‘Davos in the Desert’ a major draw for world business and finance

The event was an opportunity for the kingdom to showcase its eagerness to reshape its economy by diversifying its activities from oil.

Sunday 03/11/2019
Major draw. Delegates chat near a robot during the Future Investment Initiative forum at the King Abdulaziz Conference Centre in Riyadh, October 30. (AFP)
Major draw. Delegates chat near a robot during the Future Investment Initiative forum at the King Abdulaziz Conference Centre in Riyadh, October 30. (AFP)

LONDON - World leaders and economy titans from 30 countries converged on Riyadh for the third Saudi investment conference that sought to enhance collaboration on issues such as sustainability, technology and the future of societies.

Among the more than 300 figures who attended the three-day Future Investment Initiative (FII), dubbed “Davos in the Desert,” were senior US officials and heads of global banks and sovereign wealth funds.

The event’s popularity suggested that Riyadh has bounced back from the pressure it faced after the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul in October last year.

Business and finance opportunities in the kingdom were the draw for financiers chasing a potential windfall from the expected stock listing of state-owned oil giant Aramco.

“There is massive potential,” an executive from a Singapore-based manufacturer of engineering equipment said.

Larry Fink, CEO of asset management company Blackrock, and Stephen Schwarzman, head of private equity firm Blackstone, participated in panels and addressed Saudi reforms.

Other panellists included Indian tycoon Mukesh Ambani, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro.

“I have been coming to Saudi Arabia for 20 years but what I have been seeing particularly in the past two or three years is (economic) transformation,” Ambani told participants at the conference.

On the sidelines of FII, European investor 01 Ventures received a licence from the Saudi Arabian General Investment Authority to establish a tech investment fund worth millions of dollars.

The event was an opportunity for the kingdom to showcase its eagerness to reshape its economy by diversifying its activities from oil.

“Saudi Arabia is running an ambitious socioeconomic plan to attract investors and social change,” Steen Jakobsen, chief economist and chief investment officer at Saxo Bank, told the Saudi Gazette. “This includes a big privatisation programme and looser regulatory framework.”

Saudi officials said they signed more than two dozen investment deals worth $15 billion in sectors such as manufacturing and technology.

The agreements included a $120 million investment deal between Saudi Arabian General Investment Authority and BRF Brazil Foods. There was also a memorandum of understanding signed between Samsung and Saudi entertainment resort Qiddiya.

“It’s better to help Saudis build their future rather than sit back and do nothing and complain,” Rudolph Waels, founder of consultancy Armalia Partners, who said he has attended all three FIIs, told Agence France-Presse.

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