Saudi Arabia announces national plan to stimulate urban policies by 2025

Saudi Arabia announces national plan to stimulate urban policies by 2025
The comments were made at the Global Smart City Forum. AN
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Updated 12 February 2024

Saudi Arabia announces national plan to stimulate urban policies by 2025

Saudi Arabia announces national plan to stimulate urban policies by 2025

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia plans to stimulate urban policies to ensure coordinated services for residents by 2025 as part of its efforts to boost quality of life, says top minister. 

Speaking during the opening remarks of the first Global Smart City Forum held in Riyadh, the Kingdom’s Minister of Municipal and Rural Affairs and Housing Majid Al-Hogail, announced that this will come as Saudi Arabia is set to build a national model named the Digital Twin.

The minister underscored the significance of Vision 2030 as a transformative journey for Saudi Arabia, emphasizing its role in instilling passion, hope, and ambition among citizens and outlining its strategy for urban development.

 We also continue, with great ambition, to build one of the most prominent national applications and models, the Digital Twin, which is transforming the way we plan and operate our cities,” Al-Hogail said.

He continued: “By 2025, we will be able to simulate the impact of our urban policies, plan for emergencies and disasters, and connect more agencies and residents in the joint design of cities with us.”

The minister described the progress made by Saudi cities in the field of smart technology and urban development, saying: “Our goal is for at least 10 Saudi cities to be among the top 50 global cities by achieving the factors of governance, sustainability, and interaction with the population, meeting their aspirations, and achieving high prosperity for them.” 

He added: “Last year, four of our vibrant cities were classified within the Smart Cities Index. This exceptional journey toward transformation has enabled us to benefit from technology, artificial intelligence and data to make a real and tangible impact in municipalities.”

Showcasing an example of utilizing technology to improve city services and infrastructure, Al-Hogail stated that in Jeddah a waste management solution was developed using emerging technical innovations such as the Internet of Things to plan and monitor operations effectively.

“The result is that we reduced violations related to waste and hygiene by 25 percent to reach a cleaner city to avoid the disruption of residents resulting from the movements of cleaning crews in Dammam on the Arabian Gulf coast,” he said.

The minister continued: “We have provided an application that manages more than 20,000 parking spaces, through which access to the most crowded areas has been facilitated to achieve a seamless experience for residents to find available parking spaces.”

Additionally, Saudi Arabia reduced traffic congestion on the roads leading to major conference venues in Riyadh by 36 percent last year, compared to 2022, according to Abdullah Al-Ghamdi, president of the Saudi Data and AI Authority.

During the opening remarks, Al-Ghamdi underlined that this is driven by the government’s effort to utilize the national smart city platform.

“We gather today and tomorrow to achieve three main objectives and vision sustainable smart cities of the future, enhance governance, smart city initiatives globally for the government, stimulate businesses to invest in building smart solutions,” Al-Ghamdi stated.

Adding: “In the year 2023, the combined efforts of the government entities utilizing smart city has contributed to a 36% reduction in traffic congestion of the roads network leading to the venue of a major conference in Riyadh, in comparison with the 2022.”

He also noted that algorithms and models were developed to detect visual pollution in streets using weekly footage of the Kingdom’s main cities.

This initiative, which was undertaken in collaboration with the Ministry of Municipality, aimed to sustain urban scenery and improve the overall quality of life.

“During the last Hajj season, in collaboration with the Ministry of Interior, we supported traffic and cloud management in one of the world’s most challenging event scenarios with several advanced analytics and AI solutions,” Al-Ghamdi said.

“This resulted in reducing the waiting time at the entrance gate of Makkah region significantly,” he continued.

Al Akaria inks deal with Marriott to introduce Autograph hotel brand in Riyadh 

Al Akaria inks deal with Marriott to introduce Autograph hotel brand in Riyadh 
Updated 22 February 2024

Al Akaria inks deal with Marriott to introduce Autograph hotel brand in Riyadh 

Al Akaria inks deal with Marriott to introduce Autograph hotel brand in Riyadh 

RIYADH: Riyadh is set to welcome a new 280-key luxury hotel following an agreement signed by Saudi Real Estate Co., also known as Al Akaria.      

The deal with Marriott International will introduce the Autograph Collection brand to the Saudi capital, paving the way for the opening of the new hotel, according to a statement.   

Scheduled to commence construction in 2025, the hotel is anticipated to welcome visitors by 2028 upon its completion, the release added.   

Ibrahim Al-Alwan, CEO of Al-Akaria Real Estate Co., said: “We are confident that this collaboration will set new standards in luxury hotel hospitality in the region.”    

This step reflects Al Akaria’s commitment to promoting tourism and hospitality in Riyadh, aligning with the goals of the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 to create appealing destinations for residents and visitors.   

It also contributes to Saudi Arabia’s aspiration to strengthen its position as a recognized international tourist destination.  

Moreover, the new hotel will contribute to the development of a mixed-use destination, featuring commercial facilities, restaurants, and entertainment areas. 

According to Chadi Hauch, regional vice president of lodging development in the Middle East at Marriott International, the tourism industry in the Kingdom is currently undergoing a rapid and visually striking transformation, providing them with various opportunities to expand their presence accordingly.  

In December, Marriott International announced the commencement of construction for a Ritz-Carlton in the historic town of Diriyah.  

Preceding this, in November, the hotel operator inked an agreement with Saudi's Sela Sport to develop two new luxury hotels in the country. 

In September, the hospitality firm revealed plans for hotels from two of its brands in NEOM’s mountain destination, Trojena. The development includes a W Hotel and a JW Marriott facility, solidifying the partnership between the hospitality giant and the giga-project, according to a statement released at the time.

WTO’s Ministerial Conference in Abu Dhabi to address decentralization of global supply chains

WTO’s Ministerial Conference in Abu Dhabi to address decentralization of global supply chains
Updated 22 February 2024

WTO’s Ministerial Conference in Abu Dhabi to address decentralization of global supply chains

WTO’s Ministerial Conference in Abu Dhabi to address decentralization of global supply chains

RIYADH: Abu Dhabi is set to host the World Trade Organization’s Ministerial Conference focused on reshaping global trade dynamics, according to the intergovernmental body’s director general.

Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala highlighted in an interview with the Emirates News Agency from Geneva the importance of this discussion slated to take place from Feb. 26 to 29.

She said that this gathering will see talks on various topics, such as decentralizing global supply chains, fostering a more inclusive international trade landscape, and ensuring the participation of marginalized communities in multinational development efforts.

Okonjo-Iweala stressed that many private-sector investors currently adopt the “China+1” model, where they diversify supply chains beyond the Asian economic giant to countries like Vietnam, Indonesia, or India.

“We have no problems with that. But we are saying there is also China plus Morocco, China plus Brazil, China plus Senegal, China plus Bangladesh. So, there are many countries that are ripe for investment,” Okonjo-Iweala said.

The focus on decentralization aims to encourage investors to reshape global supply chains and drive employment opportunities. Okonjo-Iweala underlined that for the world to enhance resilience, the private sector must invest in developing countries with conducive investment environments.

She highlighted the multifaceted benefits of such investments, stating: “You can help deal with the resilience of supply chains. You can help deal with inequality by investing in developing countries. You can help create jobs.”

Reflecting on the significance of the WTO’s 13th Ministerial Conference being hosted in Abu Dhabi, Okonjo-Iweala expressed gratitude to the UAE for its commitment to multilateralism and global solidarity. 

She added that collaboration with the Emirati authorities in organizing a meeting that will bring together more than 7,000 people in Abu Dhabi has been highly positive.

MC13’s agenda includes pioneering discussions on various contemporary issues ranging from trade and environment to climate change, sustainability, and inclusion. 

Okonjo-Iweala stressed the importance of addressing the challenges faced by marginalized populations and integrating developing countries, especially women and small enterprises, into the global supply chain.

Additionally, MC13 will celebrate the accession of new WTO members – Timor-Leste and Comoros – for the first time in eight years. Discussions will also revolve around reforms in the dispute settlement system and negotiations on digital trade, fisheries subsidies, and more.

As the world navigates complex economic and environmental challenges, MC13 stands as a platform for fostering dialogue, cooperation, and inclusive trade policies to drive sustainable global development.

Saudi Fund for Development set to enhance Tunisia’s railway network with loan

Saudi Fund for Development set to enhance Tunisia’s railway network with loan
Updated 22 February 2024

Saudi Fund for Development set to enhance Tunisia’s railway network with loan

Saudi Fund for Development set to enhance Tunisia’s railway network with loan

RIYADH: Tunisia’s railway network is set to improve as the Saudi Fund for Development is expected to finalize a loan agreement during its visit to the African country’s capital.

The development came as Sultan Al-Marshad, CEO of SFD, and Saudi delegates initiated their Tunisia visit on Feb. 21, focusing on discussions to enhance development collaboration between the two sides. 

SFD’s visit to the country aims to finalize a development loan agreement for the renovation and development of the phosphate transport railway, the Saudi Press Agency reported. 

Welcomed by Tunisian Prime Minister Ahmed Al-Hachani, Al-Marshad engaged in talks to strengthen cooperation, and support social and economic growth in various Tunisian regions.  

During his visit, the CEO also participated in a housing unit handover ceremony in Zaghouan governorate. 

SFD has been extending financial aid and development loans to Tunisia since 1975. 

In July 2023, Saudi Arabia granted $400 million as a soft loan and $100 million as a grant to bolster Tunisia’s economy.  

Established in 1974, SFD has funded over 800 development projects valued at $20 billion across more than 100 countries globally. 

In December 2023, during the Tunisian-Saudi Joint Commission held in Tunis, Finance Minister Sihem Boughdiri Nemsia said that her country is ready to consolidate constructive cooperation with the Kingdom to achieve the development goals of both nations.  

During the same event, Saudi Minister of Industry and Mineral Resources Bandar Alkhorayef noted that the Kingdom wishes to become an active partner in Tunisia’s economic activities.  

“Given that Tunisia enjoys important mineral resources such as iron, copper, lead, and a significant phosphate reserve, we hope to explore more investment opportunities in these areas and obtain operational concessions in Tunisia,” said Alkhorayef, as reported by the Tunisian News Agency, Tunis Afrique Presse. 

During the December visit, Alkhorayef engaged in meetings with Tunisian officials, including Minister of Trade and Export Development Kalthoum ben Rejeb. The discussions focused on exploring avenues to boost Saudi non-oil exports to Tunisia. 

He also met with Tunisia’s Minister of Agriculture, Water Resources, and Fisheries, Abdelmonem Belati, to discuss plans for formalizing a memorandum of understanding in the field of water resources. 

PIF to acquire stake in Saudi construction giant Binladin Group – reports

PIF to acquire stake in Saudi construction giant Binladin Group – reports
Updated 22 February 2024

PIF to acquire stake in Saudi construction giant Binladin Group – reports

PIF to acquire stake in Saudi construction giant Binladin Group – reports

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund is set to take a 36 percent stake in the Kingdom’s construction giant Binladin Group, according to Bloomberg. 

While PIF did not offer an official response to the report, Bloomberg said the fund is “working with Morgan Stanley on a potential deal to buy into Saudi Binladin Group,” citing people with knowledge of the matter. 

“The PIF, as the $700 billion wealth fund is known, is considering acquiring part or all of the 36 percent stake owned by the ministry of finance, the people said, asking not to be identified because the discussions are private,” reported Bloomberg. 

It added that the sovereign wealth fund is looking to local firms to build the infrastructure needed to host showcase events such as the World Expo. Spokespeople for Morgan Stanley and PIF declined to comment. 

Representatives for Binladin couldn’t be reached for comment, according to the outlet. The Kingdom’s fund is helping Saudi Arabia boost its transition from oil and overseeing several giga-projects such as NEOM. 

Bloomberg said PIF spent $1.3 billion last year to acquire stakes in four local construction companies to bolster the Kingdom’s domestic construction industry.

Saudi Binladin Group operates in three categories, including construction, power, and industrial.

On the construction side, SBG has worked on more than 15 building projects in Saudi Arabia, including the expansion of the Holy Mosque in Makkah and Al-Faisaliah Tower in Riyadh.

Internationally, the group’s projects include Kuala Lumpur Airport, Sharm El-Sheikh Airport in Egypt as well as Sharjah International Airport and Fujairah International Airport in the UAE.

In the power generation sector, SBG worked on Al-Shoaiba Power Plant and Power Plant No.9, also known as PP9, which generates a capacity of 5,980 megawatts and was built on an area of 3.2 million sq. m.

Also, Binladin Group’s industrial project encompassed the BCS Ready Mix Factory and the Bahra Industrial Complex.

In a press statement earlier this month, PIF revealed it had acquired a 40 percent stake in the Zamil Offshore Co., one of the largest Saudi-based offshore support vessel operators. 

According to the wealth fund, this transaction is a part of the fund’s wider strategy to contribute to the development of the Kingdom’s energy base. 

In January, PIF increased its stake in Japan-based video game firm Koei Tecmo to 6.60 percent from 5.56 percent. Similarly, in February 2023, PIF raised its stake in Nintendo Co. to 8.26 percent from 7.08 percent, making it the largest outside investor in the Japanese gaming company. 

Last month, the fund also acquired a 23.8 percent stake in Middle East Paper Co., one of the leading manufacturers specializing in producing and recycling paper products in the region.

Pakistan aiming to increase trade with Saudi Arabia to $20bn: minister

Pakistan aiming to increase trade with Saudi Arabia to $20bn: minister
Updated 22 February 2024

Pakistan aiming to increase trade with Saudi Arabia to $20bn: minister

Pakistan aiming to increase trade with Saudi Arabia to $20bn: minister

RIYADH: Pakistan wants to increase its trade with Saudi Arabia to $20 billion, up from the current $5.7 billion, through enhancing business conditions, according to a top official.

The Saudi-Pakistani Business Forum kicked off in Riyadh on Feb. 22 under the patronage of Minister of Commerce Majid bin Abdullah Al-Qasabi, organized by the Federation of Saudi Chambers, according to the Kingdom’s official press agency. 

During the event, Pakistan’s Minister of Commerce Gohar Ejaz highlighted the role of the Free Trade Agreement between the Gulf Corporation Council countries and his nation in opening up opportunities for investors from both regions. 

He expressed his ambition to increase trade volume to $20 billion by improving the business environment between the two countries and encouraging the private sector, especially since Pakistan represents a significant market and opportunity for Saudi investors. 

Chairman of the Federation of Saudi Chambers Hassan Al-Huwaizi noted the leaps in trade exchange between the Kingdom and Pakistan, which reached $5.7 billion, adding that Pakistan now ranks 20th in the list of Saudi trading partners, with broader prospects for partnership and Pakistani investors in Vision 2030 projects. 

The Kingdom is home to over 2.7 million Pakistani expatriates, serving as the top source of remittances for the cash-strapped South Asian country. 

“Remittance inflows during Jan. 24 were mainly sourced from Saudi Arabia ($587.3 million), United Arab Emirates ($407.6 million), United Kingdom ($362.1 million) and United States of America ($283.4 million),” the State Bank of Pakistan said in a press release.

Ejaz pointed out that the agreement provides protection and guarantees for Saudi and Gulf investments, explaining that the forum comes within Pakistan’s interest in developing its relations with the Kingdom and benefiting from Vision 2030 projects.

The minister of commerce emphasized in a speech, conveyed by Acting Deputy Governor of the Foreign Trade Authority’s Deputyship of Private Sector Affairs and Global Presence Fawaz bin Rafaah, the significant role played by the private sectors of Saudi Arabia and Pakistan in developing the volume of trade exchange, as reported by the Saudi Press Agency. 

Fahd Al-Bash, president of the Saudi-Pakistani Business Council, revealed several initiatives and projects the council is working on in cooperation with investors from both countries. 

These include launching a portal for rice importers from Pakistan, establishing a technology center in Riyadh, a halal meat center in Makkah, as well as a market for Pakistani products in the Kingdom and joint petrochemical industries to meet the needs of the market. 

Forum participants discussed the opportunities and initiatives provided by Vision 2030 for Pakistani investors, as well as the investment options available to Saudi businessmen in Pakistan across various targeted economic sectors. 

During the forum, the ministry of investment screened a presentation titled “Invest in Saudi Arabia,” covering the financial environment and opportunities in the Kingdom.

The Agricultural Development Fund also presented its services and efforts in agricultural sector development. 

Additionally, the Saudi Export-Import Bank showcased its efforts and services in developing Saudi exports and serving exporters, while the Pakistani Investment Council reviewed the investment opportunities available in Pakistan.

Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has directed a study to increase the Kingdom’s investments in Pakistan to $10 billion. 

He also advised the Saudi Fund for Development to explore opportunities for enhancing the Saudi deposit to the Central Bank of Pakistan, aiming to reach $5 billion.