Riyadh to host the first conference of the International Association for Energy Economics to be held in the Middle East

Saudis and Emiratis stress that the Kingdom’s rise creates more opportunities for the region

DAVOS: Over the past decade, Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries have gradually diversified their economies away from oil, offering incentives to attract capital and talent, encouraging small businesses and start-ups and trying to give their young citizens exciting new careers. in the private sector.

As the largest economy in the Middle East, with ties to both China and the United States, Saudi Arabia is well placed to use its strategic relationships and hydrocarbon resources to stabilize volatile energy markets and advancing the economic recovery. Predictably, the Kingdom’s priorities and its response to today’s turbulent geopolitical environment are in the spotlight as it pursues its reform agenda.

The pace of economic diversification in the Kingdom has accelerated considerably since the unveiling of Saudi Vision 2030 in 2016 by (then deputy) Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. The focus is now on business growth, tourism, education, manufacturing, entertainment, healthcare and other sectors.

This has given rise to speculation among economic analysts as to whether the development can be a win-win for Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries, especially the UAE. The question was posed to speakers during a panel discussion titled “Saudi Perspectives” on Wednesday at the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos.

Offering to answer the question first, Saudi Finance Minister Mohammed Al-Jadaan said: “When a country like Saudi Arabia moves, others up their game. We see it in action today. . It is therefore in the interest of the whole region and not only of Saudi Arabia.

Al-Jadaan’s view was echoed by other speakers, starting with Khalid Al-Falih, the Saudi Minister of Investment, who said: “A rising tide lifts all boats. Regional integration is more important for the smaller but very important economies next to us than for Saudi Arabia.

“So I believe that increasing the Kingdom’s economic and competitive performance actually contributes to its competitiveness. It enables businesses and governments in these countries to integrate into Saudi Arabia’s broader global economy.

Speaking from the perspective of the Saudi Ministry of Tourism, Haifa bint Mohammed Al-Saud, Deputy Minister of Strategy and Executive Affairs, said: “Competition is key. We create competition within Saudi Arabia for different destinations because it improves quality. And it’s very healthy because they start to complement each other.

More broadly, she said: “The region as a whole is a hub, so once you arrive in the region, it becomes more attractive to visit different destinations. So (competition is) absolutely to our advantage.

Faisal Al-Ibrahim, Saudi Minister of Economy and Planning, said: “For me, competition and competitiveness are key for us to raise the bar. But collaboration is also necessary.

“There is a lot of coordination and collaboration happening behind the scenes. There is a lot of camaraderie among policy makers in the region that gives us these assurances. »

Last year, Saudi Arabia established some rules for companies seeking to take advantage of the $3 trillion investment opportunities identified for international investors under the Vision 2030 strategy. The government said that would no longer sign contracts with foreign companies without regional headquarters inside the Kingdom from 2024.

The new arrangement is believed to have sparked a sense of competition between Saudi Arabia and the UAE. Discussions of economic competition between Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have continued to dominate headlines as both announce aggressive moves to attract or deploy investment.

However, Hussain Sajwani, chairman of Damac, the Dubai-based Emirati property development company, believes that Saudi Arabia and Dubai complement each other in terms of growth, rather than compete with each other.

“I think they complement each other in two different economies, two different perspectives,” he told Arab News on the sidelines of the Davos summit on Tuesday.

“Dubai is a business connection point for travellers, tourism, Saudi Arabia is very different. So Dubai businesses help and complement the growth of Saudi Arabia,” he said.

Similar sentiments have been expressed by other Emirati businessmen and ministers over the past year, with the general consensus that the two GCC members are independently adjusting their social and economic policies as part of their diversification strategies. economic.

In comments to Arab News last November, Badr Al-Olama, executive director of Abu Dhabi’s sovereign wealth fund Mubadala, dismissed the idea that the economic progress of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates is a sum game. nothing.

“What a lot of people are trying to interpret as competition is completely wrong because the market is so big,” he said. “The fact that we are close neighbors means that we are able to complement each other with certain capabilities to compete on a global scale.”

In an interview with Arab News in December, Khalifa Shaheen Al-Marar, Minister of State of the United Arab Emirates, said that the two countries had adopted policies that benefit the entire Arab region and contribute to better results for world peace and human well-being.

“The UAE and Saudi Arabia enjoy a close and complementary relationship that benefits both countries and the wider region, which includes economic and development integration,” he said.

“We believe that healthy economic competition in the region is important, and the UAE always sees it as an opportunity to generate new perspectives and adopt policies that benefit the region as a whole.

“The economic partnership of our two countries is based on open exchange and cooperation. The Saudi-Emirati Coordination Council, a high-level bilateral mechanism established to harmonize Saudi Vision 2030 and UAE Vision 2021, continues to play an important role in signing additional economic agreements and streamlining trade between our two countries.

Andrew B. Reiter