Arun M. Kumar
Director General of the U.S. and Foreign Commercial Service and
Assistant Secretary for Global Markets
U.S. Department of Commerce
March 31, 2016
Op-Ed: Deepening the Saudi-U.S. Business Partnership Through Investment
The 4th U.S. Saudi Business Opportunities Forum held in Riyadh March 23-24 brought together Government and business leaders from the United States and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and demonstrated the commitment between our countries and companies to advance the U.S. – Saudi commercial relationship. It is clear that we have a strong foundation to build upon and we are deeply vested in each other’s success. At the Forum, we shared observations, based on experiences around the world, on how investment is facilitated by trade, innovation, competitiveness and government policies.
We have observed that investment follows trade. When conditions exist for trade to flourish, with low barriers and efficient processes, investments follow. When companies successfully sell into a market, they want to stay close to their customers and naturally follow on to establish a presence by investing and innovating in the market. In Saudi Arabia, I saw an excellent example, at the Dhahran Techno Valley Company (DTVC) in Dhahran, of U.S. and other international companies that have made investments to be close to their customers, in particular Saudi Aramco. These companies have set up research & development operations here to innovate and meet the needs of their customers, tailored to the conditions of Saudi Arabia. By creating an innovation-friendly ecosystem, including university connections as well as access to research grants, DTVC promotes talent development and capacity building — and enhances the innovation and competitiveness of the companies that invest. Through hiring local graduates, many of them women with STEM backgrounds, the talent base developed will be a key factor in attracting new investments.
In any market, the business environment, the ease of doing business, is key to attract investment. Companies have choices and gravitate to those countries where the business environment is the most conducive to obtaining returns and managing risk. Delays and uncertainties in administrative processes are deterrents to investment. Concrete policy changes that improve the business environment are therefore a significant element in attracting investment. Toward this end, we find it valuable for policymakers to obtain early input from private sector stakeholders. Such consultation will help create greater understanding of issues that might hinder investment and a sense of greater predictability.
The global competition for attracting FDI is fierce. Saudi Arabia would benefit by using workforce development programs to match Saudization labor policies so that the skill-set of the labor force will meet the needs of international firms. Investment opportunities may be inhibited rather than helped by offset requirements that make foreign investment a requirement of eligibility for major public tenders. Such a requirement may result in keeping many companies away from this market.
We laud Saudi Arabia’s economic reforms and commitment toward ensuring the long-term health of its economy. The Kingdom has demonstrated real leadership in undertaking energy subsidy reforms. We also recognize the challenges Saudi Arabia faces when rolling out the National Transformation Program (NTP). The U.S. Government and U.S. private sector stand ready to support the Kingdom through lessons learned, solutions and technologies, and best practices to attract investment and innovation.
We are already working on coupling Saudi Arabia’s new needs and priorities with leading American solutions. For example, last October, we brought representatives from 15 U.S. firms to Riyadh and Jeddah as part of an architecture and engineering trade mission focused on energy saving and green buildings. Next month we will bring 20 leading American health IT, hospital management and training to the Kingdom in a direct response to Health Minister Khaled Al-Falih’s call for a greater role by the private sector to modernize the operational side of Saudi’s healthcare system. These trade missions often result in partnerships, joint ventures and investments as these companies understand the market.
The United States is also keen to share its experiences in enabling entrepreneurship with the Kingdom as this country embarks on its NTP. Supporting entrepreneurs across the Middle East, and indeed around the world, is a top priority for President Obama. He recognizes that opportunity for business creators to thrive around the world is the foundation for a rising middle class, for security and stability, and for broad-based prosperity. The Department of Commerce leads the Administration’s effort to support and empower aspiring entrepreneurs, both in the United States and across the globe. As “America’s Innovation Agency,” my Department helps connect the world’s next generation of entrepreneurs with the networks, mentors and investors they need to make their businesses successful.
Investment in both directions will enhance the international competitiveness of our respective economies. While we are undertaking efforts to expand our trade and investment relationship, U.S. companies have already invested $11 billion in the Kingdom, and Saudi companies have similarly invested $13 billion in the United States. We welcome additional Saudi investment in the U.S. companies find that by investing in the U.S., and working with its demanding markets and gaining access to the latest technologies, they become more competitive globally. We will hold our annual SelectUSA Investment Summit from June 19-21 in Washington, with the participation of Secretary Pritzker and a number of cabinet members. We welcome a strong Saudi presence at the conference.
We look forward to collaborating with our friends in this great Kingdom to advance our commercial relationships and the successes of our companies and countries.
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