Saudi-US commerce ties remain strong
Francisco J. Sanchez, US undersecretary of commerce for international trade, addresses Saudi journalists in Alkhobar. At right is Amer Kayani, commercial affairs counselor at the US Embassy in Riyadh. (AN photo by Imran Haider)
An Americantrade official said Saudi-US commercial ties remain strong and noted that more Saudi students now study in the United States than before 9/11.
“There are approximately 38,000 students from Saudi Arabia currently studying in the United States,” said Francisco J. Sanchez, US undersecretary of commerce for international trade, during his most recent visit to the Kingdom. “That number is a higher number than there was prior to 9/11. There was a drop in the intervening years, but I am happy to say that number has gone up, and I hope that we have even more students that come to the US.”
Sanchez, who was leading a trade delegation of 16 American companies interested in energy and infrastructure projects, expressed hope that more American students would get the opportunity to study in Saudi Arabia.
Sanchez told a group of journalists gathered for a roundtable. “I know that American companies are among the most innovative in the world, and so they can bring innovation, the latest technology, in a number of fields.”
He cited the massive aluminum smelting project planned for Raz Azor as an example.
“Recently Maaden completed a financial closing with Alcoa to create what will become the most important aluminum manufacturing project in the world,” he said. “Saudi Arabia considered companies from different parts of the world for this project, and it ultimately chose Alcoa, a US company, because of the innovation and because of the state-of-the-art technology that it brought. So I believe US companies can compete with any company in the world based on quality, based on innovation and based on our know-how.”.
The undersecretary said trade between the two nations is increasing. “I am happy to report that our trade for 2010 with Saudi Arabia is up eight percent in the first six months over the same period last year,” Sanchez said. “Our total two-way trade with Saudi Arabia is about $33 billion. US exports to Saudi Arabia totaled $10.8 billion in 2009. Saudi Arabia is our 20th largest trading partner. In 2011, I believe that total trade between our two countries will grow by 10 percent.”
Sanchez dismissed the notion that US trade missions to Saudi Arabia always feature massive corporations.
“In the trade mission that I brought in June, half of the participants were small- and medium-sized companies, offering assistance in health care, in wastewater treatment and water management,” he said. “The companies that we will bring next year doing businesses in information and telecommunications technologies it will be a mix of large and small companies. I should also point out that in the past 12 months, 107 US companies have come to do business in Saudi Arabia for the first time — all of them small- and medium-sized companies.”
The undersecretary said the Kingdom had a willing partner in the United States for it development drive.
“I am especially impressed with the investment that the Kingdom is making in its infrastructure, and it is doing so in so many different fields, whether it is education, health care, transportation, telecommunications, in its energy sector, both in generation and distribution, in petrochemicals, in mining, in minerals — a tremendous investment,” he said. “It seeks to diversify its economy. I also identify a lot of opportunities for US business to add value and help Saudi Arabia achieve its goals.”.
He said the current mission presented a unique blend of expertise. “We have companies here that are involved in solar energy, civil nuclear, in oil and gas, in telecom; we have companies that are experts in engineering, in information technology systems for specific sectors, and they come here because they know they can add a lot of value and can be good solid partners to Saudi Arabia,” Sanchez said, remarking on the large presence of American businesses in the Eastern Province.
“We have American companies here like Bechtel, Dow Chemicals, ExxonMobil, Chevron and Alcoa,” he said. “I was impressed as we drove in from Dammam airport. We saw a number of American franchises, including Harley Davidson, Kentucky Fried Chicken, and the one that surprised me was Curves, a center that is focused on women’s fitness. I am very pleased to see that American companies are stepping up to by part of the exciting growth and economic diversification taking place in the Kingdom.”