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Oil to Tourism? Saudi Economy has Room to Transform

By ETN Staff | ETN

January 21, 2016

Photo: Getty Images
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Decreasing Saudi Arabian reliance on oil revenues could include the introduction of VAT and so-called sin taxes, increasing religious tourism and securing major investments to build vibrant education, transport, and healthcare sectors, with each of these strategies being considered in the biggest reform of the Saudi economy for decades.

Other issues under consideration include the partial privatization of selected state assets – including Saudi Aramco – and better utilization of state-owned real estate, with all these issues and many more to be discussed at the forthcoming Gulf Competitiveness Forum (GCF), to be held at the Four Seasons Hotel in Riyadh, January 24-26.

“The Kingdom has been successfully diversifying its economy over the past decade, with non-oil revenues increasing by 29 percent this year alone,” said HE Abdullatif Al-Othman, Governor of the Saudi Arabia General Investment Authority (SAGIA).

“However, falling oil prices mean that we have to accelerate those efforts, which we are doing by focusing on the industry sectors that can make the greatest contribution in terms of job creation, economic diversification and localization of products and content,” he said.

Reform measures already implemented include cutting fuel and electricity subsidies, and cost reduction measures introduced across the public sector.

The country’s new and growing mining industry is another key focus for boosting non-oil income. Saudi Arabia has successfully developed a mine-to-market value chain for aluminium, boasting among the lowest production costs in the world, is blessed with significant phosphate deposits, and has an estimated six percent of world uranium reserves.

“The Kingdom’s commitment to economic reform is very much a recognition of changed realities, but it is also an acknowledgement of new and exciting opportunities for both investors and Saudi Arabia. The GCF provides the perfect platform to discuss these issues openly and transparently, and share best practices with global experts,” said Al-Othman.

Inaugurated in 2006 by the Saudi Arabian General Investment Authority (SAGIA), the GCF has grown into one of the largest and most important annual gatherings of academics, business leaders, politicians and journalists in the region.

The theme of GCF 2016 is ‘Competitive Sectors’ discussing strategies of developing a sustainable mixed economy not overly reliant on oil

Past keynote speakers have included former US president Bill Clinton, Microsoft founder Bill Gates, and former premiers, Lee Kuan Yew of Singapore, FW de Klerk of South Africa, and Tony Blair of the UK.

Each year, some 2,000 people participate in the GCF’s various activities.


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