Arab News, Thursday, Jul 12, 2018 | Shawwal 28, 1439
‘One-stop shop’ needed to lure big business to Saudi Arabia
Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 will bring tangible opportunities — but better
communication of the reforms, quicker processes, and a “one-stop-shop” for
businesses looking to enter the Kingdom are needed to attract long-term
investors, an Arab News-moderated panel heard Wednesday.
Greater transparency and clarity when it comes to the judiciary and the rule of
law was one of the key areas highlighted at the event at the 12th BMG Economic
Forum at the London Stock Exchange Group.
During a panel on “Brand KSA: Tackling Investors Perception of the Kingdom of
Saudi Arabia,” moderator Faisal J. Abbas, editor in chief of Arab News, the
official media partner of the event, questioned panelists on the gap between
what Vision 2030 aims to achieve and the reality on the ground, as well as
investors’ common misconceptions and stereotypes about the Kingdom.
Dr. Afnan Al-Shuaibi, former Secretary General of the Arab-British Chamber of
Commerce (ABCC) in London, responded to some media reports that questions
whether Saudi Arabia is doing too much, too soon.
“People think we are going too fast, I don’t think we are — it’s because before
we were too slow,” she said. “Right now the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is not a
place for people who are slow. You are either in or your are out.”
Praising the move by the Kingdom to lift the ban on women driving, Al-Shuaibi
spoke how she recently traveled to Saudi Arabia to obtain her driving licence —
and spoke how easy the online processes were to secure the documentation
allowing her behind the wheel.
This, she highlighted, is a demonstration of the forward-thinking nature and
digitalization of the Kingdom and how the country is evolving in line with the
Vision 2030 reforms.
That being said, there is room for further improvement before Saudi Arabia
determines its ambitious goals for the future.
Abbas asked the audience for a show of hands of those who felt there was enough
information in the public sphere about investing in the Kingdom.
Addressing the overwhelming majority who felt that more information is needed,
Al-Shuaibi said the problem is a combination of many factors.
“I think there are good efforts, but not efforts combined,” she said.
“The problems with any investor or anyone wishing to do business in Saudi Arabia
(is) they don’t know where to start. Do they start with the commercial office or
the embassy? Do they start with organizations dealing with business, whether it
is the Chamber of Commerce, whether it is a business council? It is not really
clear where to get the accurate information from.
“I think there has to be a one-stop shop that offers that.”
Al-Shuaibi said the one stereotype about Saudi Arabia that needs to be
challenges is that it is an “easy cash-in-cash-out” pace to invest.
That is not the case any more, she said.
“Saudi Arabia is looking for partners, it not looking for people to make a quick
business deal. We need long and sustainable relationships with investors.”
Fellow panelist Salman Al-Ansari, president of the Washington-based Saudi
American Public Relation Affairs Committee (SAPRAC), said Vision 2030 needs to
be put into context before addressing what needs to be done in order for the
country to be more approachable to foreign investment.
“Look at Saudi Vision as like a chair with four legs; the first is economic
diversification, the second is government, the third is accountability and the
fourth is investing in human capital. It’s absolutely true that we have not been
doing enough to tell the people outside and also inside Saudi Arabia about these
four pillars and what they mean for the future of the Saudi economy. It still
needs a lot of work.”
Al-Ansari said while there are a lot of regulations helping investors come to
Saudi, there is still a long way to go and said implementing new controls to
reduce restrictions on foreign investments is “10 times more important than PR
campaigns encouraging investment into Saudi Arabia.”
“It is all about perception; most of the companies that do business in Saudi
Arabia — they have regional hubs mostly in Dubai, and what they do they go and
visit Saudi Arabia and get the deal signed and go back,” he said. “Saudi Arabia
wants to get rid of this business model. It has enough geography and resources
to be the hub.”
The panelists also discussed how foreign investors coming into the Kingdom need
to understand that the idea of “quick and easy cash” no longer exists and the
uncertainty surrounding the potential fallout of Brexit may be a deterrent for
Saudi investors into the United Kingdom.
Abbas also raised the question on the ease of doing business to members of the
audience, who raised the the challenges of dealing with the judicial system and
the transparency of its operations and processes and the difficulties of issuing
visas to international business visitors.
Al-Ansari said there was “doubt there are some ambiguity” and clarity was
Al-Shuaibi said that, while there is criticism toward some of Saudi Arabia’s
policies and approaches, the time is now for investors to turn to the Kingdom
for business opportunities.
“There is a great potential now in Saudi Arabia and I think it is very important
that our partners, whether it here in the UK, or in Washington, or anywhere
else, this is the time for people to join in what is happening in Saudi Arabia,”
“All the negativities that have been discussed — although I prefer to call them
challenges — I want to say, look where we were and now look where we are.
Because of the vision from the leadership, we are following a path that has been
very well instructed and I think the golden objective is very clear.
“So I hope each and every one who has attended this forum can be part of it
because the end result can be amazing.”
Al-Ansari concluded by saying: “There is no doubt that Saudi Arabia is heading
towards a bright, bright future. We want to accelerate that and attract foreign
investors who can contribute to the Saudi vision.”