Investment opportunities in Saudi Arabia abound beyond major cities 

Investment opportunities in Saudi Arabia abound beyond major cities 
As Saudi Arabia steers toward a more resilient and inclusive economy, the growing fascination with these areas underscores the evolving priorities guiding the Kingdom’s economic trajectory. (SPA)
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Updated 20 April 2024
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Investment opportunities in Saudi Arabia abound beyond major cities 

Investment opportunities in Saudi Arabia abound beyond major cities 
  • Decentralized development shifts attention away from the cities to the lesser-explored corners of the Kingdom

JEDDAH: In the heart of Saudi Arabia, amidst the towering skylines of Riyadh, Jeddah and Dammam that have long symbolized the nation’s economic strength, a new narrative is taking shape. It is a story of decentralized development, where attention is shifting away from the bright lights of the cities to the lesser-explored corners of the Kingdom.
In recent years, there has been a noticeable pull towards the untapped potential of smaller towns and regional municipalities, captivating the interest of investors, entrepreneurs, and policymakers alike.
This shift marks a departure from the traditional belief that growth is solely concentrated in urban centers, signaling a fresh era of exploration and diversification.
As Saudi Arabia steers towards a more resilient and inclusive economy, the growing fascination with these areas, which had not received much attention before Saudi Vision 2030 was announced, underscores the evolving priorities and ambitions guiding the Kingdom’s economic trajectory.
Talat Hafiz, a renowned economist, told Arab News that the focus on developing small towns, helps to limit internal movement of people to urban and large cities to seek job opportunities and look for better living.
“It also supports the government efforts in reaching comprehensive sustainable economic development,” he said.




Economist Talat Hafiz

Commenting on what sectors or industries within these smaller towns are experiencing the most significant growth, Hafiz said that the case differs from one place to another as each city has its own economic characteristics and competitive advantages.
“In some towns, tourism is the most competitive advantage while the industrial sector is more competitive and advantageous in the others,” he pointed out.
The economist noted that Saudi Vision 2030 has fostered the capabilities of local planning decentralization, which would allow municipalities to undertake tasks that boost the city in collaboration with the private sector.
He added that that, as a result, several small towns and cities have been upgraded to the level of urban cities which in turn has improved the infrastructure and public services.
“Boosting the capability of small towns is coupled with the development of universities and medical and educational facilities, which in turn has attracted investment, created job opportunities and limited internal immigration,” Hafiz said.
Nasser Al-Qaraawi, another economist, said that Saudi Vision 2030 took into consideration the need to alleviate congestion within major cities due to the excessive focus on them.


He added that the excessive population density in these major cities, compared to other cities, has made life difficult, noting that ineffective urban planning strategies contributed to the overcrowding, especially by young people seeking job opportunities and education.
“This was followed by the aftermath of the stock market crisis in 2006,” he told Arab News.
Al-Qaraawi added that when the 2030 plan was announced, developing areas surrounding the larger cities and less developed regions were given the opportunity for growth.
However, he further said, these regions unfortunately vary in success as some municipalities are unable to perform to their full potential due to bureaucratic hurdles.
Al-Qaraawi recommended restructuring the municipalities, as development indicators highlight the pressing need to catch up and enact meaningful change within these local governments to fulfill the state’s goals and meet the citizens’ aspirations.
Investment opportunities in smaller municipalities include the following:

Diverse investment opportunities in EP municipality 

Eastern Province’s urban administration has unveiled 362 diverse investment opportunities, spanning cities and governorates.

Covering over 20,000 assets across 116 million sq. m., the initiative includes sectors like infrastructure, transportation and tourism. Investors were urged to capitalize on incentives like contractual extensions and exemption periods.

These investment portfolios serve as a database for significant investment growth in the region, according to the Saudi Press Agency.

Jazan as key investment hub, coffee capital
With its significant port and refinery, Jazan has experienced a surge in investment, driven by rapid infrastructure expansion. The economic zone aims to attract SR11 billion ($2.93 billion) in foreign investments by 2040, leveraging its untapped mining reserves. The region is poised to become a hub for the mining sector, projected to be Saudi Arabia's third pillar of industry.
Additionally, Jazan’s integrated economic center is expected to generate 17,000 direct jobs by 2040 and contribute significantly to the gross domestic product.
During the Cityscape Global Exhibition, held in Riyadh from Sept. 12-13 last year, Jazan Municipality announced 5,000 investment opportunities to be launched from 2023 to 2027, with a total value exceeding SR5 billion.
Among the most prominent developmental and investment projects presented were the Jazan Gateway, Water Park City, Al-Wadi Park, and Jazan Private University as well as Jazan Private Medical City.
On the other hand, the region’s renowned coffee industry adds to its cultural heritage, with plans for the International Saudi Coffee Exhibition to support local farming initiatives and transform Jazan into a global trade center.
The Sustainable Rural Agricultural Development Program has provided more than SR155 million in support to the coffee sector, benefiting over 3,000 farmers. The Ministry of Environment, Water, and Agriculture, in collaboration with the private sector, is implementing various projects, including opportunities for coffee cultivation.

Northern Borders region attracts more investors 

The Kingdom seeks to establish a logistics zone in Arar, where investors will be granted land plots, according to Minister of Commerce Majid Al-Qasabi, who made the statement during his speech at the Northern Borders Investment Forum, held in November 2023.  
According to a release issued by the Arar Municipality in January 2024, Saudi Arabia’s Northern Borders region saw a 58.3 percent growth in factory numbers in the third quarter of 2023, with total investment hitting SR74.3 billion. 
The statement added that the area, driven by a strategic regional development office, attracted increased corporate spending for business setups during that period, rising from SR73.9 billion in the third quarter of 2023.
In February 2023, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman announced the establishment of the Strategic Office for the Development of the Northern Borders region to enhance the quality of life in the area. 

Asir region to exploit huge tourism potential

In September 2021, the crown prince unveiled a SR50 billion tourism strategy for Asir, aiming to attract over 10 million visitors by 2030. Dubbed “The Arabian Highland,” the plan entails comprehensive development, focusing on cultural and natural assets to establish Asir as a year-round destination.

Projects include enhancing tourist attractions on Asir’s mountains, leveraging the region’s rich culture and heritage for social and economic growth. The strategy taps into Asir’s tourism potential, emphasizing geographical diversity and modernizing infrastructure.
In October 2023, the crown prince announced a master plan for the new Abha International Airport, increasing capacity to accommodate 13 million passengers annually and enhancing air connectivity to 250 destinations, aligning with Saudi Vision 2030.
In the same month, he launched Ardara Co. to develop the Abha Valley project, contributing to Saudi Arabia’s National Tourism Strategy to position the Kingdom as a global tourism hub by 2030. These initiatives create opportunities across sectors like hospitality, agriculture, and entertainment, bolstering private sector growth. 

Taif attracts investments of over SR11 billion

Investment agreements exceeding SR11 billion were announced on the first day of the Taif Investment Forum, held in November 2023, according to the Saudi Press Agency. 
Under the theme “Invest in Taif,” the three-day forum saw active participation from industry leaders in the UK, China and South Korea. Several high-ranking officials from Saudi government agencies and the private sector also attended. 
Sultan Al-Saadoun, the general supervisor of the forum, emphasized that the investment agreements are the result of partnerships between the public and private sectors in over 27 projects.
He added that these projects will create more than 10,000 job opportunities for the people of Taif of both genders.  
Ghazi Al-Quthami, president of the city’s Chamber of Commerce and Industry, underscored Taif’s potential for investments in various sectors, such as tourism, agriculture, industry, and healthcare.
He added that the chamber is actively collaborating with relevant entities to expand investment opportunities in the city. 

Al-Jouf provides 700 investment opportunities in 2023

The municipality of the northern region of Al-Jouf, which is home to the Sakaka solar power plant, announced in February 2024 it had introduced more than 700 opportunities in the municipal sector of the region during 2023 through the ‘Furas’ municipal investment portal.
The region’s mayor, Atef Al-Shara’an, emphasized the municipality’s commitment to presenting the available investment opportunities to investors in accordance with the plans of the Ministry of Municipal and Rural Affairs and Housing, and the goals of Vision 2030 of the Kingdom, according to SPA.

Al-Shara’an added that the investment opportunities presented during the past year varied between major, medium, small, and temporary opportunities in all commercial, recreational and tourist as well as sports, service, seasonal events, and other fields.
Recently, the region’s mayoralty announced the bid opening for eight commercial and residential investment opportunities for national investors and institutions at Al-Esawia sub-municipality. The bid evaluation meeting is scheduled for April 15.

Yanbu emerges as entertainment hub 
A contract worth SR1.1 billion has been granted to build a new entertainment hub in Yanbu to boost economic diversification in Saudi Arabia.
The contract was awarded by Public Investment Fund subsidiary Saudi Entertainment Ventures, also known as SEVEN, to a joint venture between Al Bawani Co. and UCC Saudi, according to a press release.
The statement emphasized that the entertainment hub will be located along the seafront promenade on Al Nawras Island, aiming to greatly enhance the city’s local entertainment scene.
In a press statement, issued in September 2023, SEVEN said that the company is investing more than SR50 billion to build 21 entertainment destinations across Saudi Arabia.  
The company has earlier announced that it had already begun construction works on its entertainment destinations in the Al Hamra district of Riyadh and Tabuk. 

Buraidah Municipality unveils 28 investments opportunities

The Qassim region, home to Buraidah city, stands as a province abundant in natural and agricultural resources. Notably, it hosts the Middle East’s only bauxite mine, yielding approximately 5 million tonnes of ore and contributing to the Kingdom’s aluminum production of 1.8 million tonnes in 2020.
The Buraidah Municipality has recently unveiled 28 investment opportunities for the first quarter of 2024.
These opportunities encompass a wide range of sectors, from commercial, health, and tourism activities to transportation, construction, and entertainment projects. Additionally, investors can explore prospects in agriculture, education, and other sectors, promising diverse avenues for growth and development.

It is apparent that, by tapping into regional potential and spreading development initiatives, the Kingdom aims to reduce reliance on oil revenues, stimulate job creation, and foster widespread prosperity, in line with the goals of Saudi Vision 2030.
 


EU states give final endorsement to AI rules

EU states give final endorsement to AI rules
Updated 17 sec ago
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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 21 May 2024
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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 21 May 2024
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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 21 May 2024
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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.