• UK seeks to reinforce trade ties with Saudi Arabia


    UK seeks to reinforce trade ties with Saudi Arabia

    British businessmen and officials, from left to right: Nicholas Judd, Stephen Thomson, Grahame Farquhar, Chris Innes-Hopkins, Edward Oakden, Greg Gibson, Kate Rudd, Adrian Cockram, at a trade briefing at the British Consulate in Jeddah on Saturday before the Jeddah Economic Forum
    The deputy head of the British trade and industry body UKTI has refuted the notion that the Britain had abandoned manufacturing in favor of service industries, notably financial services. The UK was the sixth largest manufacturing economy in the world, said Edward Oakden in Jeddah this week.  Last year, while finance services accounted for 11 percent of Britain’s GDP, manufacturing accounted for 14 percent.  Airbus, he pointed out, was 40-percent made in the UK.
    Saudi Arabian Airlines has a mixed Boeing-Airbus fleet.
    Oakden, previously British ambassador to the UAE before moving to UKTI last year, is one of the speakers at the JEF today, Monday.  He is combining his debut there with a working visit to the Kingdom during which he is meeting with Saudi officials and business leaders, both in Jeddah and Riyadh.
    He spoke to Arab News on Saturday about the potential for further growth in British-Saudi trade.
    “There are 20 high growth markets in the world today and Saudi Arabia is right up near the top,” he said.  Last year, he noted, Saudi imports of goods and services from the UK grew 16 percent.
    There was no one area of bilateral trade that Britain planned to concentrate on — although he had just been given a briefing from British businessmen on the potential for growth in three key sectors in Saudi Arabia: finance, insurance, and construction and engineering.
    Britain, he said, was interested in expanding it trade with the Kingdom “across the board.”
    Whether it was infrastructural development (roads, rail, water and electricity) or financial services, information technology, education, health care, advanced engineering, or security and military equipment, Saudi Arabia’s development appetite was enormous. But the UK had the expertise that could meet it.  British expertise in all these fields was “among the best the world.”
    Given the Saudi focus on education and health care, he believed that Britain could work particularly closely with the Kingdom on both, providing know-how as well as complete systems.  As far as education went, there could be so much more than Saudi students heading to British institutions of higher education. “We have a complete primary school-to-university system. We want more of our education services exported abroad.”
    The same was true of health care.  Britain had an excellent record of building new hospitals, refurbishing exiting ones and of creating primary health care centers, he said.
    The potential for greater health care collaboration, was also highlighted by Chris Inness-Hopkins, who was accompanying Oakden in Jeddah and who will be the Kingdom full time for the next two or more years having just taken over as head of trade and investment at the British Embassy in Riyadh. He saw strong Saudi interest in what the UK had to offer in the field. Moreover, the British health care industry was fully aware, he said, of what the Saudi heath sector required.  Two weeks ago, he said, Prince Andrew, Britain’s special trade ambassador, had hosted a seminar at Buckingham Palace of British health care professionals interested in the Middle East — and specifically in Saudi Arabia.
    On education, he too saw the possibilities of far greater collaboration. There were real opportunities “because the number one issue in Saudi Arabia now is jobs for young people.”  His advice to any British company heading to the kingdom would be to see what could they do “to transfer skills and create jobs for young people and contribute to building a educated workforce in the kingdom,” he said. 

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