LONDON: Brexit will lead to stronger trade and investment opportunities between the UK and Saudi Arabia, and attracting listings such as Saudi Aramco would be among a string of important deals Britain hopes to secure after it breaks with Europe, according to a leading business connector between the two countries.
Chris Innes-Hopkins, UK executive director for the Saudi British Joint Business Council (SBJBC), said it is not a question of the UK choosing whether to have trade with Europe or the rest of the world — it aims to have both, and Saudi Arabia is uppermost in its sights.
“Brexit does provide many opportunities for the UK and Saudi Arabia,” he said, speaking to Arab News after his address at the 12th BMG Economic Forum at the London Stock Exchange Group on Wednesday.
“I think it also has led to a change in perception on the Saudi side that we are raising our horizons.
“We are clear in that we are looking to develop our relationship with Saudi Arabia, and that was highlighted with the forming of the UK-Saudi Arabia Strategic Partnership Council that was launched following the crown prince’s visit here earlier this year.”
In March, the UK and Saudi Arabia agreed a goal of £65 billion ($90 billion) of mutual trade and investment in the coming years during a meeting between the UK’s Prime Minister Theresa May and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
On attracting the mega-float of part of the oil giant Saudi Aramco, Innes-Hopkins said the London Stock Exchange is a key of member of the SBJBC and they are “very keen to cooperate” with Saudi Arabia.
“This includes the proposed IPO,” he said. “There are lots of areas where they and the Saudi Stock Exchange (Tadawul) can work together. Obviously, post-Brexit, we are very keen for the UK to continue to attract investment from across the board — including from Saudi Arabia which is a very important source of investment to us. Within that context we are very keen to work with the Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia to attract more Saudi investment into new sectors in the UK.”
Addressing Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 reform plan, Innes-Hopkins described the Kingdom’s blueprint for its future as a “win-win” for both countries.
“I think the Saudi Vision 2030 is a turning point,” he said. “It does represent a realization that there is no alternative to diversify the economy and grow new sectors because Saudi Arabia can no longer rely on oil revenue. We all realize the goals of Saudi Vision 2030 are very ambitious but, in the longer-term, there is no alternative to the vision that has been set out.
“This can provide a win-win situation; there are a lot of new sectors including education and health care reform, smart cities — and not forgetting entertainment and tourism — where UK companies can help and get involved to implement new projects and provide the assistance needed.
“Infrastructure and financial services have traditionally been out bread and butter but now the opportunities are so much wider. We see that as very positive development and one in which the UK can play an important role.”
The UK in particular has a strong part to play in some of the expertise and growing the human capacity needed to implement the reforms set out under the Saudi Vision 2030.
But Innes-Hopkins said UK companies should be looking to build long-term links with Saudi Arabia and playing a central role in making its development vision a reality, rather than just “selling things and going away.”
“What is needed is not such much consultants going in and doing long reports — that may have been necessary to frame the vision — but what we are looking at now is implementation,” he said.
“We as a country, and as a business council, see a big opportunity for UK professional advisers, companies and the British government to provide some of the expertise that is needed working in partnership with our Saudi colleagues to implement these reforms.
“Business in Saudi Arabia is now much more about partnerships; it is not just about British companies trying to sell things and going away — it is about getting companies who can maintain a long-term presence in Saudi Arabia, who can share technology, share skills and invest for the long-term and create a win-win partnership.”
He said an immediate target of the SBJBC is helping build the infrastructure that will support the grown small and medium sized companies (SMEs) in Saudi Arabia, which are important to all economies around the world but will specifically play a major role in the non-oil-reliant Saudi economy.
ELITE, London Stock Exchange Group’s international business support and capital raising program for high-growth companies, announced earlier this year that it has partnered with the Small and Medium Enterprises Authority in Saudi Arabia (Monhsa’at) to support the launch of ELITE in Saudi Arabia.
“I think we do have a good record in the UK of small business creation,” said Innes-Hopkins. “What we think there is room for cooperation is on things like is access to finance for SMEs and access to mentoring and the necessary advice to grow your company. There is definitely room for cooperation and ultimately we want to bring these businesses — and our countries — together.”