Saudi Arabia is exploring up to £65 billion (Dh330bn) in fresh investments in the UK, as the two kingdoms strengthen business ties during Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s three-day trip.
On Thursday, the scope of these investments was discussed at a business conference at Mansion House in the heart of London’s financial district, organised to coincide with the crown prince’s visit.
Leading Saudi businesses and ministers gathered at the Saudi-UK CEO Forum to meet British companies hungry to seal deals and participate in the Vision 2030 strategy. Attendees included Dr Majid Al Kassabi, minister of commerce and investment, Yasir Al Rumayyan, chief executive of Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund, and leading business executives such as Saudi Aramco’s chief executive, Amin Nasser.
From the British side, representatives included Liam Fox, the UK’s international trade secretary, Lord Mandelson, former EU trade commissioner, and Charles Bowman, Lord Mayor of the City of London.
In his opening speech, Mr Fox highlighted the UK’s role as a global hub for skills and expertise, from education to finance. He also expressed his confidence that Britain was set to become a leading partner for Saudi Arabia in delivering Vision 2030, a major programme of domestic reforms being rolled out by the crown prince to diversify the kingdom’s economy and reduce its dependence on oil.
Mr Fox insisted that the UK was committed to helping Saudi Arabia become a “global investment powerhouse”. He added that he was hopeful that the kingdom’s Public Investment Fund opens investment opportunities for both countries and helps to promote London’s status as a leading global financial centre.
His comments come on the back of a meeting between UK Prime Minister Theresa May and the crown prince on Wednesday at Downing Street. At the meeting, which saw the launch of the new UK-Saudi Strategic Partnership Council, the two leaders discussed deepening bilateral relationships as well as the prospect of further multibillion deals between the two kingdoms.
“The meeting agreed a landmark ambition for around £65 billion of mutual trade and investment opportunities over the coming years, including direct investment in the UK,” the PM’s spokesperson said. “This is a significant boost for UK prosperity and a clear demonstration of the strong international confidence in our economy as we prepare to leave the European Union.”
Leading British companies such as BAE Systems, Jaguar Land Rover and HSBC are all big players in the Saudi market, while the kingdom’s total investments in the UK are already valued at more than £60bn. Saudi Arabia has made it clear that it wants international input into its Vision 2030 programme in order to make it a success.
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Prominent British business people attending Thursday's event told The National that enhancing bilateral trade with Saudi Arabia remains a top priority for the UK.
Geoff Cook, chief executive of Jersey Finance, said Wednesday’s announcement of up to £65bn fresh Saudi investments into Britain showed the value of the commercial partnership between the two countries.
“Britain is Saudi Arabia’s biggest and single most important trading partner, and the crown prince’s trip to the UK is helping to cement this relationship,” Mr Cook said.
“Yesterday’s announcement of a further £65 billion investment from Saudi into the UK serves to further demonstrate the importance of ties between the two kingdoms,” he said. “Jersey financial services helps Saudis invest around the world and the world to invest in Saudi. We were delighted to be selected as the fund domicile of the largest mutual fund ever launched in 2017 with significant Saudi input, opening up exciting opportunities for global technology investments.”
The official purpose of the forum was to “celebrate the close bonds between the two countries and strengthen future strategic and commercial relationships, as both countries embark on transformative journeys”, according to a statement on the event’s website.
Panel discussions included “From Vision to Implementation, “Empowering Women in Leadership”, “Giga-Project Management” and “Creating Thriving Partnerships”.
In the first session, “From Vision to Implementation”, speakers explained what a successful realisation of Vision 2030 would mean for Saudi Arabia and the UK.
Khalid Al Falih, Saudi Arabia’s energy minister, took the opportunity to reveal that the country intended to quadruple the size of its mining, renewables and logistics sectors.
“One of our programmes is the development of the kingdom’s industrial energy and logistics,” he said. “These are right at the heart of creating investment opportunities. We have $1.3 trillion of mining endowment. We want to quadruple our mining statistics and supply chains. As we quadruple some of these sectors, the focus is on quality not quantity. This will require the best collaboration between us.”
In the panel on Giga-Project Management, speakers including Mr Al Rumayyan, Mr Nasser and Bill Winters, group chief executive of Standard Chartered, explored how UK businesses can support the development of Saudi Arabia’s next generation of giga-projects.
Mr Nasser also touched upon the potential stock market listing for Saudi Aramco, the country’s national oil company, which could be the biggest initial public offering in history. Addressing the delegates, he insisted that the IPO would be ready to go ahead in the second half of this year. “The question of when and where is for the shareholders,” he added.
The London Stock Exchange is vying for a slice of the action, but faces stiff competition from other major international bourses including New York and Hong Kong, which are reported to be in the running to land the offering.
A panel discussion entitled “Empowering Women in Leadership” addressed gender parity and the challenges facing female business leaders and women entrepreneurs. It comes at a time when the kingdom has been enacting reforms to empower women, such as allowing them to drive and to attend football matches.
Speakers on the panel included Reema bint Bandar, vice president of the General Sports Authority of Saudi Arabia, Rania Nashar, chief executive of Samba Financial Group, and Tamadher Al Rammah, deputy minister of labour.
In a tweet during the event, the Saudi Embassy remarked on the significance of having an all-female round-table on the topic of women in leadership, particularly given Thursday was International Women’s Day.
The focus of the crown prince’s visit moved on Thursday afternoon to the rural retreat of Chequers, where he was scheduled to meet cabinet ministers and have a private dinner with Mrs May.