Tonight’s priority is to create informal opportunity for key players in the private and public sectors to meet up and talk about some of the business and economic opportunities that exist between the two Kingdoms.    

To that end I will talk briefly about some of the collaboration opportunities we are seeing, and then Alain will continue the dialogue with some comments on how the Saudi government has updated regulations to help facilitate inward investment.

So while 2018 has been a challenging year for the Middle East in general, we are now seeing economies opening up. This is creating opportunities both for foreign investment into the region and for foreign capital to be allocated globally. SAGIA has expanded the range of sectors into which foreign investors can own 100%. And the government has recognised that to achieve its ambitious Vision 2030 plan it will need to import the best of global skills and technologies into the Kingdom.

In terms of inward investment into Saudi, during the first half of 2018 we saw as many international investors entering the Kingdom as we saw in the whole of 2017. Healthcare and industrial sectors led the way and this was underpinned by two factors. Firstly, more reasonable valuations and secondly diversified conglomerates seeking to dispose of non-core assets in order to focus on core skills and areas of expertise. These divestments created opportunities for private equity and strategic investors.

Outward foreign investment from the region has been relatively consistent over the last four years. Focussed conglomerates and Government entities continue to seek experienced partners to import technology and know-how into the Kingdom. This technology and skills transfer presents immediate opportunities for the UK knowledge-based sector.

Healthcare, education, technology and social infrastructure sectors remain largely underserved both in Saudi and across the region. These are the sectors with the most significant growth potential and the UK’s leading position in these areas make compelling cases for cross-border partnerships and investments.

We have seen significant efforts on the part of the UK government in strengthening bilateral ties and trading relationships with the Middle East. The Department for International Trade and UK Export Finance, who we are currently working with, play a key role in promoting, identifying and then facilitating investment opportunities.

While I do not wish to dwell on Brexit, and I will try to avoid using the word ‘uncertainty’ I see some practical outcomes. It will lead to an acceleration of mid-market and private Companies decisions on international relationships. How will companies trade with their overseas partners going forward? Where trading relationships already exist, are these arrangements still viable in the new environment? And are there compelling partnership, investment or disposal opportunities that were not previously available?

Either way high level assessments will need to be made and we look forward to working with our clients as they navigate these complex decisions.