Tillerson touts Saudi investments, taking relations ‘to new heights’


WASHINGTON: US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson touted Wednesday more economic investment and cooperation between Saudi Arabia and the US because “when US companies invest in the Saudi economy, everyone wins.”
Tillerson made his remarks at the second annual US-Saudi Arabia CEO Summit, which concluded Wednesday in Washington. The summit brought together Saudi and US government officials and business leaders to discuss challenges and opportunities to expand US-Saudi economic partnership.
Participants included Majid Al-Qasabi, Saudi commerce minister; Ghassan Al-Shibl, chairman of Saudi Arabian Airlines and CEO of Saudi Research and Marketing Group, and Khaled Al-Seif, vice chairman of the Committee for International Trade.
Tillerson’s participation added prominence and leverage to the event, hosted by the US Chamber of Commerce.
He reaffirmed the “very strong partnership” between Washington and Riyadh that “extends over 80 years,” adding: “Our support for a strong and steady partner on economic cooperation remains as firm as ever.”
Coming after what Tillerson dubbed “a very successful visit last month with Saudi Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman,” the summit reinforced shared investments and deepening economic ties.
The former Exxon Mobil CEO said US President Donald Trump and the new administration are seeking to take the US-Saudi partnership “to new heights” by building on Vision 2030, which “seeks to transform their economy and society.”
Tillerson emphasized specific economic commitments in the plan, “including to boost the women’s workforce participation rate from 22 percent to 30 percent; to augment the private sector’s contribution to GDP (gross domestic product) from 40 percent to 65 percent; to move to free-market pricing in place of subsidies in energy; to raise the share of non-oil exports from 16 percent to 50 percent of non-oil GDP; and to increase dramatically the capacity and quality of the health and education sectors through substantial capital investment.”
He added: “We encourage these kinds of reforms globally, and we certainly applaud Saudi Arabia’s leadership in pursuing this vision and economic progress for the region.”
Advocating more US investment in Saudi Arabia, Tillerson said: “The Kingdom will reap the benefits of what our private sector is best known for — superior technology, high-quality products, creativity, professionalism and reliable service — and importantly, partners you can count on to deliver on their commitments.”
In line with Trump’s goals to create jobs and attract investments in the US, Tillerson said: “Saudi Arabia will find many promising investment opportunities in the United States… One of our policy priorities is to get better deals for the United States.”
Al-Qasabi emphasized a shared outlook for more economic cooperation with the US along the lines of Vision 2030.
Speaking to reporters, he voiced high confidence in the broader and bilateral talks at the summit.
He told Arab News that follow-up meetings at the Cabinet levels between Saudi and US officials will follow, to build on what was discussed with US business leaders and CEOs.
Thomas J. Donohue, president and CEO of the US Chamber, said in his opening remarks: “Strategic strength is driven by economic strength. When American businesses partner with Saudi Arabia, they help grow our domestic economy and extend influence throughout the global economy.”
As part of the summit, the Chamber released the US-Saudi Arabia Business Outlook Survey, which reveals the sentiment of US businesses regarding the Saudi business climate.
The report was produced in collaboration with Ernst & Young and the three American chambers of commerce in Saudi Arabia.
“American businesses have a positive outlook and plans for growth in the Saudi market,” said Khush Choksy, senior vice president for Middle East and Turkey Affairs at the US Chamber.
“However, there are also opportunities to improve regulations and policies that will encourage more trade and investment.”
According to the survey, 70 percent of respondents categorized the Saudi market as important to their company’s worldwide revenues over the past two years.
Two-thirds of respondents expressed confidence in the future of the Saudi market, believing that over the next two years it will become more important to their global profits.
Nearly two-thirds (68 percent) of respondents see an upward shift in their level of trade and investment to Saudi Arabia over the coming five years.