A prosperous merchant class has been a part of the Arabian Peninsula's history for generations. Today, the residents of this region continue the commercial legacy of their forebears in such diverse industries as agriculture, construction, petrochemicals, trade and transportation. The diligence of the modern Saudi business class has secured its position as part of a thriving domestic private sector.
Looking ahead to the next millennium, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is devoting considerable resources to the diversification of its economy and the increased success of its private sector in order to ensure the country's continued economic security. One of the agencies responsible for assisting the private sector in its expansion is the Council of Saudi Chambers of Commerce and Industry.
Saudi Arabia's rulers have long recognized the important role of the private sector in the health of the national economy. With this in mind, the government established the Council in 1980. Located in Riyadh, the Saudi capital, its primary purpose is to act as an institutional body that promotes and protects the interests of the 22 regional Saudi Chambers of Commerce and Industry, acting as a voice for them at both the national and international levels. The majority of the individual Chambers are much older than the Council, which was created out of a need to coordinate the work of the rapidly growing regional bodies.
The Council performs many functions, among them the monitoring of economic issues affecting the private sector. As the main institution responsible for overseeing the individual chambers, the Council reinforces the relationships between the local chambers and facilitates the communication necessary to prevent duplication of projects. When problems or obstacles arise, it is the Council which pursues appropriate solutions.
One of the means the Council employs to establish an open dialogue is by organizing seminars and conferences. The Council arranges meetings at various locations throughout the Kingdom for members of the business community. These conferences and seminars are intended to provide avenues of communication with the government, as a platform for the private sector to express its viewpoint, and as a means to cultivate new opportunities with international businessmen. Meetings such as the Saudi Businessmen's Conference, which brings together businessmen and senior government officials, as well as seminars dedicated to the discussion of specific topics with particular relevance to Saudi businessmen, are organized by the Council.
The development of foreign investment in the Kingdom is a priority of the Council. To this end, delegations from many of the Council's specialized committees travel abroad on trade missions to other nations, as well as inviting representatives of other countries to visit Saudi Arabia. Delegations from Europe, the United States, Asia and Australia have visited the Kingdom. Many of these visits have led to joint ventures between companies from Saudi Arabia and other countries. Also, the United States and other countries have opened offices at the Jeddah Chamber of Commerce and Industry to study investment opportunities in the Kingdom and expand economic cooperation.
Through the efforts of the Council, many Saudi entrepreneurs have found opportunities beyond their own borders. The Council has organized Saudi delegations which have traveled to areas such as Central Asia and Eastern Europe, where the economy is changing to one of free enterprise and there are many new business opportunities. Other delegations regularly visit the U.S., Europe and Asia.
|The headquarters of the Council of Chambers of Commerce and Industry (above) is located in Riyadh.|
Exhibitions are another important promotional medium for the business community. Participation in international fairs presents Saudi national industries with an opportunity to display their products and introduce new ones, while emphasizing their quality and competitiveness. The organization of domestic exhibitions, such as the Lifestyle Expo held each year in Jeddah, are coordinated under the auspices of the Council, with the cooperation of regional Chambers. The aim of these events is to market goods at the local level, encouraging Saudis as well as the government to buy national products. These exhibitions are considered one of the most prominent means to advertise national industry and have resulted in the establishment of permanent convention centers in Riyadh, Jeddah, Makkah, Taif and Jizan.
|The Council sponsors numerous domestic exhibitions (above) each year.|
Job training is another area in which the Council coordinates programs with regional Chambers and companies in the private sector. Training programs are organized and conducted at local Chambers and are partially funded by companies active in fields where a larger trained labor force is needed. Through these programs, Saudi Arabia's educated youth find opportunities for employment in such areas as sales, computers, restaurant management, hotel jobs and other positions previously held by foreign workers.
Another very important role of the Council is that of arbitrator in commercial and industrial disputes. Parties with disputes are referred to the Council for resolution of their problem. Most often, a resolution is achieved without the need to take legal action.
Research into economic issues also constitutes a major activity of the Council. The monitoring of variables affecting the private sector and examination of problems that hinder economic development are the core areas of the Council's research. Much of its research is published in reports which are provided to local businesses and visiting delegations as well as being presented at seminars and conferences.
The Council's research department also produces the Annual Economic Report of the Saudi Council of Chambers of Commerce and Industry and the Financial Data and Analytical Trends of Saudi Corporations, as well as commercial and industrial directories. The Council is currently in the planning stage of a scientific periodical which will publish the results of economic research and general information pertaining to this specialized field.
|Business exhibitions abroad and in the Kingdom provide an opportunity for Saudi and foreign companies to increase exports and expand trade. The Council also coordinates business training seminars (bottom) for the private sector.|
While the Council and the individual Chambers all have impressive research facilities, those at the Economics Library of the Jeddah Chamber of Commerce and Industry, in particular, are outstanding. They include a CD-ROM collection of international periodicals covering every field in economics, management, marketing, banking and finance. There are also extensive computer databases and on-line links with the libraries of Saudi universities. GETNET, a database of markets, producers, importers, commodities, prices and commercial and investment opportunities, was introduced at the Jeddah Chamber in 1993. It is available to users throughout the Kingdom via modem and at the touch of a finger connects businessmen with major data centers worldwide. The Chamber also plans to go on-line with Internet hookups, providing the latest technology to its members.
The Jeddah Chamber is the oldest and largest of the 22 regional Chambers in the Kingdom. In 1994, the Chamber celebrated its 50th anniversary. It houses departments for foreign trade, industrial affairs, legal affairs, planning and development, commercial affairs, small and medium enterprises, an information center, a training center, an employment coordination bureau and an economics library. The Jeddah Chamber is very active in all aspects of commerce concerning the Kingdom and has made significant contributions to the growth of the national economy.
Leadership within the Council is organized in a three-tier system, each with distinct functions: the Board of Directors, the Executive Committee and the Secretariat General. Together these three branches of the Council oversee the successful implementation of programs through the individual committees of the Council and the regional Chambers.
Within the Council's infrastructure are several specialized committees which act as conduits, identifying issues confronting their respective sectors. They examine these problems, work on solutions and then follow them up. The committees of the Council have proven to be highly effective in their efforts. They span very diverse areas, such as agriculture, insurance services, legal consulting, engineering, international trade and advertising.
|The Council arranges for regular visits by Saudi business delegations abroad and by foreign teams (right) to the Kingdom. Such contacts result in more opportunities for joint ventures that employ a large number of young Saudis.|
An essential role of the Council is the development of government relations. These efforts have been fruitful in the inclusion of businessmen in joint committees and with bilateral dialogue between the Kingdom and friendly countries. In this vein, the Council is an effective liaison between the government and the regional Chambers of Commerce.
As the Kingdom holds a prominent position in the world economy, the Council seeks to emphasize the increasing role of the private sector and to promote Saudi Arabia in trade, joint ventures and economic agreements. Thus, the Council represents the Kingdom in several international and regional organizations such as the International Chambers of Commerce, the Gulf, Arab and Islamic Chambers Union and the Joint Arab Foreign Chambers. Through its association with these organizations, the Kingdom participates in many international conferences.
Saudi Arabia's nominal Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in 1994 was more than 117.36 billion U.S. dollars, with the private sector accounting for 46 percent of this figure. Industrial activity in the private sector was estimated to have increased 7.5 percent during 1995, up from six percent the year before. Much of this success may be attributed to the vigorous efforts of the Council.
The numerous accomplishments of the Council of Saudi Chambers of Commerce and Industry have been achieved through the generous support of the government, the participation of the Saudi private sector, and the commitment of the individual Chambers to promote Saudi industry at home and abroad.