UK-GCC trade deal could be finished in a year: Minister

UK-GCC trade deal could be finished in a year: Minister
Anne Marie Trevelyan is confident a trade deal can be agreed with 18 months at the most (AFP)
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Updated 24 June 2022

UK-GCC trade deal could be finished in a year: Minister

UK-GCC trade deal could be finished in a year: Minister

RIYADH: UK trade talks with the Gulf countries would be concluded in 12 to 18 months, Britain’s Minister of International Trade Anne Marie Trevelyan has revealed. 

The UK has started talks on a free trade agreement with six Gulf countries in the latest round of negotiations aimed at strengthening its relations outside the EU after its exit.

“It is difficult to determine the time period for discussing free trade agreements, but we believe a period of one to one and a half years is a realistic time period and we have identified it as a starting area,” she told Al Arabiya.

The Gulf Cooperation Council visions work to help the business sector grow, use digital tools to help emerging companies find new markets, and to diversify the economy away from oil and gas in the long term, Trevelyan said.

“We want to make sure that with the removal of obstacles to food, beverages and other goods, we will see companies in both directions benefit,” she said. 

She added: “It is also important to support the flow of investments in both directions, and we want to see the investment flowing between our countries grow more so that companies in UK, Saudi Arabia, UAE and Kuwait, Oman and Bahrain to work closely together to the fullest extent, in order to be able to achieve the visions, and it was really exciting to see the developments during my visit, and that these opportunities for companies not only for our generation, but for future generations.”

UK-US trade agreement

As well as countries in the Gulf, the UK is also in talks with the US, pending President Joe Biden administration's readiness to negotiate a federal trade agreement, Trevelyan said.

“I and a number of ministers are working with a number of US states on topics such as mutual recognition of qualifications and governor-controlled policies to help our companies increase trade and remove some of the existing barriers,” she said.

Trevelyan added: “We look forward to a federal agreement, but President Biden wanted to focus his efforts internally in his first year, and we respect that decision.”

“I'm working with my counterparts to remove barriers to market entry, and we have a resolution on the steel fees and a resolution on the fees related to the Boeing-Airbus dispute. We have done a lot and are waiting for the Biden administration to be ready to begin the federal agreement,” she said.


Saudi airports take a hard look at sustainability 

Saudi airports take a hard look at sustainability 
Updated 18 sec ago

Saudi airports take a hard look at sustainability 

Saudi airports take a hard look at sustainability 

RIYADH: The aviation sector in Saudi Arabia is pushing toward a sustainable model by building infrastructure for the future to deliver a seamless passenger experience, according to Abdulaziz Al-Duailej, president of the Kingdom's General Authority of Civil Aviation.

Picking up the threads from the universal pandemic that marred the airline industry, the sector is bolstering the infrastructure by addressing core issues such as staff shortage, health mandates and climate change concerns. 

Fresh from the pandemic, the industry had to endure a hiring process that took almost 16 weeks from recruiting a skilled worker to finally deploying him or her to the job, leading to a clogged supply of staff members in the airports. The situation, however, is fast changing. 

“We tried to support the airports by accelerating the training, certification and security clearance of the ground handlers and other players of the ecosystem through digitization programs that have minimized the process,” said Al-Duailej, while speaking at the World Travel and Tourism Global Summit in Riyadh. 

The aviation authority last month also submitted the ‘Harmonizing Air Travel' policy guidelines to the UN’s International Civil Aviation Organization Council for its approval, encouraging the use of a unified health document that could alleviate traveler concerns that global travelers encountered during the universal pandemic. 

There is also a concerted effort in the Saudi aviation sector to cut the dwell time or time passengers spend in the airport before boarding their flights. 

NEOM Airport, for instance, is working toward developing a high-speed “green” rail system that will transfer air travelers to the city without the need of even finding a parked vehicle, meaning there will be no parking at the NEOM airport. 

“Instead of focusing necessarily on the airport and being a destination, we want to facilitate getting you into the city as fast as we can,” said John Selden, CEO of NEOM Airport. 

The airport is also considering using electric vertical take-off and landing aircraft, or EVTOL, to expedite the mobility of incoming passengers. 

“The last two years were incredibly tough for the industry. The check-in process, which usually takes five minutes, took 20 minutes per passenger. We need to find a way to put all the passenger touchpoints together to make travel seamless,” said Luis Felipe de Oliveira, director-general of the Airports Council International, while speaking at the event. 

Airports are also toying with the idea of running the infrastructure to support sustainability, which includes 100 percent green or battery-powered equipment throughout the airport expanse. 

“We need to have systems where passengers don’t leave gates, and we don’t burn fuel on taxiways until we are ready for take-off. We don’t need a queue at the end of the runway,” said Pagano while sharing his vision of a green hydrogen-fueled ecosystem that will power the airports of the future. 


Two new natural gas fields discovered in Saudi Arabia: Energy minister

Two new natural gas fields discovered in Saudi Arabia: Energy minister
Updated 5 min 11 sec ago

Two new natural gas fields discovered in Saudi Arabia: Energy minister

Two new natural gas fields discovered in Saudi Arabia: Energy minister

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s Energy Minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman has announced the discovery of two new natural gas fields in the Kingdom.

The “Awtad” unconventional natural gas field was discovered southwest of the Ghawar field, 142 kilometers southwest of the city of Hofuf, according to the Saudi Press Agency.

The “Al-Dahna” unconventional natural gas field is located 230 kilometers southwest of the city of Dhahran.

Both fields were discovered by Saudi Aramco.

Prince Abdulaziz said that the importance of these discoveries lies in increasing Saudi Arabia’s natural gas reserves, which would in turn support the Kingdom’s strategies and help realize the objectives of the Liquid Fuel Displacement Program.

The Minister of Energy added that the discoveries underline the wealth of natural resources the Kingdom has at its disposal.


Uber’s diversification strategy should be blueprint for travel and tourism industry: Leading IBM official

Uber’s diversification strategy should be blueprint for travel and tourism industry: Leading IBM official
Updated 30 November 2022

Uber’s diversification strategy should be blueprint for travel and tourism industry: Leading IBM official

Uber’s diversification strategy should be blueprint for travel and tourism industry: Leading IBM official

RIYADH: The travel and tourism sector should look to Uber to learn how to diversify, according to the Global Managing Director of IBM’s Travel and Transportation Industry Dee Waddell.

Speaking at a panel during the second day of the World Travel & Tourism Council Global 2022 summit taking place in Riyadh, Waddell said the industry has an opportunity to take a platform approach, in the same manner as the US-based ride-hailing app.

“Uber has started to launch out beyond just the traditional taxi, they've gone to scooters, they've gone to electric scooters, and vertical takeoff device equipment, so you're seeing that they're taking a platform approach into expanding out like Amazon did,” Waddell said.

When it comes to the cities of tomorrow in Saudi Arabia and worldwide, the primary driver revolving around the use of technology will tackle how to leverage the infrastructure and use these technologies to be able to further develop experiences within the cities, he added.

What makes a city great is its cultural identity and shared humanity, according to President and CEO of Diriyah Gate Development Authority Jerry Inzerillo, who was also speaking during the same panel.

“All the great cities of the world have one thing in common and that is the celebration that we may not share the same ideology, but we share the same biology,” Inzerillo said.

Moreover, designing with purpose is key to a fruitful city as it is not only about building buildings vertically and making sure that the box fits, said Global CEO of JLL Hotels and Hospitality Gilda Perez-Alvarado during the panel discussion.

Integrating nature within those cities is vital, since this allows for interaction, connectivity, and collaboration and allows for simple activities for residents such as going for a walk in the fresh air, she revealed.

“Let’s design with purpose. It’s not just about efficiency, as efficiency can be very wasteful in the long run,” Perez-Alvarado said.

In addition to designing with purpose, it’s important to keep an eye on transportation since it is a basic infrastructure that can make or break a city, she added, saying that some European cities provide free transportation making them more efficient and more environmentally-conscious.

When developing cities of tomorrow, it is vital for cities around the world to share a clear and concise narrative of why somebody should come to your city and that unlocks in terms of experiences and opportunities, the Managing Director of Tourism for Western Australia Carolyn Turnbull said during the panel discussion.

“The vision that exists here in Riyadh has been extraordinary. I came to this event with a clear vision for Western Australia but I’m going home to ensure that we are thinking as big as Riyadh is,” Turnbull added.


Capital markets need to step in to secure Vision 2030 goals: S&P Global

Capital markets need to step in to secure Vision 2030 goals: S&P Global
Updated 30 November 2022

Capital markets need to step in to secure Vision 2030 goals: S&P Global

Capital markets need to step in to secure Vision 2030 goals: S&P Global

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s banking sector will not be able to fund all of the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 projects, according to a report which said more private investment is needed.

The analysis by S&P Global says Saudi Arabia’s investment needs are “significant”, and capital markets will play a “key role” in funding not just private sector investments but also giga-projects such as NEOM, the IPO for which is expected in 2024.

Quantifying the exact funding amount needed for Saudi Arabia’s ambitious growth plans is “not easy” according to the report, with the Kingdom aiming to raise the private sector’s contribution to gross domestic product from 40 percent to 65 percent, and increase non-oil exports share of GDP from 16 percent to 50 percent.

Taken alongside the boom in oil prices, S&P Global says Saudi Arabia is set to become one of the world's fastest-growing large economies in 2022, real GDP growth in excess of 7.0 percent this year, and a return to fiscal surpluses at 6.3 percent of GDP in 2022 and 3.5 percent in 2023.

The report said: “Saudi banks have contributed significantly to a key Vision 2030 objective — increasing home ownership to 70 percent by 2030 (60 percent in 2020). 

“Mortgage lending has been the main engine of growth for Saudi banks over the last few years, with total mortgages hitting SR503.2 billion ($133.85 billion) as of June 30, 2022, compared with SR140.3 billion at Dec. 31, 2018.

“ As the market matures and interest rates continue to rise, origination will likely lose momentum in the next 12-24 months. 

“However, as contracts for Vision 2030 projects are awarded, corporate credit lending should start to contribute more meaningfully to banks' lending growth.”

S&P Ratings said that even as Saudi firms set out ambitious capital spending goals in the next five years, the firm would not necessarily reassess its ratings of these businesses “given their healthy balance sheets and strong liquidity.”

“Over time, however, we will reassess our ratings as projects are executed because any rating upside would hinge on business trends improving, sustainable EBITDA (Earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization) growth, or stronger leverage metrics,” said the report.

The report went on to state that Saudi Arabia had fared better against the wave of inflation sweeping the globe than other countries, with the riyal being pegged to the dollar helping to play down unpredictability.

“We forecast inflation at 2.5 percent in 2022, before rising to 2.7 percent in 2023 and averaging 1.9 percent in 2024-2025,” said the report, adding: “We expect interest rate hikes to affect the private and general household sectors more than government-related activities given expected high but tapering oil prices.”


Standard Chartered launches tech program for women-led startups in Saudi Arabia  

Standard Chartered launches tech program for women-led startups in Saudi Arabia  
Updated 30 November 2022

Standard Chartered launches tech program for women-led startups in Saudi Arabia  

Standard Chartered launches tech program for women-led startups in Saudi Arabia  

RIYADH: Women-led tech startups working in Saudi Arabia stand a chance to receive $50,000 in funding support if they take part in a tech program launched by Standard Chartered and Falak Investment Hub. 

The Kingdom's first cohort of the ‘SC Women in Tech’ program will provide women entrepreneurs opportunities for economic and social development, as well as funding.   

Applications for the eight-week program, part of Standard Charter’s global ‘Women in Tech’ initiative, currently available in six other countries, began on Nov. 28 and is set to remain open for around six weeks.   

During the program each start-up will be provided with opportunities to meet one-on-one with Falak teams, mentors and industry experts during workshops, events, or private discussions. The startups are expected to benefit from the guidance of entrepreneurs, technologists, as well as investors, aimed at supporting their growth.  

At the end of the program, all start-ups will be provided with the chance to pitch to over 40 angel investors, Venture Capital, and family office representatives through Falak Angels (the second established angel network in the Kingdom). The winners of this year’s cohort will receive up to $50,000 in total funding. 

Earlier this year, the Kingdom announced over $$6.4 billion in future technologies and entrepreneurship investments. It is a key pillar of Vision 2030, which focuses on strengthening entrepreneurship by boosting private-sector investment, supporting innovation, and attracting and training talent.   

Speaking about the initiative, Mazen Bunyan CEO of Standard Chartered Bank Saudi Arabia, said: “We are proud to collaborate with Falak Investment Hub and bring our ‘Women in Tech’ program to the Kingdom. 

The spirit of diversity and entrepreneurship are important values that we celebrate at Standard Chartered, and we hope that by providing early-stage support and mentorship we can help women succeed and become leading job creators.”  

Vision 2030 promotes Saudi women as an important part of the Kingdom’s strength. It aims to develop their talents, invest their energies, and provide them with the right opportunities to build their futures, contributing to the development of society.

Saudi women now comprise 33.6 percent of the Saudi workforce as of March 2022, according to the General Authority for Statistics. That figure is up from 17.4 percent just five years ago.  

The unemployment rate of women was the lowest in 20 years as of the first quarter of 2022, falling to 20.2 percent from 22.5 percent during the fourth quarter of 2021.