US automaker Lucid partners with KACST to develop EV technology in Saudi Arabia 

US automaker Lucid partners with KACST to develop EV technology in Saudi Arabia 
The Memorandum of Understanding was signed by the Senior Vice President of KACST for Research and Development Sector. Talal bin Ahmed Al-Sudairi, and the Vice President and Managing Director of Lucid Middle East Faisal Sultan, in the presence of the President of KACST, Mounir bin Mahmoud Al-Desouki, and a number of officials from both sides. Supplied
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Updated 12 May 2024

US automaker Lucid partners with KACST to develop EV technology in Saudi Arabia 

US automaker Lucid partners with KACST to develop EV technology in Saudi Arabia 

RIYADH: US electric vehicle manufacturer Lucid Group and Saudi Arabia’s King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology have inked a pact to boost EV technology development within the Kingdom. 

As part of the deal, the California-based firm, in which Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund holds a significant stake, will collaborate with KACST on joint research, utilizing the institute’s services, facilities, and products for dedicated research into advanced battery technologies and materials.  

Additionally, they will conduct studies in aerodynamics, autonomous driving, and artificial intelligence technologies, according to a press release. 

Faisal Sultan, vice president and managing director of Middle East, Lucid Group said: “Lucid’s goal is to inspire the adoption of sustainable energy by creating advanced technologies. This Memorandum of Understanding marks a key step towards achieving this vision, acting as a catalyst to advance and elevate the entire EV industry and inspire the adoption of sustainable transportation in support of the Kingdom’s vision for a more sustainable and diversified economy.” 

The partnership between Lucid and KACST will also include research on electric vehicles, assessing their performance to ensure they are suitable for the climatic conditions in the Kingdom, the release added. 

The joint research and development headquarters will be established at the national laboratories in KACST and are scheduled to launch during the third quarter of 2024. 

“Using our state-of-the-art facilities, the research conducted under this project will advance electric vehicle systems and aid the development of technologies to support autonomous driving, in line with national aspirations for research, development and innovation in the energy and industry sector,” said Talal bin Ahmed Al-Sudairi, senior vice president of KACST for research and development sector.   

The deal will see Lucid Group and KACST collaborating to leverage their expertise in scientific and technical research. Their joint efforts will focus on developing research programs geared toward creating technical solutions for the transportation and energy sectors, thereby bolstering the national economy. 

In September 2023, Lucid opened its first plant outside the US in Saudi Arabia with an initial capacity to produce 5,000 EVs a year. 

This came as the Kingdom’s government pledged to buy up to 100,000 vehicles from the company over 10 years.  

‘Central Bank Digital Currencies’ can boost Middle East’s financial inclusion: IMF

‘Central Bank Digital Currencies’ can boost Middle East’s financial inclusion: IMF
Updated 20 sec ago

‘Central Bank Digital Currencies’ can boost Middle East’s financial inclusion: IMF

‘Central Bank Digital Currencies’ can boost Middle East’s financial inclusion: IMF

RIYADH: Digital currencies are gaining traction in the Middle East and Central Asia, with countries increasingly considering central bank-issued options to enhance financial inclusion, an analysis said. 

In a blog, the International Monetary Fund noted that economies in these regions are also moving toward digital currencies to improve the efficiency of cross-border payments. 

CBDCs are a form of digital money issued by a central bank, distinct from cryptocurrencies. 

The analysis showed that 19 countries in the Middle East and Central Asia are currently in the research stage of developing nationally-issued digital currencies. 

“Bahrain, Georgia, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE have moved to the more advanced ‘proof-of-concept’ stage. Kazakhstan is the most advanced after two pilot programs for the digital tenge,” said IMF. 

Earlier in June, Saudi Arabia joined a China-dominated Central Bank Digital Currency cross-border trial, according to the Bank for International Settlements.

The trial will see the Saudi Central Bank becoming a “full participant” in Project mBridge, a collaboration launched in 2021 between the central banks of China, Hong Kong, Thailand, and the UAE. 

Project mBridge, overseen by BIS, is a multi-CBDC platform developed to support real-time, cross-border payments and foreign exchange transactions. 

On June 2, the Qatar Central Bank announced the completion of the infrastructure development for its CBDC project.  

In a press statement, QCB said that the move aligns with global advancements in digital currency, aiming to enhance Qatar’s financial sector. 

The apex bank noted that it will start testing and developing selected applications of the CBDC for settling large payments with local and international banks. 

As of March, central banks in 134 countries, accounting for 98 percent of the world’s gross domestic product, were in various stages of evaluating the launch of a national digital currency, according to the Atlantic Council.  

The US think tank also revealed that the Bahamas, Jamaica, and Nigeria have already fully launched a CBDC. 

IMF said that adopting a CBDC, however, requires careful consideration. “Countries across these regions, spanning a diverse group of economies stretching from Morocco and Egypt to Pakistan and Kazakhstan, each must weigh their own unique set of circumstances.” 

Cross-border payments 

According to the IMF, CBDCs can potentially enhance the efficiency of cross-border payment services, which is crucial for oil-exporting countries in the Gulf Cooperation Council region, including Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Qatar, as well as Bahrain, and Kuwait. 

“That’s because cross-border payments tend to have frictions like varying data formats and operating rules across regions and complex compliance checks. CBDCs that address these inefficiencies could significantly cut transaction costs,” said the international financial institution.  

The report added that CBDCs can also promote financial inclusion by fostering competition in the payments market and enabling more direct transactions with less intermediation.  

Moreover, central banks can help keep costs lower as they are not profit-driven like commercial banks. 

“Increased competition in the payments market from a CBDC could also encourage upgrading technology platforms and the efficiency of payment services, helping financial services reach more people,” said IMF.  

Countries in the Caucasus and Central Asia, Middle East and North Africa oil importers, and low-income countries are particularly interested in this potential benefit. 

The IMF further pointed out that designing CBDCs to work offline could promote financial inclusion in areas with unreliable mobile services, such as low-income and conflict-affected regions.  

Additionally, using national digital currencies for cross-border transfers could reduce remittance costs and speed up transfer times. 

Impacts on commercial banks 

The analysis indicated that deposits constitute a significant portion of bank funding in the region, around 83 percent. A CBDC could compete with bank deposits, potentially impacting bank profits and lending, and posing implications for financial stability, the IMF noted. 

However, the report added that financial institutions in the region generally possess adequate capital levels, profit margins, and liquidity buffers, which could mitigate strains on deposits. 

CBDCs could enhance the pass-through into deposit rates by increasing competition among financial institutions, and they could also strengthen the bank lending channel of monetary policy. “However, the impact would likely be country-specific and is difficult to estimate due to limited CBDC uptake so far,” the IMF stated. 

The report emphasized that policymakers play a crucial role in addressing potential risks posed by national digital currencies. It added, “While there are no clear prerequisites for adopting CBDCs, a healthy banking system, a sound legal system, and strong supervisory and regulatory capacity are essential for reducing risks.” 

The IMF suggested that national digital currencies should be carefully calibrated to avoid competition with commercial bank deposits. “Design features are a crucial consideration. Our survey shows that selecting appropriate features for CBDC implementation is a key challenge for regional policymakers,” the report highlighted. 

Introducing national digital currencies will be a long and complex process, and central banks should approach it with care. 

The IMF also urged policymakers to determine if a CBDC serves their country’s objectives and whether the expected benefits outweigh the potential costs and risks to the financial system.  

Saudi Arabia advances preparations for Riyadh Expo as it gives progress report in Paris

Saudi Arabia advances preparations for Riyadh Expo as it gives progress report in Paris
Updated 35 min 25 sec ago

Saudi Arabia advances preparations for Riyadh Expo as it gives progress report in Paris

Saudi Arabia advances preparations for Riyadh Expo as it gives progress report in Paris

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s Expo 2030 will be “by the world, for the world,” the team behind the event have said during the first progress report since Riyadh was elected as host city.

Speaking at the 174th General Assembly of the Bureau International des Expositions in Paris, Abdulaziz Alghannam, director general of the Riyadh Expo 2030 office at the Royal Commission for Riyadh City, emphasized ongoing efforts for Expo registration and preparation for creating the legal framework to enable international participation in the event.

According to a post by Riyadh Expo on X, the delegation also included representatives from the Kingdom’s Public Investment Fund.

Saudi Arabia was elected as host for the 2030 event on Nov. 28, 2023, during the 173rd General Assembly of the BIE, and the Expo is set to take place from Oct. 1, 2030, to March 31, 2031.

It aims to host 197 countries and 29 international organizations.

The theme – “The Era of Change: Together for a Foresighted Tomorrow” – encapsulates Saudi Arabia’s commitment to using the Expo to accelerate progress toward the planned sustainable development goals. The event will focus on harnessing science and innovation for a better future, structured around three inclusive sub-themes.

Since the Kingdom was elected host, preparations have been underway at the highest levels, including infrastructure development and drafting the registration dossier. 

This document will detail the Expo’s legislative and financial measures, the master plan for the Expo site, and legacy plans. 

Once submitted and reviewed, the BIE General Assembly will formally register Expo 2030 Riyadh, allowing Saudi Arabia to invite international participants and advance preparations.

In early May, BIE Secretary-General Dimitri Kerkentzes completed a technical visit to Riyadh, marking the first such trip since Saudi Arabia’s election as host. 

The four-day visit included technical meetings and discussions on the Expo’s plans and the preparation of the registration dossier. 

Kerkentzes met with key Saudi officials, including Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and ministers involved in the project.

The BIE official praised Saudi Arabia’s commitment and expressed eagerness to see the project gain momentum as the registration dossier is completed.

The most recent event, Expo 2020 Dubai, saw over 24 million visits. The next World Expo, Expo 2025 Osaka Kansai, will run from April 13 to Oct. 13, 2025, under the theme “Designing Future Society for Our Lives.”

Oil Updates – prices slip amid war jitters, surprise build in US crude stocks

Oil Updates – prices slip amid war jitters, surprise build in US crude stocks
Updated 19 June 2024

Oil Updates – prices slip amid war jitters, surprise build in US crude stocks

Oil Updates – prices slip amid war jitters, surprise build in US crude stocks

SINGAPORE: Oil prices eased slightly during trade on Wednesday but held near their highest levels in seven weeks, as the market weighed concerns over escalating conflicts against demand worries following an unexpected build in US crude inventories, according to Reuters.

Brent crude futures eased 17 cents to $85.16 a barrel by 9:35 a.m. Saudi time, while US West Texas Intermediate crude was down 22 cents to $81.35 per barrel.

Both benchmarks gained more than $1 in the previous session after a Ukrainian drone strike led to an oil terminal fire at a major Russian port, according to Russian officials and a Ukrainian intelligence source.

In the Middle East, Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz warned of a nearing “all out war” with Lebanon’s Hezbollah, even as the US attempted to avoid a broader conflict between Israel and Iran-backed Hezbollah.

An escalating war in the region raises the prospect crude supply from key producers could be disrupted.

Oil prices had recovered quite strongly in the last two weeks, amid potential disruption risks “in the event of a wider conflict, as geopolitical tensions are brought to a new front between Israel and Hezbollah,” said Yeap Jun Rong, a market strategist at IG in Singapore.

“Any cooling off between both parties seems difficult in the near term, which may keep oil prices well-supported as market participants shrug off pockets of weakness on the economic front, from weaker-than-expected US retail sales to mixed sets of data out of China this week.”

China data this week showed May industrial output lagged expectations, but retail sales, a gauge of consumption, marked their quickest growth since February.

Analysts in an ANZ Research report on Wednesday said a broader risk-on tone across global markets supported crude oil prices. Mixed US economic data for May has boosted bets the Federal Reserve will cut rates sooner rather than later, the analysts added, referring to strong industrial production and retail sales that barely rose.

Fed officials are looking for further confirmation that inflation is cooling and for any warning signs from a still-strong labor market as they steer cautiously toward what most expect to be an interest rate cut or two by the end of this year.

Interest rate cuts could reduce borrowing costs, spurring economic activity and lifting oil consumption.

Capping oil prices however, US crude stocks rose by 2.264 million barrels in the week ended June 14, according to market sources citing American Petroleum Institute figures on Tuesday.

Analysts polled by Reuters had expected a 2.2 million barrel draw in crude stocks.

Gasoline inventories, however, fell by 1.077 million barrels, while distillates rose by 538,000 barrels, the sources said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Official US stocks data from the Energy Information Administration are due at 6.00 p.m. Saudi time.  

Patchi founder and chocolate industry titan Nizar Choucair dies

Patchi founder and chocolate industry titan Nizar Choucair dies
Updated 18 June 2024

Patchi founder and chocolate industry titan Nizar Choucair dies

Patchi founder and chocolate industry titan Nizar Choucair dies

RIYADH: Founder of the globally recognized Lebanese chocolate brand Patchi, Nizar Choucair, has died, leaving behind a legacy in the industry.

Choucair transformed his childhood love for chocolate into a global brand, boasting more than 200 branches worldwide.

In a message on social media, Patchi announced Choucair’s death, posting: “It is with deep sorrow that we announce the passing of Mr. Nizar Choucair, our beloved founder. Mr. Choucair was a man whose warmth and generosity touched everyone who knew him.”

Patchi added: “His visionary approach transformed chocolate into an art that evokes emotions and creates cherished memories. His legacy lives on through Patchi, a brand that has reached hearts across cultures and celebrations. We honor his memory and the extraordinary heritage he built.” 

Choucair was renowned for saying: “In every piece of chocolate, there is a story to be told and a memory to be made.”

The brand’s story began in 1974 when Choucair, driven by his passion for chocolate since the age of 11, introduced the concept of chocolate gifting.

This approach elevated the food to new dimensions, enhancing customer engagement and brand loyalty.

Born in Beirut, Choucair moved to Kuwait at 18, initially working for a gas manufacturing company before returning to Lebanon to launch Patchi.

Patchi employs more than 5,000 people. Shutterstock

In 1990, he received a significant boost when Banque Du Liban gave him an interest-free loan, enabling him to modernize his factory with new machinery.

Starting with a single shop in the Lebanese capital, Beirut, Choucair’s vision and entrepreneurial spirit saw Patchi expand worldwide.

Patchi, now a household name in luxury chocolates, has 203 stores globally, with a strong presence in Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, and Bahrain, as well as Qatar, the UAE, and the UK.

The brand entered the EU market in 1995 with boutiques in Paris and London. By 1999, the company expanded to Africa with a boutique in the Ivory Coast and opened a store in the US in 2000. 

Recognized by Forbes in 2005 as the top luxury brand in the Middle East and the 15th top brand in the region, Patchi continued to grow. 

In 2008, Patchi Silver boutique at Harrods in London was launched, featuring a box of chocolates wrapped in genuine leather and silk, selling for £5,000.

The brand, boasting as many as 62 branches in Saudi Arabia, is celebrated for its premium ingredients and distinctive packaging, all produced in-house. 

In a 2009 interview with The National, Choucair reflected on Patchi’s accessibility: “Our chocolates are not expensive at all. We sell to people who want more expensive, elaborate boxes, but we also sell to the chauffeur who comes to pick it up.”

This inclusive approach helped Patchi become a beloved brand across various demographics, according to Choucair.

The founder’s journey was marked by resilience and adaptability, navigating the challenges of the Lebanese civil war by relocating his family and operations multiple times. Despite these hurdles, his commitment to his brand never wavered. The chocolateries’ expansion continued, with Choucair personally overseeing the opening of new stores worldwide.

Under his leadership, Patchi grew to employ more than 5,000 people, maintaining a family-oriented business ethos. His five children have played active roles in the company, with three of them working alongside him..

Oussama Choucair is currently the CEO of Patchi in the UAE and sits on the board of the company’s conglomerate, which his father founded in Beirut during the 1970s.

Nizar Choucair’s passion for premium chocolate gifting has been passed down to his son, who oversees operations in the crucial UAE market. 

One of Oussama Choucair’s key projects is the construction of a new factory in Dubai Industrial Park, which will become Patchi’s largest manufacturing plant worldwide.

The family remains dedicated to expanding the business into new markets by forming strategic alliances with Armenia, Azerbaijan and Brunei as well as Egypt, Kazakhstan, Kuwait, and East Asia.

In 2012, Patchi launched a new brand identity to refresh its profile and reaffirm its commitment to the values that have made it the top choice for premium chocolate lovers.

The new brand identity was presented in a creative and modern style, reflecting the distinctive and fine quality that Patchi offers through its network of boutiques across Saudi Arabia.

The unveiling event occurred at the Patchi Boutique in Jeddah, attended by Zahid Nuri, then-general manager and co-founder of Patchi in Saudi Arabia.

Nuri stated: “The launch of Patchi’s new identity embodies the company’s dedication to its customers in Saudi Arabia and highlights our commitment to providing the best services, highest quality, and a variety of the most exquisite and finest chocolate gifts. This new identity marks a breakthrough that aligns with Patchi’s significant international expansion, solidifying its position as one of the largest global brands in the chocolate industry.”

Industries must halve emissions, make massive investments for net-zero by 2050: Oliver Wyman

Industries must halve emissions, make massive investments for net-zero by 2050: Oliver Wyman
Updated 18 June 2024

Industries must halve emissions, make massive investments for net-zero by 2050: Oliver Wyman

Industries must halve emissions, make massive investments for net-zero by 2050: Oliver Wyman

RIYADH: Global industries must halve emissions by the end of this decade to reach 2050 net-zero targets, according to a new analysis urging for increased clean energy infrastructure spending. 

In its latest report, compiled in association with BAE Systems, US-based consultancy firm Oliver Wyman emphasized the urgency of preserving clean water, stopping deforestation, and protecting nearly 1 million threatened species to safeguard the planet. 

The UN has set ambitious climate targets, including reducing global emissions by 45 percent by 2030 and achieving net-zero emissions by 2050, in line with the Paris Agreement’s goal of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. 

Governments, particularly major emitters, are called upon to significantly enhance their Nationally Determined Contributions and take immediate, decisive actions to curb emissions, as outlined by the UN. 

Underlining the importance of acting swiftly, the Oliver Wyman report said: “To avoid the worst impacts of climate change and ecosystem degradation, we must cut global emissions in half, halt and reverse nature loss, and achieve climate resilience by the end of this decade.”

It added: “The scale of this challenge is monumental. It requires the wholesale reallocation of capital from brown to green, the transformation of assets and supply chains from climate-vulnerable to climate-resilient, and the protection and restoration of ecosystems on a global scale.”  

The report disclosed that just 1 percent — equivalent to $27 billion — of today’s $2.7 trillion annual infrastructure investment is climate-resilient. 

“By 2030, that $27 billion needs to have grown to $6.9 trillion. In the same period, investment in nature-based solutions must triple to $400 billion a year,” said the consulting firm.  

Supply chain resilience and sustainability  

The report indicates that climate-related supply chain disruptions are increasing globally, yet most firms lack the tools to analyze and manage these rapidly evolving remote risks. 

Oliver Wyman also pointed out that many companies have inadequate visibility into their supply chains and struggle to identify and mitigate vulnerabilities. 

“As many as 85 percent of chief procurement officers are unable to evaluate risks beyond their first-tier suppliers, resulting in significant blind spots,” said the consulting firm.  

It added: “Companies typically attribute over 90 percent of their physical climate risk exposure to direct operations and less than 10 percent to their supply chains, where in reality most of their material disruption risks reside.”  

The study further highlighted that the implementation of AI and remote sensing will transform this landscape, enabling companies to monitor and identify the environmental impact of their material suppliers and dependent infrastructure. 

Moreover, these technologies will allow risk managers and chief procurement officers to analyze data comprehensively, pinpoint their companies’ key strategic exposures, and assess disruption risks, thereby enabling them to address critical vulnerabilities effectively. 

“Companies can begin to monitor their suppliers in real-time, anticipate disruptions, and make informed decisions about how to restructure supply chains to minimize risk,” the report highlighted.  

Earlier this month, another report from the International Energy Agency highlighted the crucial role advanced technologies will play in transitioning to more secure and sustainable energy systems. 

The IEA analysis also noted that the pace of deploying digital technologies in the energy sector will depend heavily on the ability to build a workforce with the right skills. 

Furthermore, the think tank revealed that advanced technologies have the potential to enhance energy efficiency, reliability, connectivity, and reduce emissions. 

Prioritizing sustainable financing 

The Oliver Wyman report emphasizes that companies should categorize their supply chain activities into sustainable and unsustainable operations. This approach provides a clearer understanding of the environmental impact in different areas. 

“With this disaggregated, near real-time view of a corporation’s environmental footprint and physical risk exposure, capital providers will be able to more confidently target sustainable finance toward climate-resilient green projects in brown sectors,” said the report.  

Furthermore, this practice will incentivize transition without starving high-carbon sectors of capital. 

In addition, insurers and banks will gain a comprehensive view of a company’s physical risk exposures across its operations, enabling them to develop customized risk management solutions for critical vulnerabilities. 

The report also underscores that transitioning to a net-zero, climate-resilient future is not only an existential necessity but also a significant opportunity to reshape the global economy. 

“Trillions of dollars a year of investment is needed — in low-carbon technologies and infrastructure, nature-based solutions, resilient supply chains, and new business models,” said the consulting firm.  

It added: “Companies and financial institutions better able to quantify environmental risks and reliably assess how investment opportunities align with transition objectives will have a distinct advantage.”  

Last year, consultancy firm Wood Mackenzie released a report stating that global annual investments of $2.7 trillion are necessary to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050 and prevent temperatures from rising above 1.5 degrees Celsius this century. 

The report emphasized that renewable energy sources such as wind and solar power must become the world’s primary sources of electricity to support the electrification of transport and the production of green hydrogen. 

In April, the IEA highlighted the need to scale up battery production to meet climate and energy security objectives set during the UN COP28 summit held in the UAE last year. 

At the event, nearly 200 countries agreed to triple global renewable energy capacity by 2030, accelerate energy efficiency improvements, and transition away from fossil fuels. 

The report also specified that achieving this goal would require deploying 1,500 gigawatts of battery storage by the end of this decade to support the expanded renewable energy capacity.