UK a ‘natural partner’ in Saudi reforms, investment forum told

Britain can help KSA achieve its development goals, says UK’s economic secretary

LONDON: Britain is uniquely placed to help Saudi Arabia successfully achieve its development program for its financial sector, a key part of the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 reforms, the UK’s economic secretary to the treasury told a forum in London
on Wednesday.

Addressing the 12th BMG Economic Forum, held in conjunction with Arab News, John Philip Glen MP said that as Britain prepares to break with Europe, that “now, more than ever” the UK stands behind Saudi Arabia’s ambitious vision for its future. 

“Today is a fantastic opportunity to consider the prospect of even further investment and dialogue between the UK and the Kingdom,” he said. 

“We are committed to strengthening these linkages even further as the UK leaves the EU to ensure we remain the gateway of the markets of the future and secure the commercial opportunities that this country voted to explore and deepen as Great Britain.

“We applaud Saudi Arabia’s ambition and stand as a willing Western partner.”

In his speech, titled “UK collaboration with Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 program,” Glen outlined how the UK could step up support for Vision 2030, helping the Kingdom to achieve a world-class Financial Sector Development Program (FSDP), one of the 12 executive programs launched by the Council of Economic and Development Affairs (CEDA) to achieve the objectives of Vision 2030.

“The FSDP sets the ambition of the Kingdom for its financial sector such as digitization, a drive toward a cashless society, and improved financial inclusion,” said Glen. 

“The FSDP also seeks to stimulate growth and capital markets development and we commend Saudi Arabia for its ambitious and comprehensive plan and I believe that we have much to offer the country.

“By engaging with Vision 2030, the UK can become a delivery partner, supporting the Kingdom’s vision to spurt growth and unlock potential. 

“The UK shines as a global financial hub with world-class expertise and a host of financial services that we could lend to Saudi Arabia and we believe Britain is uniquely placed to help translate the FSDP for an ambitious vision into something tangible and sustainable.”

He said that, as the Kingdom drives ahead with it blueprint for its future, the UK wants to ensure it offers more than just “warm words of support.” 

“British enterprise has entrenched fundamental strengths and the global reach of our financial markets and technology is one of one these,” he said.

Glen said that he envisions the UK helping Saudi Arabia achieve its development program for its financial sector by leveraging its cutting-edge expertise to develop the digital payments infrastructure in the Kingdom and encourage the entry of new service providers. 

“London is a global leader in technology so we can leverage our homegrown talent and exchange best practices with Saudi Arabian companies,” he continued. 

“The UK is also uniquely placed to support the upskilling of Saudi finance professionals.”

Glen said there is also work underway with the London Stock Exchange to help firms in the Kingdom to bolster their financial services capabilities. UK firms specializing in providing professional qualifications could further help Saudi Arabia establish a “financial sector academy,” as well as support other FSDP areas of focus by business-lending, asset management, capital market development and savings products. 

“We are committed even further to supporting Saudi Arabia’s capital markets and private sector-led initiatives to encourage deep and more liquid markets.”

Glen also hailed the Kingdom’s privatization program, one of 12 key elements of the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 reform plan. The government plans to raise about $200 billion through privatization, on top of the initial public offering of Saudi Aramco, which could bring in $100 million.

“Over the weekend my boss, our Chancellor of the Exchequer, met (Saudi) ministers of commerce and finance to discuss how the UK can support Saudi Arabia in delivering Vision 2030, expressing a desire for the private sector to lead this change,” he said.  “Because as a country and a government we believe freedom and rival potential of business is the driver of growth

“As a country, we have marched to the beat of commerce and the drum is only getting louder as we continue to strengthen our position as a financial engine of the world and a champion of the free market. 

“I hope that we can continue to work together to support stronger and deeper bonds and connections beyond borders, across markets, for many years to come.”

Senior Saudi officials, international sovereign fund officials, emerging fund managers, CEOs, investment bankers, and lawyers were among the speakers at the forum.

The high-level event, which forms the first of the annual two-day BMG Summer Retreat, discussed investment opportunities in Saudi Arabia and the Kingdom’s vision for the future, among many other topics. 

Government officials, regulators, and industry chiefs gathered on the iconic atrium balcony at the London Stock Exchange as the daily 60- second countdown officially marked the start of Wednesday’s trading — and served as a precursor to the forum.

Al-Ghalayini and Dr. Robert Barnes, CEO of Turquoise and global head of primary markets at the London Stock Exchange Group, stepped forward and completed the daily ritual of placing a bespoke engraved glass tablet onto the podium, setting off the 8 a.m. bell.

Talat Hafiz, secretary general of the Media and Banking Awareness Committee at Saudi Banks, led the first panel of the forum, under the theme “Business and Financial Environments in Saudi Arabia.”

“Saudi Arabia is … the heart of the Arab world and an investment powerhouse,” said Hafiz.

Hussain Shobokshi, businessman and consultant and columnist, said: “Our biggest commodity used to be oil. Now, I believe our biggest commodity is youth.”

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