US officials and businessmen have accorded a warm welcome to a 50-member Saudi trade mission currently visiting American states to promote investment projects worth SR2.33 trillion ($623 billion) in natural gas, petrochemicals, water, electricity and other vital sectors.
Saudi Ambassador to the US Prince Bandar ibn Sultan expressed his satisfaction over the progress of the trade mission, which has already visited New York, Atlanta and Houston. “These forums are a way to promote strong economic ties between the two countries,” he said about the delegation’s road shows in five American US cities.
“We encourage the US business community to take advantage of the presence of leading Saudi experts in the US to learn more about export market potential and business opportunities in the Kingdom,” Prince Bandar said.
“We have received a warm welcome from American officials and businessmen,”said Khaled Al-Seif, chairman of the Committee for the Development of International Trade at the Council of Saudi Chambers of Commerce and Industry and head of the delegation.
According to Al-Riyadh Arabic daily, representatives of some 150 American companies participated in a meeting organized at Sofitel Houston when the trade mission visited the city.
In his keynote address to the meeting, Texas Governor Rick Perry emphasized the strong relations between Saudi Arabia and his country. “This is a good opportunity to expand trade relations between the two countries,” the governor said welcoming the Saudi delegates.
Holly Vineyard, assistant commerce secretary for Africa, the Middle East, and South Asia, commended the economic reforms introduced by Saudi Arabia in recent years. “The Kingdom now offers a suitable atmosphere for investment,” the Arabic daily quoted Vineyard as telling US businessmen.
Vineyard said she was greatly optimistic about Saudi Arabia’s accession to theWorld Trade Organization, adding that it would take place very soon. During the recent meeting with Crown Prince Abdullah, President George W. Bush promised that Washington would support Riyadh’s efforts to join the WTO before the end of this year.
The meeting between Prince Abdullah and Bush at his Texas ranch on April 25 was instrumental in strengthening Saudi-US ties, Vineyard said.
Justin R. Swift, assistant energy secretary for international affairs, highlighted the significance of the mission’s US visit as it came from the world’s largest exporter of oil.
During his visit, Crown Prince Abdullah invited American businessmen to invest in Saudi Arabia, especially in its gas and mining sectors. “Economic reforms in the Kingdom have created a new investment-friendly environment that welcomes investors,” he told a reception held in his honor by the Saudi-American Business Council (SABC).
The United States is the Kingdom’s largest trading partner. Bilateral trade rose from $160 million in 1970 to $26 billion in 2004. There are at present 360 joint projects worth more than $20 billion. Economists say growing oil prices would further increase investment opportunities in the Kingdom.
During the event in Houston, Omar Bahlaiwa, secretary-general of the CSCCI committee, made a presentation of Saudi investment projects. Walid Basuwaidan, deputy chairman of projects at Saline Water Conversion Corporation, explained projects in the desalination sector. Abdullah Al-Dubaisy of Saudi Basic Industries Corp., spoke about gas and petrochemical projects while Abdullah Abdul Qader talked on the Capital Market Authority. Nabeel A. Ekram of the Ministry of Petroleum and Mineral Resources and Mohannad Al-Madhi of Saudi Railway Organization also made presentations.
In her address, Princess Loulwah Al-Faisal emphasized the growing investmentopportunities in Saudi Arabia. She noted that the meeting between Crown Prince Abdullah and Bush in Texas had played a significant role in strengthening bilateral ties. She also spoke about the strength of Saudi economy and the increasing role of the private sector.
Dr. Nahed Taher, senior economist at the National Commercial Bank, explained the facilities being provided by the Saudi government to foreign investors. Dr. Haifa Jamal Al-Lail, dean of Effat College, is another female member of the team.
“The delegation offers investment projects worth SR2.33 trillion to American businessmen,” Al-Seif said. The figure represents the Kingdom’s investment requirements until the year 2020. The Saudi government plans to privatize state-run corporations and institutions with a total value of SR3 trillion ($800 billion) within the next 10 years, he added.
Bahlaiwa said the new investments would create at least 500,000 jobs annually.Infrastructure projects offer the largest investment opportunity, Bahlaiwa said, adding that the sector provides projects worth $140 billion. The petrochemicals sector comes second with $92 billion projects followed by electricity and water $88.9 billion, telecommunications $60 billion, tourism $53.3 billion, natural gas $50 billion, agriculture $28.3 billion and information technology $10.7 billion.
“This is the largest business delegation visiting the US to promote Saudi Arabia since the Sept. 11 events,” Bahlaiwa said.
The Commerce and Industry Ministry, the Saudi Arabian General Investment Authority, Saudi Aramco and CSCCI are the mission’s sponsors in the Kingdom. In the United States, the sponsors are: Chevron Texaco, ExxonMobil, the Department of Trade and the Department of Energy and the Federation of American Industrialists.
Referring to projects in the petroleum sector, Bahlaiwa said Saudi Aramco was currently involved in $30 billion projects including five new crude increments, a new NGL recovery plant and expansion of the master gas system and expansion and upgrade of refining and distribution facilities.
“This will require the design and construction of more than 20 offshore platforms, gas/oil separation plants and 2300 km of flow lines and long distance pipelines,” he added.
Reprinted with permission of Arab News.