A two-day conference in London, U.K., on investment opportunities in the Kingdom ended today with Saudi experts attesting to the fact that Saudi Arabia is looking forward to a new phase in its development, having completed its preparedness to face globalization in the new millennium. Among the over 500 participants were representatives from the World Bank and international financial institutions, as well as European and Arab businessmen.
During the conference, Governor of the General Commission for Investment (GSI) Prince Abdullah Bin Faisal Bin Turki suggested that investment banks could be set up in the Kingdom specifically to provide loans and investment services. Deputy Governor of the General Corporation for Desalination Abdullah Al-Hussein stressed the importance of investment in the water sector, noting that the Kingdom's population is expected to double by the year 2020. Mr. Alan Thomson of Riyadh Bank reported that Saudi banks are thriving, with assets of over U.S. $ 20 billion; and Dr. Khalid Kurdi of the Saudi American Bank agreed, referring, however, to fierce competition.
The conference was opened yesterday by British Minister of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs Peter Hain, who declared that the United Kingdom was the second largest investor in Saudi Arabia, with around U.S. $ 3.5 billion invested and 90 joint ventures, including the Al-Yamamah economic program.
Chairman of the Saudi Council of Chambers of Commerce and Industry Ismail Abu-Daoud praised trade relations between the two countries, and expressed the desire for greater British imports of Saudi products. In addition, he said, joint projects are desirable in the area of water desalination, power generation, and energy production.
Reviewing economic activity in the Kingdom, Secretary-General of the Chambers of Commerce and Industry Osama Kurdi confirmed the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) as U.S. 139 billion in 1999. During that year, he said, the input of the private sector increased by 8.44 percent, adding that privatization is currently under way for the airline, railways, ports, postal service, municipality projects, power grids, and desalination plants.
At a working session chaired by Ambassador to the United Kingdom and Ireland Dr. Ghazi Algosaibi, GSI's Governor Prince Abdullah stated that the Kingdom's opening up to foreign investment constitutes a challenge to the Saudi commercial community. Undersecretary at the Ministry of Commerce Dr. Fawas Al-Alami spoke of the Kingdom's efforts to join the World Trade Organization (WTO), reporting that Saudi Arabia's share of the global market is 0.9 percent, valued at U.S. $ 5.6 trillion, and that it extends foreign aid in the amount of 4.0 percent of its GDP. The Kingdom, he said, has proven oil reserves of 260 trillion barrels, plus gas reserves of 204 trillion cubic feet.