Saudi Arabia and Italy sign 21 cooperation agreements across various sectors

Update Saudi Arabia and Italy sign 21 cooperation agreements across various sectors
Saudi Arabia’s Minister of Investment Khalid Al-Falih. (AN)
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Updated 05 September 2023

Saudi Arabia and Italy sign 21 cooperation agreements across various sectors

Saudi Arabia and Italy sign 21 cooperation agreements across various sectors

MILAN: In a bid to further deepen economic and trade ties, Saudi Arabia and Italy signed 21 cooperation agreements across various fields at a summit in Milan, according to the Saudi Press Agency.

The Saudi-Italian Investment Forum was attended by the Saudi Minister of Investment Khalid Al-Falih, and the Italian Minister of Enterprises and Made in Italy, Adolfo Urso, in the presence of several officials from both countries and representatives from the governmental and private sectors.

The 21 MoUs and agreements signed during the forum encompassed the sectors of clean energy, healthcare, and real estate, as well as waste management, technology, and manufacturing.

Speaking at the event at the Gallia hotel, Al-Falih said that both countries can complement and leverage each other’s strengths to build a better future.    

During the speech, Al-Falih invited Italian firms to come and operate in the Kingdom, noting that 150 licensed companies from the European nation are already functioning in Saudi Arabia. 

“But while Italy clearly belongs in the list of top 10 economies globally, it is only in the top 20 as an investor in the Kingdom, and the value of our bilateral non-oil trade amounts to a mere €1.3 billion ($1.4 billion) — which means we are far from reaching the full potential of our partnership,” added Al-Falih.  

According to the minister, Saudi Arabia and Italy should specifically focus on expanding the scale and quality of joint investments to further deepen the strategic relationship between the nations.  

“In the context of areas of complementarity and shared interests, I’d like to emphasize a handful that are of particular significance to Italy: energy and sustainability; advanced manufacturing and supply chains; culture and sports; and innovation and entrepreneurship,” said Al-Falih.

Talking about the energy sector, the minister noted that Saudi Arabia and Italy could become partners in green technologies, as the Kingdom leads the sustainable journey in the region from the front.

“With regards to energy and sustainability, the Kingdom is an ideal partner, including for decarbonized hydrogen – blue and green – given our plans and projects to lead the world in clean energy production, just as we have been global leaders in traditional energy for 80 years,” said Al-Falih.

He further added: “Our green hydrogen project at NEOM through ACWA Power and Air Products is by far the largest of its kind in the world and also Aramco has the world’s most ambitious program for products and export of blue hydrogen.”   

Reiterating Saudi Arabia’s aim to become a global tourism destination, Al-Falih said that the Kingdom wants to attract 100 million visitors by 2030.   

“I believe we have the right offerings — including AlUla, the Red Sea project, the Qiddiya entertainment park, as well as concert halls, cultural centers, and film and music festivals for our vibrant, young, and rapidly growing population,” he said.   

Al-Falih added: “But achieving these ambitious targets will require investments exceeding €250 billion — and we can clearly also learn a lot from you in this space.” 

He went on to say that Saudi Arabia’s gross domestic product has already achieved a cumulative growth rate of 66 percent since the launch of Vision 2030.    

Speaking to Arab News after his address to the forum, Al-Falih said Saudi Arabia has become one of the top 10 countries in attracting foreign investment. 

“The size of foreign investments is satisfactorily good,” the minister said, adding that such ventures by non-Saudi entities increased by over 30 percent in 2022 compared to the previous 12 months, and is likely to rise during this year. 

He revealed that his ministry will soon announced the number of investments the Kingdom has managed to attract. 

Al-Falih went on to say: “Saudi Arabia is not only attracting investments in petrochemicals and energy (sectors). We are also attracting investments in sectors like digital technology, health, tourism, culture, and logistics. 

"The world’s biggest companies are now investing in the Kingdom, and these companies see Saudi Arabia as an investment-attracting environment.” 

Commenting on the MoUs signed in Milan, Al-Falih said: “Today’s MoUs covered several sectors with energy, especially renewable energy, on top of these sectors.

"We also signed agreements in the health (sector), and this is a good thing since Italy is an advanced country in the health sector. There were also agreements in construction and industry sectors.” 

Meanwhile, Al-Falih invited Italy’s Minister of Enterprise Adolfo Urso to Riyadh to consolidate cooperation between the two countries and foster collaboration between companies.   

Mufleh Al-Shammari, communication and media vice president at the National Transformation Program Center, told Arab News that the NTP had had a successful forum, and expressed his enthusiasm about the event and the organization’s role in helping the Saudi investment environment evolve.

“NTP aims to develop the necessary infrastructure and create an environment that enables the public, private, and non-profit sectors to achieve the Kingdom’s Vision 2030,” he said, adding: “Launched in 2016, NTP is assigned with 35 percent of the Vision’s goals, which are 34 out of 96 strategic objectives. It works with seven leading entities and more than 50 participating entities, including the Ministry of Investment.”

When asked about NTP’s role in improving the investment environment, Al-Shammari said that Vision 2030 aims to position Saudi Arabia among the top 15 economies in the world, and NTP launched many platforms and initiatives to promote and attract high-quality investments to the Kingdom, including the “Invest Saudi” initiative which organizes forums around the world to market the Kingdom as an attractive destination for enterprise.  

“Currently, it only takes one day and two documents to obtain an investment license in Saudi Arabia,” Al-Shammari said.

Al-Shammari also highlighted the results of NTP’s collaborative work with the Ministry of Investment, saying: “Saudi Arabia had the fastest growing economy of all G20 countries in 2022. In quarter one 2023, the Kingdom’s GDP growth reached 3.9 percent, surpassing most G20 countries.”

According to the organizing committee, the forum was attended by over 1,100 participants, of which 70 percent were from Italy and 26 percent from Saudi Arabia. The attendees included business leaders, government officials, policymakers, and investors.  

Saudi Monsha’at and Social Development Bank ink deal to boost SME financing

Saudi Monsha’at and Social Development Bank ink deal to boost SME financing
Updated 8 sec ago

Saudi Monsha’at and Social Development Bank ink deal to boost SME financing

Saudi Monsha’at and Social Development Bank ink deal to boost SME financing

RIYADH: Saudi small and medium enterprises are set to receive a finance boost thanks to a new deal signed by the Kingdom’s Social Development Bank. 

The cooperation agreement, inked with the country’s SME general authority, also known as Monsha’at, will see the authority joining the bank’s Entrepreneurs Program, the Saudi Press Agency reported.  

This collaboration aims to provide the necessary financing solutions and facilities for the growth of SME projects and the expansion of their businesses. 

The program is a financing product aimed at supporting the assets and operating costs of new business entities in the Kingdom. 

This initiative aligns with Monsha’at’s objective to bolster the growth and competitiveness of SMEs by collaborating with strategic partners from various sectors, both locally and globally. The goal is to create an enabling environment and foster a leading society.  

Furthermore, it resonates with the bank’s vision to be pioneers in empowering social development tools and enhancing the financial independence of individuals, families, and entities toward a vibrant and productive society. 

Saudi Arabia rises 9 spots in WEF’s global tourism index

Saudi Arabia rises 9 spots in WEF’s global tourism index
Updated 14 min 11 sec ago

Saudi Arabia rises 9 spots in WEF’s global tourism index

Saudi Arabia rises 9 spots in WEF’s global tourism index

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia has climbed nine spots to rank 41 on a global tourism index – marking the Gulf region’s largest improvement – thanks to its strengthening infrastructure, corporate presence, and major business centers. 

According to the World Economic Forum’s Travel & Tourism Development Index report, Saudi Arabia has recorded the most significant improvement in the Middle East and North Africa region since 2019. 

The WEF’s TTDI, covering 119 economies, measures the set of factors and policies enabling the sustainable and resilient development of the tourism and travel sector, which, in turn, contributes to a country’s development. 

The report highlighted that the tourism sector in high-income economies within the region, particularly the Gulf Cooperation Council, benefited from several factors. These included high-quality infrastructure, such as major aviation hubs and leading airlines, the presence of large corporations and significant business centers driving travel activities, and a favorable business environment. 

“In part, these efforts are reflected in broad increases in government T&T spending as a share of budgets, loosened visa requirements, improvements in the establishment and promotion of cultural resources, and the highest regional average for T&T capital spending per employee in the index,” the report added. 

In the index, the UAE stands out as the top performer in the region overall and the Middle East subregion, ranking 18th. Meanwhile, Egypt, with a ranking of 61st, stands out as the top scorer in the North Africa subregion, the report revealed. 

The US, Spain, and Japan hold the top three positions in the index with no change in ranking from 2019. Meanwhile, France and Australia have climbed two ranks each from 2019 to secure the fourth and fifth positions. Germany and the UK also feature in the top 10 but with a minor fall in their positions to sixth and seventh in 2024 compared to 2019. China, Italy, and Switzerland hold the remaining three positions in the top 10. 

The WEF findings also pointed out that travel and tourism activities in developing economies in the region often face challenges, including less attractive business environments, safety and security concerns, and gaps in the necessary transport and tourism infrastructure. 

Furthermore, many countries in the region have implemented policies and invested substantial resources to develop the tourism and travel sector. This effort aims to diversify their economies and reduce dependency on the oil and gas industry, according to the report. 

Saudi Arabia is set to unveil a new tourism strategy later this year, leveraging artificial intelligence and seamless technology, Gloria Guevara Manzo, chief special adviser at the Ministry of Tourism, told Arab News on the sidelines of the Future Aviation Forum. 

She added that the plan aims to enhance the Kingdom’s cultural, historical, and hospitality assets. 

In 2023, Saudi Arabia’s travel sector surpassed expectations, prompting a revision of its Vision 2030 targets from 100 million to 150 million visits by 2030.  

Additionally, the Kingdom has introduced regulatory changes, such as the “Visiting Investor” visa and the expansion of the GCC unified visa service, to attract more international visitors and investors.  

Major projects like NEOM, Riyadh Air, and the Red Sea Project are central to these efforts, aiming to make tourism a significant revenue source by 2030. 

The WEF also noted that the tourism and travel sector in the region would benefit from reducing travel and trade restrictions and making significant investments in environmental sustainability to support future improvements in natural resources.  

However, it warned that the recent escalation of regional conflicts and the resultant increase in safety and security concerns pose a major external risk to future tourism development. 

ICAO summit in Riyadh shows recognition of Saudi Arabia’s role in aviation sector: GACA president

ICAO summit in Riyadh shows recognition of Saudi Arabia’s role in aviation sector: GACA president
Updated 23 min 12 sec ago

ICAO summit in Riyadh shows recognition of Saudi Arabia’s role in aviation sector: GACA president

ICAO summit in Riyadh shows recognition of Saudi Arabia’s role in aviation sector: GACA president

RIYADH: The decision of the International Civil Aviation Organization to host its Facilitation Global Summit in Riyadh underscores Saudi Arabia’s leading position in the sector, an official said. 

Abdulaziz Al-Duailej, president of the Kingdom’s General Authority of Civil Aviation, noted that Riyadh’s selection to host the summit also recognizes the Kingdom’s outstanding contributions to the international civil aviation community.

The ICAO Facilitation 2024 Global Summit was launched in Riyadh on May 21, in conjunction with the Future Aviation Forum being held in the Saudi capital. 

During the event’s opening speech, Al-Duailej highlighted that the summit is an opportunity to share various initiatives GACA has implemented in the Kingdom to elevate the passenger experience. 

The gathering includes 30 speakers and more than 500 aviation experts and specialists who will discuss the industry’s opportunities and challenges. 

The GACA president further noted that the authority has implemented a monitoring and inspection program to ensure that Saudi international airports comply with the standards and recommendations outlined in ICAO’s Annex 9 directives. 

“Annex 9 — Facilitation is based on 10 articles of the Chicago Convention which require that the civil aviation community comply with laws governing the inspection of aircraft, cargo and passengers by authorities concerned with customs, immigration, agriculture and public health,” according to the ICAO website. 

It added: “Under the Convention, States are obligated to adopt standards and expedite the necessary formalities in order to minimize operational delays.” 

Al-Duailej pointed out that Saudi Arabia is cooperating with international aviation authorities and continuing its investments in advanced safety technologies to provide passengers transiting the Kingdom’s airports with a smooth travel experience. 

For his part, Salvatore Sciacchitano, president of ICAO, said that the summit will empower aviation mechanisms globally. 

Speaking to Arab News on May 21, Sciacchitano said that Saudi Arabia is a “model” for sustainable practices in the aviation sector, as the Kingdom’s growth in the industry aligns with global standards. 

He also predicted that global air traffic will reach 11.5 billion by 2050, up from the current 4.6 billion. 

Sciacchitano added that the technological revolution will accelerate the aviation sector’s growth, allowing the world to accommodate more airplanes in the sky and more space on the ground. 

GCC banks’ net profit surge 10.5% to 14.4bn: Kamco Invest

GCC banks’ net profit surge 10.5% to 14.4bn: Kamco Invest
Updated 53 min 43 sec ago

GCC banks’ net profit surge 10.5% to 14.4bn: Kamco Invest

GCC banks’ net profit surge 10.5% to 14.4bn: Kamco Invest

RIYADH: Net profit of banks in the Gulf Cooperation Council region surged by 10.5 percent year-on-year in the first quarter of 2024 to $14.4 billion, an analysis showed.

In its latest report, Kamco Invest said that the bottom line performance of these banks also witnessed a rise of 11.8 percent in the first quarter compared to the previous three months. 

The study added that an increase in lending continued in the region despite higher borrowing costs. 

“The strong growth came despite a fall in revenues during the quarter and reflected a fall in total operating expenses coupled with a steep fall in quarterly impairments,” said the asset management company. 

According to the analysis, banks in Saudi Arabia registered the most robust growth in the first quarter of 2023 at 3.3 percent, while gross credit data for UAE banks showed an increase of 1.1 percent during the first two months of the year. 

“Data on listed banks showed gross loans reaching a record high of $2.02 trillion at the end of the first quarter of 2024, registering a quarter-on-quarter growth of 1.8 percent while aggregate net loans reached $1.92 trillion after a sequential growth of 2.3 percent,” the report added. 

Kamco Invest revealed that customer deposits grew at a much stronger pace during the quarter as depositors eyed higher interest income. 

The report noted that total customer deposits in the GCC region reached $2.45 trillion at the end of the first quarter after witnessing the most extensive quarter-on-quarter growth in for a year at 2.8 percent. 

However, in the first quarter, the total revenue of listed banks in the GCC region fell for the first time in 12 quarters to $31.4 billion due to the impact of elevated interest rates. 

According to the analysis, the first quarter registered a flattish gain in total interest income, reaching $50.5 billion, with the yield on credit averaging at 4.3 percent, in line with the trend over the last three quarters. 

However, the continued rise in interest expenses, which reached $29.3 billion for the quarter, more than offset the growth in interest income

On the other hand, aggregate non-interest income declined for the first time in six quarters during the first quarter to reach $10.2 billion, from $10.7 billion in the last three months of 2023. 

“Non-interest income also witnessed a decline during the quarter after a fall in other interest income more than offset a growth in management fees and commission income during the first quarter of 2024,” the report added.

Saudi point-of-sale spending drops 6.9%: SAMA data

Saudi point-of-sale spending drops 6.9%: SAMA data
Updated 22 May 2024

Saudi point-of-sale spending drops 6.9%: SAMA data

Saudi point-of-sale spending drops 6.9%: SAMA data

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s point-of-sales spending registered a 6.9 percent decline in the third week of May, compared to the previous seven days, reaching SR11.65 billion ($3.11 billion), official figures showed. 

The latest data from the Saudi Central Bank, also known as SAMA, revealed that spending on beverages and food, which accounts for the largest share at 15 percent, saw a 9.3 percent decline, reaching SR1.77 billion, during the week from May 12 to 18. 

Meanwhile, transactions at restaurants and cafes, holding a 14.8 percent share, recorded a slower decline of 5.4 percent, amounting to SR1.73 billion. 

Saudi spending on miscellaneous goods and services, which include personal care items, supplies, maintenance, and cleaning, constituted the third-highest share and witnessed a 7.1 percent decline in that week, reaching SR1.44 billion. 

Despite comprising only 1 percent of the week’s overall POS value, spending on education recorded the largest decline, dropping 23.2 percent to SR152.33 million. 

In recent years, this sector has received the highest proportion of government spending compared to other areas of the economy. The education system is being overhauled to better prepare the national workforce to compete in an increasingly technology- and information-driven global economy. 

The telecommunications sector experienced the second-largest decline in POS transaction value, dropping 10.1 percent to SR95 million. 

According to data from SAMA, approximately 35 percent of POS spending occurred in Riyadh, with the total transaction value reaching SR4.04 billion. However, this represents a 5.4 percent decrease from the previous week.  

Riyadh has experienced significant expansion, becoming a central hub for growth and development. Numerous new businesses are establishing operations in the city, attracted by its dynamic economic environment and strategic opportunities for investment and innovation. 

Spending in Jeddah followed closely, accounting for around 14 percent of the total and reaching SR1.65 billion; however, it marked a 6.2 percent weekly decline. 

The two cities that registered the highest declines in POS spending were Hail and Tabouk, with decreases of 10.5 percent and 10.4 percent, respectively. The value of transactions in Hail reached SR176 million, while in Tabouk it was SR221 million.