Saudi to seek foreign non-oil investors as crude slumps

Sun Jan 24, 2016 7:24am EST
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By Andrew Torchia and Marwa Rashad

RIYADH (Reuters) - Saudi Arabia aims to at least double annual inflows of foreign direct investment (FDI) over the next 10 years by focusing on new sectors such as mining, health care and information technology, the head of its investment agency said on Sunday.

The plan outlined by Abdullatif al-Othman, governor of the Saudi Arabian General Investment Authority (SAGIA), is part of a radical revamp of economic policy as the kingdom seeks to adapt to an era of cheap oil.

In the past, foreign investment was heavily concentrated in the oil and gas sector of the world's top crude exporter, as well as downstream industries such as petrochemicals.

But the plunge of oil prices over the past 18 months has called that strategy into question. Othman said SAGIA was now seeking foreign capital in a wide range of sectors without direct links to oil.

"If you look at an economy that has been able to fetch about $10 billion a year in the traditional sector...we should be looking at multiples of that," he said in an interview.

"So our hope is that we would double or triple this level of FDI on a rolling average for the next 10 years."

SAGIA faces big obstacles. A sluggish bureaucracy and an undeveloped legal system have deterred foreign investment in the past; now low oil prices are slowing growth of the Saudi economy. Geopolitical tensions in the region may also weigh.

Inflows of FDI peaked at about $40 billion in 2009 but have been trending down since then and totaled just $8.0 billion in 2014, figures from the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development show.   Continued...

Abdullatif al-Othman, governor of the Saudi Arabian General Investment Authority (SAGIA), speaks during an interview with Reuters, in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia January 24, 2016. REUTERS/Faisal Al Nasser