The Riyadh International Trade Expo – Al-Kurdi

October 25, 2011

EXCLUSIVE

Editor’s Note:

The first international trade exhibition in Saudi Arabia is set for February 20-24, 2012 as we mentioned in the Riyadh International Trade Expo announcement last month. SUSRIS has chronicled the business opportunities in the Kingdom and the scope of the economic boom that is wide open to foreign partners. Among these was coverage of Saudi trade missions across the United States as early as 2005 as well as the 2010 (Chicago) and planned 2011 US-Saudi Business Opportunities Forums (Atlanta). The Riyadh Expo is among the terrific events which hold open the door for business people – both exhibitors and visitors – to learn about Saudi commercial prospects while on the ground in the Kingdom.

SUSRIS recently spoke with distinguished Saudi businessman and member of the Shura Council, Engineer Usamah M. Al-Kurdi about business opportunities in the Kingdom and the Riyadh International Trade Expo. He is Chairman of Alagat, the public relations and business promotion firm in Riyadh involved in organizing the Expo, and he is a long-time promoter of commercial relations between Saudi Arabia and her international partners.

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What’s happening in Saudi Arabia right now is probably the biggest boom that we will ever witness.

H.E. Abdullah Zainal Alireza
Minister of Commerce and Industry

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SUSRIS: Thank you again for taking time to talk with us about the business opportunities in the Kingdom and specifically about the upcoming Riyadh International Trade Expo. Let’s start with the event. What are the objectives of the Expo?

Usamah Al-Kurdi

Eng. Usamah M. Al-Kurdi: Thank you for your interest. As to the objectives of the International Trade Expo, let me start by saying that this exhibition is the first of its kind. Saudi Arabia has never had its own international exhibition as is customary in many countries around the world and particularly in our part of the world. It is also notable that this first of its kind event is being organized under the auspices of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz, and is being supervised by the Ministry of Commerce and Industry. That is what makes this exhibition unique compared to other exhibitions being organized in Saudi Arabia.

The objective of the Riyadh Expo is to introduce business people to the opportunities for trade and investment, especially for international companies that exhibit at the Expo. We are drawing interest to them and their exhibits, through the lens of the major economic boom that Saudi Arabia is experiencing. We want to attract both exhibitors and visitors to learn about the commercial climate and to share in the boom.

It can’t be said enough how many opportunities for trade and investment there are in Saudi Arabia and trade with Saudi Arabia, so we have to show foreign exporters and investors what it’s all about.

In many cases the level of trade between Saudi Arabia and other countries can be improved and developed. So the second objective is to raise the economic exchanges, in particular trade, between Saudi Arabia and the other countries.

Our third objective is to open more channels in Saudi Arabia, new markets, for exporters. We think that we will be supporting the Saudi consumers if we offer them diverse products. So we aim to help improve the sources of supply for the Saudi market. That is our third objective.

Fourth, we want to create a venue and environment for further business to business contacts between communities.

The fifth objective is to deepen the international cooperation in all areas and to synchronize the views of exporters and importers through direct contact at the Expo.

These are the most important objectives of the exhibition.

SUSRIS: Can you talk about the business sectors that will be represented?

Al-Kurdi: The six most important sectors that we will address are:

  • the construction sector including construction material and furniture,
  • second is telecom, IT and related services,
  • the agricultural sector including the related industrial areas, food and associated services,
  • fourth is something very important to Saudi Arabia, the education and training, and manpower development sector,
  • next is the banking sector alongside insurance and financial services,
  • sixth is transportation and logistics.

You can see the list may be a little bit long but this is the nature of the Saudi economy these days. Many sectors are seeing major developments and we were pressed to narrow down the most important sectors. But having a good variety of sectors is not enough. Let me tell you about the opportunities offered by the Saudi economy for exhibiting companies and for visitors.

Again we were pressed to limit the list to a reasonable number of opportunities in an environment like the expansive, booming economy of Saudi Arabia. We have listed 13 different areas that are among the hot opportunities in the country and should be interesting for exhibitors and visitors.

  • infrastructure projects,
  • energy and petrochemicals,
  • mining and related services,
  • renewable energy projects,
  • generation and transmission of electric power
  • desalination and water,
  • oil & gas support services,
  • support services of railways and city trains,
  • education & training,
  • medical & health services,
  • information and communication technology,
  • rationalized of water use in agriculture and other uses,
  • transportation and logistics.

You can see from these sectors and from these opportunities the Saudi economy is offering huge possibilities for investors.

Let me mention some of the services that we are offering to the exhibitors. Of course, we will help them get their goods through customs. We will help them construct their pavilions. And by the way, we are creating pavilions for each country. We are now in the process concluding agreements with some 30 countries to come and participate in this show. We are also finalizing the list of organizations and companies in each one of those countries to be in charge of their country pavilion. And so the companies will be divided among the different pavilions and as I said we will help with customs and setting up the pavilions. All of this is discussed on the Expo web site.

There will also be many Saudi companies participating. We are talking with many of them now, starting with the top 100 Saudi companies. The list, of course, is a lot more than just 100 companies, but starting at the top shows the level of participation to expect at the Expo. Exhibitors and visitors will be in the company of some of the best companies in Saudi Arabia.

As I mentioned earlier we want to make sure visitors are as well looked after as the exhibitors. The visitors program is very important for us. Not only are we going to organize visitors coming to the show from Saudi Arabia but we also have a visitor program for the many business people who will come to the show from around the world.

We are also organizing a meet-the-buyer program for the benefit of the exhibitors where every company will have appointments with some of the important companies in Saudi Arabia in the sectors that concern them.

SUSRIS: Are there other programs or features of the Expo?

Al-Kurdi: Yes, there are. We are already organizing workshops. We expect that visitors and exhibitors alike will want to listen to speakers about what is happening in Saudi Arabia, to hear about the experiences in Saudi Arabia. So we are organizing workshops that the sectors in Saudi Arabia. That way the exhibitors can be in an environment where they can ask questions about their own sectors in one of these workshops. The schedule of the workshops, at the same time and place where the show is taking place, will allow everyone to take advantage of them.

SUSRIS: Why is Saudi Arabia a good place for business?

Al-Kurdi: We talked already about the booming economy of Saudi Arabia. Let me add, and any of your readers might know, that Saudi Arabia’s government budget for 2011 was SR500 billion [$133.3 billion] but not many would know that the government has added what they call “out of the budget” programs, another SR500 billion, which tells you the size of this economy.

Now, not only is the size of the government expenditures raising economic growth in the country but also the fiscal policy has been able to keep inflation at the relatively low pace of about 5 percent. If you compare this to other countries you’ll see that inflation here is quite low.

So these are two reasons, government expenditures and low inflation why the business environment is so good. Also, when you compare Saudi Arabia to all of the markets in the Middle East North Africa region, I would confidently say that Saudi Arabia is the most viable economy at this time and in the years to come. Just look at the changes other countries either have gone through, or are going through. These are changes that are dramatically affecting the ability of foreigners to do business, or are reducing government growth. In many cases their markets are significantly smaller than Saudi Arabia.

Many of your readers might not know that the size of the stock market in Saudi Arabia equals about 60 percent of the total stock market valuation in all of the 22 Arab countries. This is just one more example of what is happening in Saudi Arabia and why it is an important place to do business. Add to that the improved ranking of Saudi Arabia on the “ease of doing business” index in the past few years. Our ranking in has moved from 68 to 11, a demonstration of how hard we have worked in the Kingdom to make the booming environment open and ready for international investment and partnerships.

Other indices are improving in terms of investment inflows and it was ranked by the World Bank as one of the top five countries that has seen major economic reform. We are members of the World Trade Organization and the only Middle Eastern nation in the Group of Twenty leading countries in the world economy. We are also mindful that the success of the economy has reached many other parts of life in Saudi Arabia including education, including social welfare, even including steps on the path of women’s empowerment.

The mood in the country is very positive in another area that is worth mentioning. That is the confidence in the business community, the Saudi private sector, which has improved dramatically over the past few years. So, all the signs say that Saudi Arabia is a near perfect place to do business. I’m not going to say that we are a perfect country now. There are many, many things that we still have to do. But I can say that Saudi Arabia offers unparalleled opportunity in the Middle East North Africa region. If you consider the business environment in the world in light of the global financial troubles and any new financial crisis caused by expected events in the Eurozone, I think Saudi Arabia will be the best place to do business in the region.

SUSRIS: Can you explain the SR500 billion “out of budget” program? Was that part of the social spending announced by King Abdullah earlier this year?

Al-Kurdi: That’s part of it. Yes it is. It is designed to address a number of sectors of Saudi Arabia. For example, funds are being earmarked for infrastructure, including airports, ports, and the like. Some is earmarked for health care. Some is allocated for housing, but I should add this is a very interesting sector for companies that have innovative construction technology for housing. The competition in building the standard type housing is high but companies with new technologies in building homes are encouraged to get involved. There is great interest, for example, in homes that can be built relatively quickly and homes that use less energy. That’s why you find sustainable energy among the 13 opportunities that are being offered by the Saudi economy.

SUSRIS: Any last advice for exhibitors who are considering the Riyadh International Expo in February?

Al-Kurdi: Go to the web site, www.RiyadhInterExpo.com, to learn more. Contact us at Alagat at the email address shown on the web site. We are very excited about the international participation particularly about the U.S. and U.K. interest in exhibiting.

There are tremendous opportunities among the 13 different opportunities offered by the Saudi economy. Many of them are important for our work with our historic major trading partners. Let me mention, especially, sustainable energy, IT and transportation objectives. These are areas that our American and British colleagues should be interested in. So when you consider the opportunities being offered in these areas and the dramatically improved business environment in Saudi Arabia I = hope to see many American and British companies among the exhibitors at the Riyadh Expo.

SUSRIS: Thank you and good luck with the Expo.

Al-Kurdi: Thank you.

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About Eng. Usamah Al-Kurdi

Usamah Al-Kurdi

Mr. Al-Kurdi is a member of the Consultative Council (Majlis Ash-Shura) of Saudi Arabia where he serves on the Economic and Energy Affairs Committee and as Chairman of the Saudi-American Friendship Committee. From 1990-2001, Mr. Al-Kurdi served as Secretary General of the Council of Saudi Chambers of Commerce, as well as Vice President of Saudi Consulting House, a forerunner of the Saudi Arabian General Investment Authority (SAGIA). He has also served on the Boards of Saudi Arabia’s National Industrialization Committee and the Royal Commission on Jubail & Yanbu (industrial cities).

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