Saudi Arabia increased FDI in 2020 despite pandemic, investment minister says

The kingdom has assessed 400 regulations and revamped about half of these to ease doing business, Khalid Al-Falih says

The economic shock caused by Covid-19 may have dented foreign direct investment globally last year, but Saudi Arabia continued to attract capital, the country's minister of investment Khalid Al-Falih said.

"I'm starting this year ... with a lot of enthusiasm," Mr Al-Falih told the Future Investment Initiative in Riyadh.

"I am pleased to say in Saudi Arabia that ... foreign direct investment went up in 2020 over 2019. I think the pandemic has brought to the fore the capacity of certain countries, certain governments, certain policymakers that could manage multiple crises at the same time – the health crisis, an economic slowdown, safety and wellbeing, balancing lives and livelihoods," he said. "If you ask about Saudi Arabia, I believe we handled it better than most.

"Ultimately, investors want to trust the government that is looking after them and I believe Saudi Arabia, through our leadership, has shown that."

Mr Al-Falih did not give a direct investment figure for 2020 investment. In 2019, the kingdom increased FDI by 7 per cent to $4.6 billion, according to the United Nations Conference on Trade And Development's 2020 World Investment Report.

Globally, FDI slumped by 42 per cent last year as Covid-19 disrupted economic activity, Unctad said in its Global Investment Trends Monitor earlier this week. The Geneva-based organisation expects disruption to continue this year, forecasting FDI flows to shrink by a further 5 to 10 per cent despite an anticipated global economic recovery.

Mr Al-Falih attributed the kingdom's ability to attract capital to its efforts in formulating investor-friendly reforms.

"We've looked in the kingdom at over 400 regulations and half of them have been revamped," he said, adding that Saudi Arabia had leapfrogged many nations in global indices measuring the ease of doing business.

Rania Al-Manshaat, Egypt's Minister for International Co-operation, said despite the rhetoric in place at the start of last year about countries becoming more isolated and inward-looking, by April and May the pandemic had reinforced "the importance of collaboration" and multilateralism.

Her government's department has worked "to promote and foster principles of economic diplomacy" to push international partnerships.

"In 2020, despite it being a very tough year, through our principles of economic diplomacy we've been able to secure close to $10bn in Egypt," she said.

Lord Grimstone, UK Minister for Investment, said the world is facing "the need for global recapitalisation" for the first time in his lifetime. The response from policymakers has been to flood the world "with virtually free leverage", he said, adding that the best way out of this for the global economy is through trade and investment.

"Investment has become one of the world's globally competitive sports," he said. "We're all raising our game, we're all trying to attract investment."

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