Latin American SMEs keen to collaborate with Saudi Arabia

Latin American SMEs keen to collaborate with Saudi Arabia
In Argentina and Brazil – two major animal protein exporters to the Middle East – most of the trade with Saudi Arabia is conducted by big companies, but SMEs are gradually increasing their participation in that exchange. (Shutterstock)
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Updated 10 February 2024
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Latin American SMEs keen to collaborate with Saudi Arabia

Latin American SMEs keen to collaborate with Saudi Arabia
  • Kingdom diversifying economy away from oil by exploring all available opportunities

SAO PAULO: Saudi Arabia is in overdrive to diversify its economy away from oil by exploring all available opportunities available domestically and abroad.

This very quest took Saudi Investment Minister Khalid Al-Falih to several nations in Latin America between July and August 2023. The aim of the tour was to explore avenues for economic cooperation.

The Kingdom does not seem to be focused only on forging closer ties with big businesses, as is evident from the establishment of a $5 million fund to support small and medium enterprises in Paraguay.

According to the Paraguayan authorities, the resources will be used to form a guarantee fund with up to 10 times the initial investment. The money may be important to boost many businesses in the country, affirmed Guillermina Imlach, who heads an association of industrial SMEs in Paraguay.

“In the country, about 98 percent of all companies are small or medium-sized. Most of them don’t have access to credit, so they can’t make the necessary investments,” she told Arab News.

In order to be able to reach the Middle Eastern markets, Paraguayan SMEs need to improve their productivity first, Imlach said.

“That could be possible with the association of a number of companies that operate in the same segment,” she said. The Saudi fund may help them in that direction.

Colombia, a South American country where Saudi Arabia doesn’t have an embassy, exported goods worth about $80 million to the Kingdom between October 2022 and October 2023. The majority of the items were produced by SMEs, such as imitation jewelry and jewelry, millinery, and perfumes.

“There is much room for smaller companies to grow and enter the Saudi market,” Cecilia Porras Eraso, president of the Arab Colombian Chamber of Commerce, told Arab News. 

These companies are very diversified in terms of their fields of activity and certainly investments such as those sponsored by the Saudi funds could have a special impact on the commercial relationship between Brazil and Saudi Arabia.

Osmar Chohfi, president of Arab Brazilian Chamber of Commerce

The chamber recently became associated with a company that assists businesses from the Arab world that want to establish a branch in Colombia.

“That can be made through partnerships with Colombian companies, including SMEs,” Porras Eraso said.

In Argentina and Brazil — two major animal protein exporters to the Middle East — most of the trade with Saudi Arabia is conducted by big companies, but SMEs are gradually increasing their participation in that exchange.

In 2021, the number of Argentinian SMEs exporting to the Middle East grew 5 percent and reached a total volume of $247 million, with some 30 percent of it going to Saudi Arabia. Most of those exports involved agribusiness products, but industrial items were also part of that list.

During an event for SMEs in Brazil in August of 2023, Tamer Mansour, CEO of the Arab Brazilian Chamber of Commerce, affirmed that a new cycle is beginning in the relationship between the two nations in terms of investment and partnerships. 

“I see (Al-Falih’s) visit as a great sign that Saudi public funds want to come and invest here. This is why medium and small companies, cooperatives, and industries outside of hubs such as Rio Grande do Sul, Santa Catarina, and Sao Paulo must be on the radar,” he said.

According to Osmar Chohfi, president of the chamber, the great potential of Saudi investments in Brazilian SMEs is “evident.” 

“These companies are very diversified in terms of their fields of activity and certainly investments such as those sponsored by the Saudi funds could have a special impact on the commercial relationship between Brazil and Saudi Arabia,” he told Arab News.

In Chohfi’s opinion, Brazilian SMEs operating in segments like clothing, shoes, construction materials, and food and beverages are among the most promising ones to receive Saudi investment.

In Argentina, several small companies have been taking part in international events and getting access to the Arab market, especially those in the field of food and beverage, Walid Al-Kaddour, secretary-general of the Argentine-Arab Chamber of Commerce, told Arab News.

“There’s a great potential not only from SMBs in the agribusiness, but also for companies in the pharmaceutical and medical products segment, in the logging industry, metal tubing, and materials for the oil industry,” he said.

Al-Kaddour argues that Saudi investors should privilege private partners and look to establish joint ventures with local partners.

“That should not involve only large companies, but also smaller businesses,” he said. 

HIGHLIGHT

Colombia, a South American country where Saudi Arabia doesn’t have an embassy, exported goods worth about $80 million to the Kingdom between October 2022 and October 2023. The majority of the items were produced by SMEs, such as imitation jewelry and jewelry, millinery, and perfumes.

Alfredo Abboud, secretary-general of the Argentinian Chamber of Commerce and Services for the UAE, argues that SMEs should gather in order to be able to gain scale and associate with Saudi investors or get into the Kingdom’s market.

That is something that he himself accomplished. Abboud, who owns the alfalfa company Cadaf, and his associate Gabriel Osatinsky, owner of another business, Calif, which also produces the crop, gathered in a project to promote a long-term partnership between a group of Argentine alfalfa firms and Saudi irrigation companies.

“Our idea is to bring irrigation equipment to Argentina from Saudi Arabia and exchange it for products of human or animal nutrition,” he told Arab News.

Over the past three years, Argentina faced long periods of drought, which affected its rural production, including alfalfa. 

“We couldn’t meet the entire demand of exports and needed irrigation equipment. That’s when Osatinsky came up with the idea of working on that partnership,” he said.

The duo has been gathering other alfalfa producers with the goal of attaining 100,000 hectares of irrigated fields. A Saudi irrigation company will establish a branch in Argentina to supply the equipment and accompany the production.

“Paying the Saudi investment with a commodity they need generates a virtuous cycle. It’s more than just selling and buying,” Abboud added.

He said that it would be difficult for a small alfalfa producer to cater to the Saudi market alone. But, by associating with other producers, it’s possible. 

“SMEs from other areas of activity can certainly do the same,” he concluded.


EU states give final endorsement to AI rules

EU states give final endorsement to AI rules
Updated 21 May 2024
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EU states give final endorsement to AI rules

EU states give final endorsement to AI rules
  • The EU says the law will protect citizens from AI’s dangers while harnessing the technology’s potential in Europe

RIYADH: EU states on Tuesday gave their final backing to landmark rules on artificial intelligence that will govern powerful systems like OpenAI’s ChatGPT.

The European Parliament had already approved the law in March and it will now enter into force after being published in the official EU journal in the coming days.

The EU says the law will protect citizens from AI’s dangers while harnessing the technology’s potential in Europe.

First proposed in 2021, the rules took on greater urgency after ChatGPT arrived in 2022, showing generative AI’s human-like ability to produce eloquent text within seconds.

Other examples of generative AI include Dall-E and Midjourney, which can produce images in nearly any style with a simple input in everyday language. The law known as the “AI Act” takes a risk-based approach: if a system is high-risk, a company has a tougher set of obligations to fulfill to protect citizens’ rights.

There are strict bans on using AI for predictive policing and systems that use biometric information to infer an individual’s race, religion or sexual orientation. Companies will have to comply by 2026 but rules covering AI models like ChatGPT will apply 12 months after the law becomes official.

Pledge

The world’s leading companies pledged at the start of a mini summit on AI to develop the technology safely, including pulling the plug if they can’t rein in the most extreme risks.

World leaders are expected to hammer out further agreements on artificial intelligence as they gathered virtually to discuss AI’s potential risks but also ways to promote its benefits and innovation.

The AI Seoul Summit is a low-key follow-up to November’s high-profile AI Safety Summit at Bletchley Park in the UK, where participating countries agreed to work together to contain the potentially “catastrophic” risks posed by breakneck advances in AI.

The two-day meeting — co-hosted by South Korea and the UK — also comes as major tech companies like Meta, OpenAI and Google roll out the latest versions of their AI models.

They’re among 16 AI companies that made voluntary commitments to AI safety as the talks got underway, according to a British government announcement. 

The companies, which also include Amazon, Microsoft, France’s Mistral AI, China’s Zhipu.ai, and G42 of the UAE, vowed to ensure safety of their most cutting edge AI models with promises of accountable governance and public transparency.

The pledge includes publishing safety frameworks setting out how they will measure risks of these models.


Saudi Arabia is a model of sustainable aviation practices: ICAO official

Saudi Arabia is a model of sustainable aviation practices: ICAO official
Updated 32 min 38 sec ago
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Saudi Arabia is a model of sustainable aviation practices: ICAO official

Saudi Arabia is a model of sustainable aviation practices: ICAO official

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia is a “model” for sustainable practices in the aviation section, said president of the International Civil Aviation Organization Council.

In an interview with Arab News during the Future Aviation Forum in Riyadh, Salvatore Sciacchitano emphasized the Kingdom’s position as an emerging leader in sustainable aviation. 

Speaking about the global agenda to reduce carbon emissions, Sciacchitano said: “Saudi Arabia is in this sense a model because their plan of development is in the perspective of sustainability. This is very positive.” 

“They have projects for low-carbon emission fuels. That means fossil fuels but to produce reduced emissions thanks to green energy that is used for the production. So this is a good direction,” he added.  

The ICAO official highlighted the importance of adhering to international standards and practices, saying that Saudi Arabia’s aviation growth aligns with global standards.  

He stated: “The regulations are there, we call SARPs, standards and recommended practices, these are applicable all over the world to all 193 (member) states of ICAO.” 

Highlighting the role of the Kingdom’s General Authority of Civil Aviation, Sciacchitano praised the support of the authority to the Regional Safety Oversight Organization, which is a way to put resources together at the regional level. 

“Let me say that the GACA is well advanced in terms of programs, projects, training, and also providing support at (the) regional level,” he said. 

“In this sense, Saudi Arabia is well prepared, not just to support its own development, but also to support the development of the region,” he added. 

Sciacchitano said ICAO is there to support its member states. Although he believes that the Kingdom is fully capable of achieving its goals independently. “We absolutely support them with our expertise,” he added. 

Sciacchitano predicted a significant increase in global air traffic, with the number of passengers expected to reach 11.5 billion by 2050, up from the current 4.6 billion.  

He emphasized the need for technological advancements to accommodate this growth, stating that technologies will allow the world to accommodate more airplanes in the air and more space on the ground. 


Pakistan approves petrol, diesel supply deal between Aramco, GO Petroleum

Pakistan approves petrol, diesel supply deal between Aramco, GO Petroleum
Updated 32 min 3 sec ago
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Pakistan approves petrol, diesel supply deal between Aramco, GO Petroleum

Pakistan approves petrol, diesel supply deal between Aramco, GO Petroleum

KARACHI: The Competition Commission of Pakistan has granted a time-bound exemption on relevant clauses of a product supply agreement between Saudi oil giant Aramco and Gas & Oil Pakistan Ltd.,  known as GO Petroleum, for the import and sale of petrol and diesel products to Pakistan, the CCP said on Tuesday.

Aramco Trading Co. Fujairah FZE Ltd. is one of the world’s largest integrated energy and chemicals companies, while GO Petroleum is an oil-marketing company registered in Pakistan that operates a network of retail outlets across the country that sell petrol, diesel and lubricants.

Under the agreement, ATC Fujairah intends to meet GO Petroleum’s demand for essential petroleum products for its outlets, which primarily includes petrol and diesel.

“The parties submitted to the CCP that this arrangement is expected to achieve economies of scale in procurement for GO Petroleum, potentially resulting in better prices for Pakistani consumers,” the CCP said in a statement.

“The exemption sought was on exclusivity aspects of the commercial agreement to supply 100 percent demand of imported products for GO Petroleum’s retail outlets. The CCP has accordingly granted exemption on the product supply agreement with certain conditions included therein.”

The CCP grants exemptions pursuant to Section 9 of the Competition Act, 2010, ensuring that such exemptions have economic benefits that outweigh anti-competitive effects.

“The CCP’s conditions stipulate that both parties must refrain from engaging in anti-competitive activities. Importantly, the exemption does not include approval on any pricing terms and mechanisms related to the products,” the CCP statement read.

“Additionally, as the agreement has referred to certain off specification products, however approval of concerned sector regulator should be ensured for import and sales. The applicants have also been directed to ensure required approvals on their terminals and storage facilities by relevant authorities to be used in the execution of this agreement.”

Subject to the conditions, the CCP said, it had granted the exemption until June 2026 and both applicants could approach it for an extension with required details and also identifying the benefits that have accrued to the improved distribution network of petroleum products and enhanced competition in the market.

Last month, the CCP approved Saudi oil giant Aramco’s move to acquire a 40 percent stake in Go Petroleum, officially marking the Saudi company’s entry into Pakistan’s fuels retail market.

The CCP said it had authorized the merger after determining the acquisition would not result in the acquirers’ “dominance” in the relevant market post-transaction. The acquisition would help bring much-needed foreign direct investment in Pakistan’s energy sector, contributing to economic growth and development of the country, it added.

In February 2019, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia inked investment deals totaling $21 billion during the visit of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to Islamabad. The agreements included about $10 billion for an Aramco oil refinery and $1 billion for a petrochemical complex at the strategic Gwadar Port in Balochistan.

Both countries have lately been working to increase bilateral trade and investment, and the Kingdom recently reaffirmed its commitment to expedite an investment package worth $5 billion.


Saudi Arabia to reveal new innovative tourism strategy in 2024: top official

Saudi Arabia to reveal new innovative tourism strategy in 2024: top official
Updated 37 min 30 sec ago
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Saudi Arabia to reveal new innovative tourism strategy in 2024: top official

Saudi Arabia to reveal new innovative tourism strategy in 2024: top official

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia is set to unveil a new tourism strategy this year utilizing artificial intelligence and seamless technology, according to a top official.

Speaking to Arab News in an interview on the sidelines of the Future Aviation Forum 2024, Gloria Guevara Manzo, chief special adviser at the Ministry of Tourism, noted that the plan seeks to maximize the Kingdom’s assets including culture, history, heritage and hospitality.

“Right now, the ministry, under the leadership of his excellency, is developing the new strategy, and that new strategy is going to include several new things, such as the use of AI, for instance, seamless and many other technologies that are important for growth,” Manzo said.

She added: “(The) strategy, hopefully is going to be released this year and is going to be shared with the world. The strategy that we have right now was developed in 2019. We accomplished the milestone of the 100 million tourists, domestic and international, seven years ahead (of schedule).”

Manzo also discussed the importance of sustainability so people are still “enjoying” the world today while ensuring resources are preserved for future use

This concept involves multiple facets, including economic, environmental, and social considerations.

“For 30 years, we have been measuring and that’s why we know that 10 percent of the global gross domestic product before the pandemic (came from travel and tourism), and we’re going to reach that number this year again,” Manzo said.

She added that before the COVID-19 outbreak there were 330 million jobs in the industry, adding: “This year, we’re hoping to break a record with 348 million. One out of 10 jobs depends on this sector, so the economic aspect is very clear. The social aspect also is quite interesting — 54 percent women, 30 percent youth.”

Manzo emphasized the positive social impacts of travel and tourism, such as poverty reduction and the prevention of illegal migration by providing local job opportunities.

Despite these benefits, there had been a lack of clear measurement regarding the sustainability of this industry.

However, a significant study sponsored by Saudi Arabia, particularly by Minister of Tourism Ahmed Al-Khateeb and the ministry, addressed this gap.

Released last year, this provided comprehensive insights into the environmental impact of travel and tourism, revealing that 8.1 percent of greenhouse emissions are attributable to this sector.

“Now that we know that, then we can go industry by industry to understand what is the impact, and from that 8 percent, 47 percent is due to transportation and it could be aviation, it can be road, it can be cruising all the different aspects,” she said.

Manzo added: “Now, the reality is that aviation counts between 1.5 and 2 percent of the global emissions. But as I said in the panel, we cannot see this in an isolated approach. We need to see this from a holistic point of view. We need to understand what are the quick wins.”

Therefore, she noted that this does not mean stopping flying is the solution, as it has “very severe consequences.”

She said: “Millions of people can lose their jobs. We saw that during the pandemic, travel provides food on the table to millions of people from around the world. That’s a factor that we have to consider.” 

Mazo stated that the right approach should be finding ways to travel in a more sustainable way, as she referred to a statement by Saudi Energy Minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman ,when he said that the Kingdom is leading this transition.

Furthermore, the adviser stressed the importance of the Future Aviation Forum as it reflects the significance of connectivity within and outside the Kingdom as emphasized by Al-Khateeb on the first day.

“We need to increase the connectivity within the Kingdom, to the Kingdom and of course outside in order to increase the trade and do business and have more exports, more imports, and all of the above,” she stated.

Manzo continued: “In that regard it is very important to continue with the partnerships, not only at the destination level, but also at the corporate level and with the different entities, with the government. Without transport, we don’t have tourism, and tourism is very important for transport also to grow.”

 

 

 


Saudi Arabia closes May sukuk issuance at $860m 

Saudi Arabia closes May sukuk issuance at $860m 
Updated 21 May 2024
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Saudi Arabia closes May sukuk issuance at $860m 

Saudi Arabia closes May sukuk issuance at $860m 

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia has completed its riyal-denominated sukuk issuance for May at SR3.23 billion ($860 million), according to the National Debt Management Center. 

In April, Saudi Arabia issued sukuk amounting to SR7.39 billion, while it was SR4.44 billion and SR7.87 billion in March and February respectively. 

NDMC revealed that the Shariah-compliant debt product for May was divided into two tranches.

The first tranche valued at SR71 million is set to mature in 2029, while the second one amounting to SR3.16 billion is due in 2036. 

In March 2024, NDMC concluded its second government sukuk savings round, with a total volume of requests reaching SR959 million, allocated to 37,000 applicants.

NDMC, at that time, said that the financial product, also known as Sah, offers a return of 5.64 percent, with a maturity date in March 2025. 

In April, a report released by S&P Global said that sukuk issuance globally is expected to hover between the $160 billion to $170 billion mark in 2024, representing a steady momentum from $168.4 billion in 2023 and $179.4 billion in 2022. 

According to the US-based firm, the issuance of this Shariah-compliant debt product began on a strong footing in 2024, with Saudi Arabia becoming a key contributor to the performance. 

The credit rating agency also noted that the sukuk market will continue to grow in the near term driven by financing needs in core Islamic finance countries, along with the ongoing economic transformation programs which are currently underway in nations like Saudi Arabia. 

“The market has started 2024 on a strong footing, with total issuance reaching $46.8 billion at March 31, 2024, compared with $38.2 billion at March 31, 2023. Saudi Arabia was a key contributor to this performance,” said S&P Global. 

It added: “The drop in issuance volumes in 2023, which mainly resulted from tighter liquidity conditions in Saudi Arabia’s banking system and Indonesia’s lower fiscal deficit, was somewhat compensated by an increase in foreign currency-denominated sukuk issuance.” 

In April, another report released by Fitch Ratings also echoed similar views and noted that global sukuk issuance is expected to continue growing in the coming months of this year. 

Fitch noted that economic diversification efforts and the rapid development of the debt capital market in the Gulf Cooperation Council region will propel the growth of the sukuk market in the coming months.