US and Saudi trade at top of agenda on Crown Prince's trip

US chamber of commerce wants to hear more on kingdom's reforms

Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is welcomed upon his arrival in Washington, U.S., March 19, 2018. Picture taken March 19, 2018. Bandar Algaloud/Courtesy of Saudi Royal Court/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS PICTURE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY.

The bilateral commercial relationship between Saudi Arabia and America will be the primary focus of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's 20-day-visit to the United States, according to a senior official at the US Chamber of Commerce.

Khush Choksy, senior vice president for Middle East and Turkey Affairs, told The National that the chamber would be holding talks with the crown prince.

The accompanying Saudi delegation includes minister of finance Mohammed al Jadaan, minister of energy Khalid Al Falih, and Majed Bin Abdullah Al Kassabi the minister of commerce and investment. Estimates show that US goods and services trade with Saudi Arabia totaled $45.7-billion in 2016, and the kingdom ranks third as the largest foreign direct investor for the United States.

"Our focus is the bilateral commercial relationship," said Mr Choksy. "To represent our members' companies as well as advance the relationship."

The Chamber of Commerce is a nongovernmental organisation representing one of the largest networks of businesses in the United States.

As they meet Prince Mohammed this week, the members would want to hear from him on Vision 2030, and "to get an update about recent package of reforms, allowing freedom of women to participate in the economy", the official explained.


Saudi Crown Prince starts US tour 'at vital time for region'


Asked what impact the kingdom's anti-corruption campaign that stretched from November until February had on US investors, Mr Choksy appeared confident that "when it came to international investors, there has never been an issue in Saudi Arabia."

"Saudi's investor climate is healthy and accommodating," Mr Chosky said, at the same time stressing the need "to know more details about their reform packages, understand better the manufacturing sector, the mineral industry."

Mr Choksy said US companies have engaged in Saudi Arabia more since 2015 when the Crown Prince took steps to open the economy in different sectors.

On Monday US administration officials made it clear they will try to push Riyadh away from Moscow. Mr Choksy, pointed out, however, that in the Saudi market, "China is a competitor [for the US], but less so Russia."  Among other competitors, he named India, Germany and France.

When asked about Mr Trump's increasingly protectionist trade policies, such as latest tariffs on aluminium and steel and their impact on trading partners, especially the United Arab Emirates, Mr Choksy said: "It remains to be seen what is the final outcome." In the case of UAE, "the administration has come out with guidelines how some countries can seek exemptions based on national security issues, and longtime relations with the US."

He added that the "US-UAE relationship is very important for commerce, and the UAE is headquarters for more American companies than anyone else in the region."

This and the high grade of UAE's aluminium with facilities that operate in the US, made him less concerned about the tariffs.

On the Qatar dispute, he said it may have affected supply chain linkages, sea routes and movement of people, but not as much trade with the US. Mr Choksy said Qatar has done number of economic reforms, such as removing ownership caps which is significant for US investors.