New Saudi leaders to diversify economy


AFP

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia–Saudi Arabia’s new leadership will push forward efforts to diversify the growing but oil-dependent economy, while easing procedures for investors, senior officials said on Monday. ��The smooth transition of power to King Salman is a testament of the stability and the commitment that our leadership has,�� Abdullatif al-Othman, governor of the Saudi Arabian General Investment Authority (SAGIA), told a conference. Salman acceded to the throne of the world’s leading oil exporter last Friday after his half-brother King Abdullah died aged about 90. ��King Salman has been a strong supporter of promoting the kingdom as an investment destination,�� Othman told the Global Competitiveness Forum. The annual event, organized by SAGIA, brings together high-ranking Saudi officials with world business leaders. Among those attending is Eric Schmidt, executive chairman of tech giant Google.

Oil makes up about 90 percent of Saudi government revenues but Othman said the kingdom aims to expand the health, transport and mining sectors, along with information and communications technology. ��Already we’ve identified health care and transportation investments valued at US$140 billion in the coming five years,�� Othman said. There is also a plan to ��transform�� the financial services, tourism and real estate sectors while focusing on education and ��innovation,�� he said. Critics have complained of the administrative obstacles to doing business in Saudi Arabia but Civil Service Minister Abdulrahman al-Barrak told the gathering that ��fighting red tape … is a priority.�� Othman said that during Abdullah’s ��transformative�� rule, Saudi Arabia joined the G-20 group of major world economies as well as the World Trade Organization. ��Foreign direct investment grew at an average rate of 10 percent (and) increased by five-fold to reach US$220 billion,�� he said. A 50 percent fall in world oil prices since last June has left Saudi Arabia projecting its first budget deficit since 2011, emphasizing the need to diversify.