On September 4, 2015, the U.S.-Saudi Arabian Business Council (USSABC), in collaboration with the Saudi Arabian General Investment Authority (SAGIA) and the Council of Saudi Chambers of Commerce and Industry (CSC), was honored to host His Majesty, Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud at the banquet dinner of the U.S.-Saudi Investment Forum. During the Forum Dinner, King Salman stressed the importance of increasing strategic and economic relations between Saudi Arabia and the United States. His Majesty stated, “We have worked together, side by side, over the past 70 years to counter all the challenges that threaten the security and stability in the region, and to promote the march of bilateral cooperation for the benefit of the two friendly countries and the upholding of global economic growth.”
Delivering the banquet’s keynote address on behalf of the U.S. business community, Jeffrey Immelt, Chairman and CEO, General Electric Company, emphasized that U.S. firms stand ready to partner with Saudi Arabia to aid in economic diversification and infrastructure development, as well as new innovations in healthcare, education, transportation, and more.
The U.S.-Saudi Investment Forum was a full-day event that highlighted the bilateral investment relationship between the two countries by featuring Davos-style plenaries and keynote addresses, alongside numerous networking events and company exhibits. Among the Forum participants were Saudi government and business, including Ministers, Deputy Ministers, CEOs, Senior Executives, and Heads of Government Regulatory Authorities. Additionally, leadership from Saudi Basic Industries Corporation (SABIC), Saudi Aramco, Exxon Mobil Corporation, Morgan Stanley, Fluor Corporation, The Dow Chemical Company, General Electric Company, and many more participated in the plenary discussions and special sessions.
The Forum served to promote Saudi Arabia’s rapidly expanding economy, more than $1 trillion in trade and investment opportunities, and prospects for greater collaboration between Saudi Arabia and the U.S. The event focused specifically on sectors including opportunities in downstream petrochemicals, health and medical care, education and training, financial services, and industrial development.
Fostering an Attractive Investment Climate
Following the opening keynote address by Abdullah Jum’ah, Saudi Co-Chairman, USSABC, and Chairman, The Saudi Investment Bank, the program commenced with a ministerial plenary discussion on fostering an attractive investment climate in the Kingdom. The discussion included top government leaders H.E. Dr. Ibrahim Al-Assaf, Minister of Finance; H.E. Dr. Tawfig Alrabiah, Minister of Commerce and Industry; H.E. Khalid Al-Falih, Minister of Health; and H.E. Eng. Abdullatif Al-Othman, Governor and Chairman, SAGIA.
Minister Al-Assaf discussed the Kingdom’s economy and investment incentives, as well as the macroeconomic policies being undertaken by Saudi Arabia to maintain a stable environment and encourage strong GDP growth. Minister Alrabiah followed by highlighting the development of bilateral trade in addition to increasing business ventures between the two countries; he noted the streamlined mechanisms and services available for companies seeking commercial licenses in the Saudi Arabia.
During the plenary, Minister Al-Falih described measures the Kingdom has taken to advance the quality and delivery of healthcare throughout the Kingdom, including the construction of new facilities, improvement of inpatient and outpatient care and expanding the country’s international cooperation with governing health institutions.
Remarking on the overall U.S.-Saudi investment relationship, Governor Al-Othman stated, “American companies from the early days of the Kingdom have always played an important role in the Saudi Arabian business community. As we initiate a new positive phase of investment to diversify and expand the economy, we are excited about moving more American companies from exploring the market, to becoming key players in the market.”
Financial Services Sector: Trends and Opportunities
Richard A. Debs, Chairman, Morgan Stanley Saudi Arabia, moderator of the financial services plenary, opened the discussion by noting that the banking sector of Saudi Arabia has weathered the global recession better than banking sectors of most of the developed world with the country’s main banks having realized double-digit profit growth over the last two years. Mr. Debs attributed this growth to broad government spending initiatives, increased demand for corporate loans and financing, and modern banking practices.
Abdulaziz Al-Helaissi, Deputy Governor for Supervision, Saudi Arabian Monetary Agency (SAMA), discussed the current policy objectives of SAMA and the effect of foreign exchange reserves with the recent volatility in global crude pricing. Fellow speakers Stephen McDonald, President, Middle East, Trust Company of the West, delivered an outlook for financial services in the Kingdom and explained what new opportunities have been created in Saudi Arabia following the opening of the Tadawul to direct foreign investment, while Julie Monaco, Global Head of Public Sector, Bank Services Group, Citi, discussed the Kingdom’s emerging role in the global financial system.
Saudi Downstream and Chemicals Opportunities
As part of an engaging discussion on the downstream chemicals sector in Saudi Arabia, Yousef Al-Benyan, Acting CEO, SABIC, analyzed how the Kingdom is discovering and developing new process technologies, leading to more advanced specialty products. Abdulrahman Al-Wuhaib, Senior Vice President, Downstream, Saudi Aramco, and Neil Chapman, President, Exxon Mobil Chemical Company, provided an overview of current projects that are shaping the industry in the Kingdom, while James Fitterling, Vice Chairman, Business Operations, The Dow Chemical Company, highlighted the latest developments taking place in the $19 billion Sadara Chemical Complex located in Jubail Industrial City II. Additionally, Jose Bustamante, Executive Vice President, Fluor Corporation, spoke on the wealth of investment opportunities for EPCs looking to enter the Saudi market.
Strategic Priorities of the Saudi Healthcare Sector
Saudi Arabia stands as the largest market for healthcare in the Middle East with more than $70 billion earmarked to build hospitals, primary care centers, and emergency facilities. Dr. Abdulaziz Al Saeed, Deputy Minister for Public Health, promoted many of the new and existing projects in the Kingdom and the steps the Saudi Government is taking to expand healthcare services. Skander Malcolm, President and CEO, EAGM, GE Healthcare, discussed the role of the private sector in the Saudi health sector and stressed the importance of public-private sector collaboration and knowledge exchange. Additionally, Dr. Mohan Chellappa, Executive Vice President, President, Global Ventures, Johns Hopkins Medicine International, and Michael Merritt, Vice President, Global Services, NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital, each gave insight on the development and implementation of western healthcare facilities with existing Saudi structures in order to develop integrated solutions.
Expanding the Saudi Industrial Base
The Saudi Government continues to emphasize world-class institutions and facilities across an array of sectors including energy, power, infrastructure, water, tourism, housing, and medical, among others. New Saudi Government created programs aim at capitalizing on the Kingdom’s existing infrastructure and providing attractive incentives to attract top foreign firms. In his remarks, Abdulhamid Alkhalifa, Deputy Secretary General, Public Investment Fund, highlighted the financing options open to investors in Saudi infrastructure through partnerships with Saudi public and private sector entities, while H.E. Dr. Abdulrahman Al-Ibrahim, Governor, Saline Water Conversion Corporation, noted the competitive utility prices for water and electricity that are available.
H.E. Dr. Alaa Nassif, CEO, Royal Commission for Yanbu, emphasized the contribution of the Royal Commission to Saudi industrial development over the past 40 years and outlined future plans for development in the decades ahead. Dr. Nassif underscored the fact that Yanbu is expected to become the world’s largest refining hub by 2019. Tim Triplett, Board Member, President, and Executive Committee Sponsor for GCC, Black & Veatch, closed the plenary discussion by providing a perspective from the private sector and how best EPC firms can take advantage of Saudi Arabia’s competitive package of land, utility, and infrastructure services.
Creating Lasting Investment Partnerships
During the luncheon keynote address, Dr. Abdul Rahman Al-Zamil, Chairman, CSC, spoke on the historic trade relations between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia and the business ties that benefit the people of both countries. “Through innovation and exchange of information and technology, we create new prosperity in the Kingdom and the United States,” remarked Dr. Al-Zamil.
Andrew Liveris, Chairman and CEO, The Dow Chemical Company, delivered the program’s closing remarks. Mr. Liveris underscored Dow’s deep-rooted bond with the Kingdom, as well as the many milestones the company has achieved in the country, including the establishment of the Sadara Chemical Complex. He stressed that Sadara is just one example of what is possible for companies willing to invest resources and human capital in the Saudi market.
The success of the U.S.-Saudi Investment Forum was witnessed not only in the number of attendees and business connections established, but more concretely in the signing of numerous economic agreements and partnerships. The agreements included companies are varying sizes and spanning a number of industry sectors including healthcare, solar and renewable energy, technology transfer, aircraft maintenance, hospitality and tourism, and education and research, among others.