AI flexibility vital to UK-GCC free trade deal: British official

Special AI flexibility vital to UK-GCC free trade deal: British official
The Arab-British Economic Summit in London. (X: @ABCCnews)
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Updated 20 November 2023

AI flexibility vital to UK-GCC free trade deal: British official

AI flexibility vital to UK-GCC free trade deal: British official
  • Tom Wintle: ‘I can vouch that both sides are working flat out’
  • Baroness Symons urged both sides to ‘confront the greatest challenge of our time’ — climate change

LONDON: A special “innovation chapter” will need to be part of a UK-Gulf Cooperation Council trade deal to ensure artificial intelligence developments do not throw up barriers to commerce, Britain’s chief negotiator at the Department of Business and Trade said on Monday.

Speaking at the Arab-British Economic Summit in London — organized by the Arab-British Chamber of Commerce, with Arab News as a media partner — Tom Wintle said the pace of change in the technology sector is something his team is worried about “quite a lot” as it comes to thrashing out a deal with his GCC equivalents.

He told an audience of government officials, senior executives, thought leaders and decision-makers that the fifth round of talks on a free trade agreement were recently concluded in Riyadh, but he was unable to set out a clear timeframe for when a deal would be reached.

Wintle assured the audience that both sides are working “flat out” to secure an agreement to boost the already £61 billion ($76.05 billion) in trade between the UK and GCC.

Reflecting on the impact of the growth of the global AI sector on the talks, he said: “How we try and capture innovation has been one of the UK’s key considerations.”

Wintle explained that recent FTAs involving the UK often featured an innovation chapter, something he wants replicated in the GCC agreement.

“Our hope would be, and what we’d wish to do with our GCC colleagues, is … for something like AI we may have a commitment to regulators meeting often, exploring, exchanging, so as these regulations that we can’t know now what they’ll look like in five, 10 years hence, you have the experts talking, learning from each other, sharing best practice, so as new regulations come in they’re ideally designed in such a way of enhancing trade rather than potentially throwing up future barriers,” he said.

Reflecting on the negotiations, which began in August 2022, Wintle said he is mindful that e-commerce must play a key role in any agreement.

“What we’ve heard a lot from businesses, and what we’re looking to achieve, is to lock in legal certainty on electronic transactions so businesses can make greater use of things like e-contracts, e-signatures, paperless trading, which our data and analysis shows can cut costs by up to 87 percent, which is crucial particularly for SMEs (small and medium enterprises),” he said.

Wintle flagged greater cooperation in digital identities, online identification and electronic invoicing as areas that will benefit trade between the GCC and the UK.

Speaking about the progress of the talks, he echoed previous statements by the British government that it is “about the deal, not the date,” adding: “Certainly I can vouch that both sides are working flat out, but it’s about getting the right agreement.

“It’s reaching that modern, progressive and ambitious agreement that really delivers for businesses.”

The event, held under the theme “Sustaining an Emerging Vision,” saw sessions on a range of topics, including water, food and health provisions, and the evolution of banking, finance and insurance.

At the opening session, business figures and government officials hailed expanding economic ties between the Arab world and the UK, but warned that the looming threat of an escalation in the Gaza conflict threatens to undermine years of economic progress.

In his opening remarks, Sameer Abdulla Nass, president of the Union of Arab Chambers, warned that “prosperity can’t exist without stability.”

He called on businesspeople, both British and Arab, to “influence their governments” and push for peace in Gaza.

Hosted by TV anchor Rebecca McLaughlin, the opening session also featured Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean; Bandar Ali Reda, ABCC secretary-general and CEO; and Mohamed Al-Khadar Al-Ahmed, CEO of Khalifa Economic Zones Abu Dhabi.

Also in attendance were Arab League Secretary-General Ahmed Aboul Gheit; Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon, UK minister of state for the Middle East; and Oliver Christian, British trade commissioner for the Middle East and Pakistan at the Department of Business and Trade.

Symons opened her remarks by hailing the myriad opportunities for expanded Arab-UK trade in finance, technology, energy, medicine and agriculture.

She urged both sides to “confront the greatest challenge of our time” — climate change — at the upcoming UN Climate Change Conference in the UAE.

Investments between the Arab world and the UK are “guided by strategies implemented by visionary leaders who are absolutely determined to address the core needs of their citizens,” Symons said.

She added that friendship between the two sides is “absolutely pivotal,” hailing the “dynamism” shown by the Arab world, and lauding the “strategic” role played by Arab embassies and ambassadors in the UK.

Ali Reda said the size and scope of the summit’s third edition demonstrates the strength of relations and history between the Arab world and the UK.

Lord Ahmed, who recently returned from the Manama Dialogue in Bahrain — which gathers national leaders, ministers and policymakers from around the world to discuss the most pressing regional security issues and share policy responses — said: “As we join here this morning, in the spirit of friendship, in the spirit of collaboration, it would be remiss of me, indeed for any of us, not to begin by reflecting on what’s happening right now across Israel, Gaza, and sadly in the West Bank. The intensity of what’s happening is reflected on the level of engagement.”

He added: “In bridging that particular gap, we need to move forward. The suffering (in Gaza) has gone on for far too long. No one, unless you’re directly impacted, can comprehend the pain and suffering.

“It’s important at this time that our conversations are frank and candid, and when we have differing perspectives, (remember) that ultimately, the goal that we all want to see is peace in the Middle East.

“If we don’t address that central, pivotal issue, we won’t see progress and we’ll be back here again.”

Saudi Arabia’s real estate supply reservations more than double

Saudi Arabia’s real estate supply reservations more than double
Updated 06 December 2023

Saudi Arabia’s real estate supply reservations more than double

Saudi Arabia’s real estate supply reservations more than double

RIYADH: Citizens in Saudi Arabia are gaining greater access to residential units as the real estate supply reservations surged 110 percent year on year in November to reach 12,503, according to new figures.    
The Kingdom’s National Housing Co. announced that residential units were sold at competitive prices starting from SR250,000 ($66,649) compared to the previous year’s rates, in which the lowest contract amounted to SR321,000 per residential unit, the Saudi Press Agency reported.
This falls in line with the Gulf country’s plans and strategies to launch several extensive residential projects in order to achieve a balance between population growth and rapid urban expansion.   
This also comes as the rise in population density has led to increased demand for housing, meaning the Kingdom is working to boost the real estate supply to meet this need, aligning with a sustainable urban approach.
This rapid increase in reservations is mainly attributed to the launch of a number of residential projects in various regions, the most prominent of which is the inauguration of the Al-Fursan Suburb in Riyadh which aims to provide the largest real estate supply with a high level of quality and luxury. Other projects include the Sadayem Suburb which was launched in Jeddah along with many housing schemes in distinctive locations within the main cities.
In fact, the number of residential projects reached 46 during 2023, thereby cementing Saudi Arabia’s innovative model for real estate development.
National Housing Co. is the leader and enabler of the real estate development sector and the largest major developer of suburbs and residential communities in the Kingdom characterized by quality of life.  The company pumps more than 300,000 housing units into eight suburbs and six residential communities on an area of more than 120 million sq. meters, accommodating more than 1 million citizens.
It seeks to find solutions to secure supply chains with high quality and more sustainable construction materials, as part of the company’s keenness to increase the real estate supply with residential options according to international standards.
All the firm’s efforts are directed to achieving the goals of the housing program by raising the percentage of residential ownership for Saudi families to 70 percent by 2030.

Council of Ministers to approve Saudi general budget on Wednesday

Council of Ministers to approve Saudi general budget on Wednesday
Updated 05 December 2023

Council of Ministers to approve Saudi general budget on Wednesday

Council of Ministers to approve Saudi general budget on Wednesday

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s Council of Ministers will hold a session on Wednesday to approve the Kingdom’s general budget for the new fiscal year, Saudi Press Agency reported on Tuesday.

A preliminary budget statement issued in October showed predictions of real gross domestic product growing by 0.03 percent this year compared with a previous forecast for growth of 3.1 percent.

The document also projected the government would post a budget deficit of 1.9 percent of the gross domestic project in 2024, 1.6 percent of GDP in 2025, and 2.3 percent of GDP in 2026.

The statement said “limited budget deficits” would continue in the medium term.

Meanwhile, total expenditure was seen as rising to SR1.262 billion in 2023, from an earlier estimate of SR1.114 billion, before slowing down marginally to SR1.251 billion in 2024.

A government press conference will be held on Wednesday, with the participation of Minister of Finance Mohammed Al-Jadaan, during which he will address the state’s general budget for the next fiscal year, and the numbers and indicators of the contents of the budget will be announced.
The finance minister will also answer questions during the conference, which will be broadcast live on Saudi channels.

Saudi Arabia offers tax incentives for companies moving regional HQs to Riyadh

Saudi Arabia offers tax incentives for companies moving regional HQs to Riyadh
Updated 05 December 2023

Saudi Arabia offers tax incentives for companies moving regional HQs to Riyadh

Saudi Arabia offers tax incentives for companies moving regional HQs to Riyadh

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia said on Tuesday it will offer tax incentives for foreign companies that locate their regional headquarters in the Kingdom, including a 30-year exemption for corporate income tax.

The tax incentives include zero income tax for foreign entities that move their regional headquarters in the Kingdom, and these benefits can be availed from the date of the regional headquarters issuance license, according to Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Investment. 

Saudi Arabia’s program to attract foreign companies to open their regional headquarters in the Kingdom is a joint initiative between the Ministry of Investment and the Royal Commission for Riyadh City. 

The regional headquarters program aims to encourage international companies to open their regional headquarters in the Middle East and North Africa region in Saudi Arabia, and to materialize that the Kingdom is offering a wide range of benefits and incentives. 

Saudi Arabia’s Minister of Investment Khalid Al Falih said that Saudi Arabia is offering more incentives to foreign companies which open their regional headquarters in the Kingdom which includes special benefits for firms complying with Saudization requirements. 

He added that the friendly business environment in Saudi Arabia has made over 200 companies relocate their headquarters to the Kingdom. 

Saudi Finance Minister Mohammed Al-Jadaan said: “The new tax exemptions, granted on the activities of regional headquarters of international companies in the Kingdom will give these firms more clarity of vision and stability, which will enhance their capabilities for future planning and expanding their business in the region, starting from the Kingdom,” Al-Ekhbariya reported. 

Earlier in November, Al-Falih said that Saudi Arabia has already surpassed the targets of the regional headquarters program which aimed to attract 160 international firms by the end of this year. 

In an interview with Bloomberg, Al-Falih noted that the regional headquarters program is a long journey and added that the Kingdom is working with international entities to create the right ecosystem to open their offices in Saudi Arabia. 

Some of the noted companies that opened their regional headquarters in Saudi Arabia in recent months are PwC Middle East and GE Healthcare. 

He also added that Saudi Arabia is a stable destination for international investors, at a time of geopolitical tensions and economic headwinds. 

Riyadh, Doha sign multiple deals across various sectors

Riyadh, Doha sign multiple deals across various sectors
Updated 05 December 2023

Riyadh, Doha sign multiple deals across various sectors

Riyadh, Doha sign multiple deals across various sectors

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia and Qatar have signed multiple agreements and memorandums of understanding as both nations continue to strengthen their relationship. 

These deals, which are expected to enhance trade and economic relationships between Saudi Arabia and Qatar, were signed during the 44th Gulf Cooperation Council Summit in Doha on Tuesday. 

Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund and the Qatar Investment Authority signed an MoU to accelerate investments in the energy and infrastructure sector, according to a report by the Qatar News Agency.

Another MoU was signed between Saudi Arabia’s Digital Government Authority and Qatar’s Ministry of Communications and Information Technology to promote cooperation between the two nations in the field of digital governance. 

Saudi Arabia’s Prince Saud Al-Faisal Institute for Diplomatic Studies signed an additional MoU with Qatar’s Diplomatic Institute of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to cooperate in the field of diplomatic training. 

The Saudi Central Bank, also known as SAMA, signed an MoU with its counterpart in Qatar for cooperation between financial institutions. 

Another agreement was signed between the Saudi Authority for Intellectual Property and Qatar’s Ministry of Commerce and Industry to further collaborate in the field of intellectual property. 

An additional cooperation agreement was signed between the Saudi Broadcasting Authority and Qatar Media Corporation to develop relations in the radio and television industries. 

The two countries also signed a memorandum of understanding for cooperation in the fields of sports. 

On Dec.4, foreign ministers of Qatar and Saudi Arabia held a meeting in Doha to develop bilateral relations. 

“Today we held the first meeting of the executive committee of the Qatari-Saudi Coordination Council in Doha, where we discussed ways to develop bilateral relations within the framework of the executive committee,” said Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani, who is also the country’s prime minister. 

During the meeting, Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan and Al-Thani discussed ways to deepen cooperation in areas of mutual interest. 

COP28 president hails global leaders’ practical initiatives at final dialogue

COP28 president hails global leaders’ practical initiatives at final dialogue
Updated 05 December 2023

COP28 president hails global leaders’ practical initiatives at final dialogue

COP28 president hails global leaders’ practical initiatives at final dialogue

RIYADH: COP28 President Sultan Al-Jaber has applauded world leaders for their practical initiatives during the final dialogue, expressing optimism for the continued “open mindset” throughout the remainder of COP.  

This comes as high-level dialogues between the COP28 Presidency and the International Energy Agency received a strong endorsement of practical actions. 

The conclusion of the dialogues, co-chaired by Al-Jaber and the executive director of the IEA, Fatih Birol, marked a significant achievement, bringing together over 40 high-level leaders, including four heads of state and 18 heads of delegation and ministers from diverse regions.  

Al-Jaber said: “I am encouraged by the practical actions brought forward by world leaders today at the final dialogue, and I hope that you take this open mindset and optimism throughout this COP.” 

Addressing the significance of the dialogues, Al-Jaber emphasized the need for collaboration, stating: “This series of dialogues has allowed us to converge on the critical elements of the just energy transition. The transition will not be straightforward, but it will be harder if we cannot agree on its central components.”  

Birol echoed this sentiment, expressing satisfaction at the alignment and support for the IEA’s five goals for COP28.  

These goals include tripling renewable capacity and doubling energy efficiency by 2030, a structured decline in fossil fuel use, commitment from the oil and gas industry to align with 1.5 degrees, and financing mechanisms for clean energy in developing countries. 

The leaders showed strong support for the COP28 presidency’s Global Renewables and Energy Efficiency Pledge, with over 110 countries signing up to the initiative.   

Urgency on the coal front emerged as a key consensus, with a focus not only on preventing new unabated coal plants but also on accelerating the retirement of existing facilities. 

As the final dialogue unfolded during the World Climate Action Summit as part of COP28 in Dubai, heads of state, government leaders, and international organizations convened to solidify their commitment to an orderly energy transition.  

Al-Jaber urged participants to carry the open mind and optimism demonstrated during the final dialogue throughout COP28, reinforcing the importance of collective action in addressing the pressing challenges of our time.  

This positive momentum sets the stage for further deliberations and collaborative efforts at COP28 UAE, hosted at Expo City Dubai till Dec. 12.