Georgia trade with Saudi Arabia could be boosted by the country’s broadening opportunities for foreign investment, as well as the growing inclusion of Saudi women in industry, as the Saudis prepare for possible membership in the World Trade Organization, said the U.S. Commercial Service’s Nancy Charles-Parker.
Ms. Charles-Parker, the first female commercial counselor at the U.S. Embassy in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, was part of a delegation that came to Atlanta recently to promote increased commercial ties between U.S. and Saudi businesses.
The delegation was led by the Saudi Committee for the Development of International Trade that worked with the U.S. Departments of Commerce and Energy and the National Association of Manufacturers to organize the trip, which included visits to major U.S. cities to host workshops introducing $623 billion in new investment opportunities in Saudi Arabia through 2020.
Privatization of industry and the opening of the economy to foreign investment have been heralded as necessary steps for Saudi Arabia’s admission into the WTO. Saudi Arabia and the United States have been in talks to complete procedures for the Middle Eastern country to join the WTO by year-end. An official announcement is to be made at the organization’s December meeting in Hong Kong.
“Saudi Arabia’s economy is booming…. There are enormous opportunities outside of the oil, gas and petrochemical industries,” said former U.S. Ambassador to Saudi Arabia Wyche Fowler during a luncheon with the Saudi delegation at the Ritz Carlton Atlanta hotel.
With the Saudi economy diversifying and entrepreneurs venturing into light industries, demand for machinery is expanding, and Georgia companies are in a good position to supply those products, Ms. Charles-Parker said.
Georgia exports to Saudi Arabia totaled $132 million in 2004 and included, in order of importance, non-electric machinery, transportation equipment, paper products, chemicals, beverages and tobacco.
Georgia companies may also have new opportunities to partner with women-owned firms in Saudi Arabia, as the Saudi government has begun to further open business training and opportunities to women, including a new women’s college, Effat College, and an industrial center near the country’s capitol of Riyadh devoted exclusively to women’s enterprises.
The dean of the women’s college who spoke during the Atlanta luncheon, Haifa Reda Jamal Al-Lail, noted that increasing privatization in Saudi Arabia’s aviation, highway management, hospitals and telecommunications sectors is providing more opportunity for women entrepreneurs.
Ms. Charles-Parker, Dr. Jamal Al-Lail and Mr. Fowler each hope that U.S. policy currently restricting travel between the two countries, as well as restriction of student visas for Saudis wanting to study in the U.S., will ease over the coming months.
In addition to the $623 billion in investment opportunities through 2020 in Saudi Arabia, another $800 billion in privatization opportunities is expected in the next 10 years in the country’s electricity, telecommunications and gas and petrochemical sectors.
Saudi Arabia’s privatization efforts include real estate investment opportunities valued at $266 million and the opening of the Saudi banking system to allow foreign investors to own 60 percent of the local banks’ capital before the end of this year, up from 49 percent currently.
Saudi Arabia is the U.S.’ largest trading partner in the Middle East, and U.S. companies are the largest foreign investors in Saudi Arabia.
Business forums with the Saudi delegation were held in New York on May 9, Atlanta on May 11, Houston on May 13, Chicago on May 16 and San Francisco on May 18. Detailed information about the trade mission can be found at http://www.sauditrademission.com.
Contact Ms. Charles-Parker at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information about the women’s college in Saudi Arabia, visit www.effatcollege.edu/sa