Q) The visit by the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques is pivotal in many aspects. What about the economic aspects and the prominent issues involved in it? Can you reveal some of the negotiations and discussions, or agreements that are going to be signed?
A) I expect that the most prominent agreement to be signed is the one related to the prevention of double taxation. As you know, the aim of the agreements for preventing double taxation is to reduce the duality in collecting taxes on incomes or revenues gained in one country by those residing in another country. This will have many benefits. The United Kingdom has one of the largest networks of double-taxation agreements, which covers more than 100 countries. On the other hand, Saudi Arabia is considered to be relatively a newcomer to such agreements; however it has started to widen its network quickly. The agreement of preventing double taxation that is going to be signed between Saudi Arabia and the United Kingdom is the first of its kind between them, despite the fact that there is a previous agreement that covers international air transportation, which will remain in force. In addition to this, the issue of protecting investment will be one of the important dossiers to be discussed during the visit, and there will be an agreement on education, and also another one on the joint investment company.
Q) Talking about the joint investment company, what has been achieved in its establishment, and do you expect a specific time to conclude it?
A) Yes, the Saudi-British joint investment company is an idea of a giant project that undertakes investment in the available opportunities in Saudi Arabia. The last conference between the two kingdoms has paid attention to the issue of the joint company, and discussed some of its issues. I believe that the establishment of the company will be concluded before the end of the current year, 2007.
Q) You have achieved a significant increase in the rate of trade between Saudi Arabia and Britain. What are your expectations for the period until the end of the current year?
A) Yes, the results of the first half of 2007 have been good, as there is an increase of 12 percent compared to the same period of2006. God willing, we will have a higher increase than this, because Saudi Arabia has a great deal of liquidity and surplus as a result of the increase in the oil prices, and the programs of economic cities and investment in infrastructure give many opportunities and possibilities to the British companies. I believe that after King Abdullah’s visit we will witness a considerable growth. I will not hide from you that there are plans for many meetings during the visit. I believe that the official number of the accompanying delegation includes more than 30 businessmen; moreover, I am confident that during the visit we will see dozens of businessmen, men of commerce, and investors, as we have granted many visas on the occasion of this happy visit.
Q) What is the extent of your interest in benefiting from the current leap in the Saudi economy?
A) The British companies are interested in gaining profits anywhere, which is their first and foremost aim. If there is a possibility to gain profit, the companies will go to Saudi Arabia. I know that until recently companies with huge resources went abroad, and most of them went to Saudi Arabia. Now there are 200 Saudi-British joint projects with an investment turnover that exceeds 14 billion dollars. I believe that King Abdullah’s visit to Britain will open the horizons, increase the investment and trade cohesion, and exceed the current rates, especially after Saudi Arabia has succeeded in entering the World Trade Organization [WTO] and introduced economic reforms sponsored by King Abdullah. We have noticed a huge interest by British companies in continuing to follow this up. As you know, the [British] companies would like to see themselves treated the same as the domestic national companies. I think that the current investment environment is better than before; however, the process of improving the investment environment is continuing. Therefore, I am confident that the number of British companies will increase soon in response to this.
Q) What is your role in motivating the private sector to come to Saudi Arabia?
A) Our role is to talk to the companies about the possibilities in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, to give information about the current situation, and to talk about the Saudi companies. We also give support by providing all the details about the available possibilities and opportunities, and we play the role of a bridge between the Saudi and British companies. We also work toward bringing closer the trade and investment negotiations, and coordinating them. However, at the end of the day the British companies must realize to a greater extent that they will achieve gains and profits through their joint or separate projects. For instance, when I was in Britain last month, I spoke at a trade conference about the available opportunities, and we presented all these available opportunities to the British private sector in order to get into and compete over them.
Q) Is the British private sector interested in the kingdom’s new economic cites?
A) I know that the British companies are highly interested in the Saudi economic cities, so are the foreign companies. I hope to see a great deal of negotiations in Britain in connection with the visit by the Custodian of the Two Mosques, and to see meetings sponsored by the Saudi-British joint Business Council between the business sectors and men of commerce of both countries.
Q) Can you tell us about the difficulties British companies face when trying to enter the local Saudi market?
A) I will not hide from you the fact that the major problem we face is the “visa.” All companies have reported to me that they cannot obtain visas easily. The Saudis themselves know that they can obtain a visa to travel to Britain within one or at most two days; however, this is not available when the case is reversed. When the British wish to visit Saudi Arabia, the visa might take a period that in some cases could exceed six weeks, and they have to provide a sponsor. As you know, when a businessman wants to go to Saudi Arabia and explore and see the opportunities, he does not need a sponsor, but he needs the freedom to reach an agreement with the domestic companies and to explore the commercial situation here. There is another issue; the judicial reforms are extremely important, because the companies want to know the laws clearly, and to understand all the new systems and improvements after the Saudi entry into the WTO. This is important for the development of the investment environment; but the visa is even more important.
Q) Do you mean that the British businessmen need easier access to Saudi Arabia?
A) I would like a good flexible system for all British citizens. I know that there is a system for the pilgrims, which is a good and flexible one. However, we wish there were facilities and a flexible system for the British businessmen. Let me say that the Saudi businessman can get a five-year visa to enter Britain; I wish there were a similar system in Saudi Arabia. However, let us start with one or two years as a first stage, then we can develop it