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300 UK company chiefs to descend on Riyadh for expo

Clothing, Coat, Formal Wear Oliver Dowden UK business LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM - FEBRUARY 21, 2022: Minister without Portfolio and Co-Chairman of the Conservative Party Oliver Dowden leaves Downing Street in central London on February 21, 2022 in London, England. Ministers were expected to finalise the government's long-term plan on living with Covid in England including an end of the legal requirement to self-isolate after testing positive for the virus by the end of this week and scaling back the universal free testing. (Photo by WIktor Szymanowicz/NurPhoto)NO USE FRANCE WIktor Szymanowicz via Reuters Connect
Oliver Dowden, the UK's deputy prime minister, will be leading a delegation of more than 300 business chiefs to Riyadh
  • Trade expo part of year-long drive
  • Plan to ‘forge partnerships’
  • Deputy PM to lead delegation

The UK is sending hundreds of business executives to a trade expo in Riyadh in May as part of a year-long drive to win contracts in Saudi Arabia, as the Gulf state seeks to increase foreign investment in its giga-projects. 

“The Great Futures launch event in Riyadh on 14-15 May 2024 aims to bring to life the sheer scale of opportunities for UK businesses in Saudi Arabia and forge partnerships across a number of sectors,” the UK Department for Business and Trade said. 

“This exclusive invitation-only event will gather more than 750 of the UK and Saudi Arabia’s most prominent future-shapers and decision makers across a range of industries.” 

A delegation of more than 300 British business executives will join the deputy prime minister, Oliver Dowden, at the event. 

In January about 30 British fintech companies and investors hoping to benefit from reforms in the Saudi financial services sector visited Riyadh, including the minister of state at the British foreign ministry, Tariq Ahmad. 

The UK offered an incentive in the form of allowing Saudi nationals to obtain instant two-year multiple entry visas for business, tourism and study visits. 

The balance of trade is already in the UK’s favour. Total UK exports to Saudi Arabia were £12.7 billion ($15.7 billion) in the four quarters to the end of Q3 2023, an increase of 20 percent on the year before. But total UK imports from Saudi Arabia were only £4.7 billion in the same period, a rise of 11.5 percent on the previous year. 

While the UK tries to get business out of Saudi Arabia, Saudi Arabia is trying to drive up FDI and counter doubts about its giga-projects after a 0.8 percent contraction in its GDP last year following a cut in oil output that failed to drive up oil prices. 

The net inflow of FDI was just over SAR13 billion ($3.5 billion) in the fourth quarter of 2023, up 16 percent on the previous period. The total net inflow for 2023 was SAR46 billion, which lags far behind the SAR375 billion a year set as a target by 2030. 

Many of the giga-projects, such as the New Murabba in Riyadh and Neom in northwest Saudi Arabia, are actively seeking foreign investors as they push to meet ambitious targets.

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