Saudi Arabia: An Attractive and Fast-Growing Destination for Foreign Direct Investment

For 50 years, Saudi Arabia’s economy has boomed.  Its GDP growth, over this past half-century, has been the third fastest in the world, trailing only China and South Korea[1], and its forecast per-capita income is set to rise from US$ 25,000 in 2012 to US$ 33,500 by 2020[2].  Now, as it continues to diversify its economy away from the traditional pillars of hydrocarbon-based industries, Saudi Arabia is building a growing reputation as a dynamic destination for Foreign Direct Investment.

There are multiple reasons for Saudi Arabia’s continued success.  The country is already established as one of the world’s leading economies, a member of the G20, as well as the largest and most successful economy in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region[3].  With its oil supplies representing roughly a fifth of the world’s reserves, Saudi Arabia contributes 38 percent of the total Arab Gross Domestic Product (GDP)[4].  As it is a leading member of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), doing business in Saudi Arabia also provides duty free access to the other five members of the GCC (Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates), as well as to other MENA economies[5].

Both businesses and individuals benefit from the country’s competitive tax regime.  Among the common forms of taxation absent in Saudi Arabia are income tax, sales tax, and property tax (although not currently present, Value Added Tax (VAT) is planned for implementation in 2018 across the GCC, including in Saudi Arabia).  Tax exemptions are available on earnings from exports, while tax credits apply on research and development investments.  For overseas investors, there is further good news, with a relatively low 20 percent corporate tax on total profits from companies and 5% withholding tax, but any losses can be carried forward indefinitely to offset future taxes[6].

At the enviously strategic geographic position as a cross-road between Europe, Asia, Africa and the Indian subcontinent, Saudi Arabia’s infrastructure and transport links are well-established, while an increasingly young population has been a key factor in many of the government’s strategic decisions.  Saudi Arabia was among the first countries to license 3G services (2004) and 4G services (2011), and by early 2015 the mobile phone penetration rate was 167.5 percent – with almost 52 million subscriptions across the country[7].  The rapid urbanization of Saudi Arabia’s citizens has fueled expansion of urban transport systems, while the country’s three main airports – in Riyadh, Jeddah and Dammam – continue to serve growing numbers of air passengers and freight.

One of the world’s 20 largest economies, and No.1 in the MENA region, Saudi Arabia ranks 49th out of 189 countries for the overall ‘Ease of Doing Business’, according to the International Finance Corporation/World Bank’s ‘Doing Business’ report in 2015.  Only two countries possess larger current account surpluses.  For the last two decades, Saudi Arabia has worked to foster international cooperation.

In 1997, it was a founding member of the Greater Arab Free Trade Area (GAFTA).  Eight years later, Saudi Arabia joined the World Trade Organization.  It has also signed bilateral trade and investment treaties with countries across Europe and Asia.  Furthermore, as a founding member of the GCC, it was also crucial to the introduction of the GCC Customs Union in 2003.  This agreement eliminated internal tariffs and enabled the free movement of labor and capital within member countries[8].

Regulatory incentives for Foreign Direct Investment

The Saudi government has made no secret of its desire to attract |Foreign Direct Investment, which is regarded as one of the most effective ways to diversify the economy and provide employment for future generations.  Indeed, the nation’s strategic development plan, Vision 2030, sets out the country’s ambition to increase Foreign Direct Investment from 3.8 percent of GDP to the international benchmark level of 5.7 percent of GDP by 2030[9].

In the National Transformation Program (NTP), which outlines interim targets up to 2020[10], Saudi Arabia outlines its aim to increase Foreign Direct Investment from SAR 30 billion (US$ 8 bn) to SAR 70 billion (US$ 18.6 bn).  This goal is reinforced by the ambitions of Vision 2030, which outlines the country’s “determination to become a global investment powerhouse”.  Vision 2030 goes on to state that Saudi Arabia will:

“… Develop our investment tools to unlock our promising economic sectors, diversify our economy and create job opportunities.  We will also grow our economy and improve the quality of our services, by privatizing some government services, improving the business environment, attracting the finest talent and the best investments globally, and leveraging our unique strategic location in connecting three continents.”

 

As such, the Saudi government has taken several steps to attract foreign investors to the country – primarily through its Foreign Investment Law of 2000 and the subsequent establishment of the Saudi Arabian General Investment Authority (SAGIA).

SAGIA is the central agency for inward investment in Saudi Arabia. It aims “to help attract investments to serve the development goals and participate in the diversification of the Saudi economy.”[11] It is responsible for issuing investment licenses, with business registration and set-up now occurring within 30 days of submission to SAGIA[12].

Foreign investors can also access a range of financial programs, including: the Arab Monetary Fund, which promotes the development of Arab financial markets and trade among member states[13]; the Arab Fund for Economic and Social Development (AFESD), which finances social development and economic projects across the Middle East; and the Arab Trade Financing Program, which offers medium- and long-term loans to boost trade.  There is also funding for industrial projects through the Saudi Industrial Development Fund (SIDF) as well as other government and commercial bank funding mechanisms.

Saudi Arabia also relaxed some of its foreign ownership and investment regulations in May 2016[14], with a view to encouraging the participation of international institutional investors in its privatization program.

Forging strong business links around the world

In addition to its practical legislative changes and insightful strategic policies, Saudi Arabia’s determination to spread its message led to the country’s involvement in several high-profile international trade and diplomatic initiatives during spring 2017.

One prime example of this is the visit by King Salman with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in Tokyo.

The duo “agreed to strengthen bilateral economic cooperation in announcing what was billed the ‘Saudi-Japan Vision 2030’.”[15]  Reports suggested that Japan views Saudi Arabia as “an attractive market for its infrastructure exports”, while the possibility of establishing economic zones to invite more investment by Japanese companies into Saudi Arabia is also being explored[16].

The combination of regulatory reforms and diplomatic efforts appears to be bearing significant fruit elsewhere, too. In February 2017, PepsiCo indicated its confidence in Saudi Arabia’s future by unveiling plans to open a significant manufacturing plant in Jeddah.  It will initially supply the entire Gulf region, before expanding further in future years.  Sanjeev Chadha, CEO of PepsiCo in Asia, the Middle East and North Africa, said: “The plant is going to be one of the largest in the PepsiCo system globally.”[17]

Global electronics giant Sony is also aiming to grow its presence across the Middle East and Africa.  It aims to increase business by 20 percent in 2017 through a combination of new product launches and a refreshed business strategy[18].

H.E Dr. Ibrahim Al-Assaf, Minister of Finance, Mr. Takeshi Uchiyamada, Chairman of the Board Toyota and Mr. Mohammed Abdul Latif Jameel, Chairman and CEO Abdul Latif Jameel.

In March this year, as part of King Salman’s visit to Japan, Toyota Motor Corp signed a memorandum of understanding with Saudi Arabia’s National Industrial Clusters Development Program (NICDP) to conduct a feasibility study for producing vehicles and parts in the Kingdom[19].

Abdul Latif Jameel, as the local distributor of Toyota for over 60 years, will also be taking part in the feasibility study which will evaluate the development of a local supply base using materials produced by major Saudi companies the likes of SABIC, Ma’aden, PetroRabigh, and other major industrial companies in the country. It will also study the development and attraction of a talented Saudi workforce and putting in place adequate training programs.

Investing in the Future of Saudi Arabia

Omar H. Al-Madhi, Senior Managing Director,
Abdul Latif Jameel Investments & CEO
Abdul Latif Jameel Energy Saudi Arabia

As new investors look to the potential of Saudi Arabia, Abdul Latif Jameel is delivering its key vision of being the most trusted partner in its home market.  In 2016, following nearly 70 years of proven success investing domestically and internationally, Abdul Latif Jameel increased its investment focus for the development of their home market, forming ‘Abdul Latif Jameel Investments’ – a dedicated and well-resourced venture.

This initiative, led by Omar Al-Madhi, is set to identify opportunities and drive investment contributing to the economic development of the country and its approach  aligned with contributing to make the ambitions of Vision 2030 become reality.  Abdul Latif Jameel Investments is actively seeking new opportunities for diversification and growth that will maximize value and returns for partners, shareholders, and communities.  Commenting on this, Omar Al-Madhi said: “Building on Abdul Latif Jameel’s strong presence and brand recognition in this dynamic part of the world, we seek out new opportunities for growth and diversification through M&A transactions and joint ventures with leading global players in several high-growth sectors with significant potential for contributing to the development of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, its citizens and business sector. Community development remains a pivotal part of our plans in continuation of the wonderful and long-lasting contributions made by Community Jameel in Saudi Arabia over the past decades”

With the economy at a structural inflexion point, and the drive of Vision 2030, there has never been a better time to invest in Saudi Arabia.  Abdul Latif Jameel, with its proud heritage, history and cultural understanding, continues to be in a commanding position as the investment partner of choice for Saudi Arabia and the wider Middle-East, North Africa and Turkey region uncovering the investment and development potential. We look forward to guiding you through the exciting opportunities ahead.

[1] Facts and Figures, Saudi Arabian General Investment Authority/World Bank
[2] Doing Business in Saudi Arabia, International Market Advisor, accessed May 2017
[3] Doing Business in Saudi Arabia, International Market Advisor, accessed May 2017
[4] Investment Incentives, Saudi Arabian General Investment Authority (May 2017)/World Bank
[5] Doing Business in Saudi Arabia, International Market Advisor, accessed May 2017.
[6] Positive Laws and Regulations, Saudi Arabian General Investment Authority, accessed May 2017.
[7] Infrastructure, Saudi Arabian General Investment Authority, accessed May 2017.
[8] Positive Laws and Regulations, Saudi Arabian General Investment Authority, accessed May 2017.
[9] Goals, Vision 2030: Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, accessed May 2017
[10] National Transformation Program 2020, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, 2016
[11] About SAGIA, accessed June 2017
[12] Investment Incentives, Saudi Arabian General Investment Authority, accessed May 2017
[13] Investment Incentives, Saudi Arabian General Investment Authority, accessed May 2017
[14] Saudi Arabia overhauls foreign ownership regulations for listed companies, The National, 3 May 2016
[15] Japan, Saudi officials agree to accelerate efforts to realize joint projects, The Japan Times, 14 March 2017
[16] Japan, Saudi officials agree to accelerate efforts to realize joint projects, The Japan Times, 14 March 2017
[17] Pepsi building ‘one of its largest plants’ in Saudi Arabia – reports, FoodBev Media, 22 February 2017
[18] Sony aims to grow business by 20pc in region, TradeArabia, 6 April 2017
[19] Japan’s Toyota to look at Saudi production as the countries seek closer ties, Reuters, 14 March 2017

Related Articles

© 2016, 2017 Abdul Latif Jameel IPR Company Limited. Permission to use this site is granted strictly subject to the Terms of Use. The Abdul Latif Jameel name, and the Abdul Latif Jameel logotype and pentagon-shaped graphic are trademarks, or registered trademarks of Abdul Latif Jameel IPR Company Limited.