Challenges persist in attracting non-oil funds, says Saudi Prince Saud al-Faisal

Prince Saud al-Faisal says challenges persist in attracting non-oil funds.CP

Saudi Arabia has undertaken several initiatives to attract foreign capital outside of its oil and gas sector, the deputy governor of the kingdom's investment authority said Monday.

"There is a strong effort by the government to diversify this revenue," said Prince Saud al-Faisal of the Saudi Arabian General Investment Authority, or SAGIA.

"The challenge that we face ... is recognizing that Saudi Arabia is fertile ground to attract investment in all sectors," he added. Prince Saud spoke to The Associated Press on the sidelines of the fifth Annual Investment Meeting held in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

SAGIA's main mission — to attract foreign investment and improve the country's business environment — is a key part of the kingdom's overall strategy to strengthen the private sector, Saud said.

To attract immediate capital, the government announced plans last year to open the Saudi stock exchange to direct investment by foreigners — something he said would happen "soon."

Other initiatives include the creation of economic cities such as the King Abdullah Economic City near the Red Sea city of Jiddah, which will boast one of the world's largest ports, business zones, manufacturing facilities, hospitals, schools and residential compounds for Westerners and others.

The initiatives come as the kingdom is running a budget deficit due to oil prices dipping to a six-year low and foreign direct investment inflows have been on a five-year decline.

The kingdom is also racing to create new jobs for millions of young Saudis who make up the majority of the population and who will be entering the workforce in the coming years. King Salman this month urged businesses to do the same, calling it a national duty.

According to the most recent World Investment Report released in 2014 by the UN Conference on Trade and Development, FDI inflows to Saudi Arabia dipped from $39.5 billion in 2008 to $9.2 billion in 2013.

The report said the downward trend is partly the result of "persistent tensions in the region" and because petrochemical manufacturers were increasingly investing in North American shale oil.

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