The Kingdom is witnessing ‘major economic transformation’

The 13th Euromoney Saudi Arabia Conference opened in Riyadh yesterday, welcoming 1,700 delegates from 28 countries and scores of influential speakers. Attracting delegates from across the Middle East and beyond, the two-day forum explores financial opportunities and challenges in the Kingdom.

His Excellency Mohammed Al-Jadaan, Minister of Finance, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia officially inaugurated the event. He commented on the remarkable progress of the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 economic development strategy in his keynote address.

“The world is expecting positive growth rates in both developed and emerging markets, which will increase expectations of improved economic growth in the Kingdom, despite risks to global markets, and large and rapid changes in the oil market as well,” said His Excellency Mohammed Al-Jadaan.

“The Saudi economy continues to be the focus of attention of major companies and investors around the world, due to its great economic significance on a regional and international levels and its huge and promising investment opportunities. In its Executive Board Article IV Consultation with Saudi Arabia, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) praised the magnitude of the economic reforms being carried out by the Kingdom’s government, as well as the progress being made in achieving the objectives of the structural reform agenda under Vision 2030, particularly with respect to consolidating the country’s fiscal position, which is beginning to bear fruit,” he added.

His Excellency also said the government was on-track to cut the budget deficit to 7 percent of its GDP.

Privatisation is at the forefront of delegates’ minds, as the Kingdom aims to raise US$10 billion through the sale of government assets over the next two years, with the most recent plans to sell sports clubs and a major desalination plant, among other state-owned assets, announced in April. In addition, the role of the financial sector in driving sustainable growth in the Kingdom was a key topic. Tens of billions of dollars are entering Saudi Arabia ahead of a potential MSCI upgrade to emerging market status, and national and international investors are tracking the progress of the market with interest.

One of the highlights of the morning keynotes was an interview with His Excellency Mohammed El-Kuwaiz, Chairman of Saudi Arabia’s Capital Market Authority about the Authority’s role in supporting these dynamic changes.

“Innovation is driving change in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia,” said His Excellency Mohammed El-Kuwaiz. “The challenge is that innovation has always been faster than regulation and we need to fit innovative businesses within the existing regulatory framework.”

The conference was preceded by an hour-long networking session and pre-conference special session on public-private partnership (PPP) infrastructure, featuring representatives from the International Finance Corporation; National Center for Privatization & PPP (NCP); and ASMA Capital Partners.

With women gearing up to resume driving in the Kingdom next month after a decades-long ban, female employment and financial inclusion were also hot topics – Saudi Arabia has set itself a target of boosting the number of women in the workforce in line with the Vision 2030 economic development strategy. This area was explored in the day’s first panel, titled The Saudi and Global Economy: 2018-2019.

Oil, gas and energy prices were key areas of interest for delegates, with the Kingdom preparing to list state oil company Saudi Aramco and crude prices hitting US$75 per barrel for the first time in four years. There is also the prospect of Donald Trump re-imposing sanctions on oil from Iran, and potentially introducing them in Venezuela.

Victoria Behn, Director, Middle East and Africa at Euromoney Conferences, said: “Today’s first day of The Euromoney Saudi Arabia Conference has been a fascinating series of discussions, highlighting the remarkable range of changes taking place in the Kingdom at the moment. We’re very grateful to all our speakers and look forward to welcoming delegates back for the closing day tomorrow.”

The Euromoney Saudi Arabia Conference is organised in partnership with Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Finance.