight and analysts say their system can be used to launder money and finance militant organizations.

Khan Afzal Hadawal, Afghanistan central bank’s former deputy governor, said the Taliban’s new initiative was motivated by a desire to demonstrate to the international community that it is stymying terror groups in the nation.

“The easiest way for money launderers and terrorists was to go through the money exchangers,” Hadawal told AFP.

“What they (Taliban government) have done is they have increased the requirements, so that those who cannot qualify ... by default they will be shut down.”