Good afternoon. Before I get started, I would like to thank the Nashville Chambers of Commerce, and Mr. John Butler and the International Business Council for hosting this luncheon. And I also want to extend a special thanks to all of our sponsors who have made today possible, including Baker Donelson and Federal Express. Thank you.
I appreciate all of you being able to join me here today. I am sure you have many questions, so I will be sure to keep my remarks brief.
During these past few months, since becoming Ambassador, I have traveled all throughout the U.S. to meet and talk with Americans. I have seen many cities. And I am glad to be in Nashville. It is one of those places you simply must visit, like New York City or New Orleans. From Hank Williams to Willie Nelson, a distinct American heritage has been established here. Because of that, Nashville carries a mystique about it, much like Hollywood. In fact, I’ve heard it said that Nashville is a lot like Hollywood – but without the tan.
From what I’ve learned, though, there’s more to this city than the Grand Ole Opry. Although Nashville is renowned as a major music recording center, it is also a thriving commercial and financial hub. And it has a long history of being one. You only have to look at the grand, classical-style buildings all around the downtown area to appreciate this city’s legacy of economic prosperity.
I think in some ways, though, the glamour of the country music scene overshadows what is at the heart of Nashville. And that is business.
Saudi Arabia faces a similar situation. We’re known for our oil. As the largest producer and exporter of oil in the world, it would be difficult not to be known for our energy supply. But, like Nashville, there is a lot more going on – especially these days.
I would like to take this time to share with you what the Kingdom has been doing to diversify its economy, and expand the opportunities for its citizens. I would like people to know there is more to Saudi Arabia than oil. There is tremendous opportunity.
I say this because, when it comes to Nashville, I don’t believe companies like FedEx, Dollar General, or even Nissan are investing here just for the music. These firms know there is an infrastructure here to support their business. And they know there are people here willing to work hard.
It is the same way with Saudi Arabia. Oil is not enough to bring business to the desert. That is why we have been building the infrastructure for investment. In the past ten years, the Saudi government has enacted many new laws and created nine new regulatory bodies aimed at streamlining commerce and opening up our system to increased investment. And, as of last December, Saudi Arabia is now an official member of the World Trade Organization.
These reforms have led, in recent years, to an unprecedented economic boom. Some say the economic up-turn is a result of oil prices, but I view our performance as an affirmation of our citizens’ confidence in the system.
Over time it will run through its cycles – as we have seen in recent months – but we have laid prudent groundwork. We haven’t just thrown money at our problems. We didn’t just make up a spending list. Ours has been a systematic approach to facilitate considerable investment opportunities for both overseas investors and the Saudi private sector. Many people understand this and the market reflects it.
In fact, last year, the World Bank ranked Saudi Arabia as the best place in the region to do business. I do not think they would make this judgment on the strength of our oil reserves alone.
Saudi Arabia is open for business. And we are doing so for good reason.
King Abdullah wants Saudi Arabia to become a full, contributing member of the global community. We want to see our citizens competing in the world. We want to see our economic reform be a key driver of positive change in our society. Our citizens need to further their education; they need to be employed; and they need to make constructive contributions.
Enabling our citizens to prosper is just one aspect of Saudi Arabia’s efforts to modernize our society and seek positive change. But it is an important one. And I believe we are succeeding.
Currently, there are investment opportunities worth over $650 billion available in the next 15 years. These are in a number of fields, including expanding natural gas industry, growing IT, developing the mining and tourism sectors, healthcare, education, and further privatizing state-owned corporations.
We are even building a planned city on the Red Sea, which will contain all of the most modern facilities to take Saudi Arabia into the next generation of global business and trade. Known as the King Abdullah Economic City, it is intended to create jobs and increase foreign participation.
The project broke ground last December, and will cost over $26 billion. The city will feature one of the largest deep-water ports in the world for freighters moving between the Indian Ocean and the Mediterranean. It will also contain a “financial island” that will be home to the assets and funds of the world’s biggest financial institutions, including banks, investment houses, and insurance companies.
This will truly demonstrate Saudi Arabia’s place as the largest economy in the region. And much like the buildings in downtown Nashville, Saudi citizens will have much to point to in the future as evidence of their economic progress.
Ladies and Gentlemen:
In addition to bringing much good to the Saudi people, increased trade and commerce will benefit our relationships with our global partners as well. The language of business is a powerful one – one that has the ability to connect people in ways no government can.
I believe this is especially true for the Saudi-U.S. partnership, as the original connection between our people was formed through business – back when American geologists helped us develop our oil industry. Our business partnerships have come a long way since then and developed into many areas.
Even some of Nashville’s business community have long recognized the potential in Saudi Arabia. HCA, for example, first entered the Kingdom through the construction of the King Faisal Specialist Hospital in Riyadh more than 30 years ago. They saw the opportunity then, and I hope many more companies and foreign investors see the greater opportunities now.
In Saudi Arabia, we expect the partnerships we form, by working with others, will build bridges of understanding between our cultures for generations to come. Our common business will underscore our common interests and common goals. And despite our different traditions, we can be assured that our desire for a better future for our children is an objective we all share.
There is a lot we can accomplish together, and God willing, we will.
Thank you for listening. I would be glad to take any questions you now have.