Reforms, Development & Progress: On a Recent Visit to London, the Saudi Foreign Minister, Prince Saud Al Faisal and His British Equivalent Jack Straw Spoke of Their Two Countries' Congenial Association and Their Warm Outlook for the Future
Price, Stuart, The Middle East
ADDRESSING THE GATHERED MEDIA AND dignitaries at Britain's Foreign and Commonwealth Office in central London at the end of February, the two men looked the best of friends, exchanging smiles and compliments as they reflected on the warm relationship between their two countries. The joint conference entitled Two Kingdoms: Facing the Challenges Ahead brought together the foreign ministers of Britain and Saudi Arabia for a symposium aimed at further strengthening their countries' ties.
Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, who headed the UK delegation, described Britain's relationship with Saudi Arabia as one which the British government greatly values. The conference, he said, was an opportunity to discuss how the two nations could further strengthen their partnership to meet the challenges of a changing world. "Saudi Arabia is at the political and economic heart of the Middle East--a region which is central to the UK's interests and to those of almost every other country in the international community," he said. Straw added that with 25% of the world's reserves of crude oil, Saudi Arabia has a pivotal role in the world energy market that is vital for global growth and prosperity. "Without the kingdom's stabilising influence over the last quarter of a century, the world economy would have had a far rougher ride," he commented.
After the United States, Britain is the largest investor in Saudi Arabia and one of the kingdom's leading investment and trading partners in the region. The total value of UK goods exported to the kingdom increased to over $3.3bn in 2003, an increase of 32%. This figure is forecasted to grow considerably as BP and Shell adopt respective projects within the Saudi gas sector. With over 150 joint UK and Saudi ventures in the kingdom, the overall trade in goods and services between the two countries currently stands at around $7.5bn.
The Saudi market is responsible for some 60% of the Gulf region's gross domestic product (GDP). As a result, it is of enormous importance and holds great potential for the UK. According to the British government's UK Trade and Investment organisation, which supports companies doing business internationally and overseas enterprises seeking to set up or expand in Britain, the kingdom is enjoying rapid economic and population expansion. "Saudi Arabia's young and rapidly growing population have accelerated the need to diversify the economy and the drive towards attracting far greater levels of foreign direct investment. The Saudi government's economic reform programme provides exporters and investors real opportunities," it says.
Recent figures for trading between the two countries highlight the importance of the relationship. In 2003, the UK imported goods from Saudi Arabia worth $1.4bn, up 9% on the previous year. Half of the kingdom's non-oil goods exported to the European Union are imported by the UK, which takes twice the value of goods as France, Italy, Germany and the Netherlands combined.
UK goods exported to Saudi cover a wide range of sectors. The most significant include machinery and transport equipment, pharmaceuticals and other chemicals, manufacturing products and food. British service exports include training, shipping, aviation, travel, financial services, royalties, consultancy and advertising. Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud Al Faisal affirmed the solid rapport between the two countries. "We are your largest market for goods and services outside the OECD; and your direct investment in the kingdom is our second largest foreign investment portfolio," he said. …