Saudi Arabia presents plan to move beyond oil
By Andrew Torchia and Katie Paul
RIYADH (Reuters) - Saudi Arabia outlined ambitious plans on Monday to move into industries ranging from information technology to health care and tourism, as it sought to convince international investors it can cope with an era of cheap oil.
A meeting and presentation at a luxury Riyadh hotel was held against a backdrop of low oil prices pressuring the kingdom's currency and saddling it with an annual state budget deficit of almost $100 billion - the biggest economic challenge for Riyadh in well over a decade.
Top Saudi officials said they would reduce the kingdom's dependence on oil and public sector employment. Growth and job creation would shift to the private sector, with state spending helping to jump-start industries in the initial stage.
"It's going to switch from simple quantitative growth based on commodity exports to qualitative growth that is evenly distributed" across the economy, said Khalid al-Falih, chairman of national oil giant Saudi Aramco.
Over 2,400 people, including local and foreign officials, business, consultants and academics, registered for the event, staged by the government's investment promotion agency.
Commerce and industry minister Tawfiq al-Rabiah said Saudi Arabia had been a victim of the "Dutch disease" - a condition in which the oil sector had crowded out other parts of the economy - but was now working to correct that.
Under the reforms, parts of the national health care system would be converted into independent commercial companies, officials said.
Participants in the conference, including the chief executives of U.S. aerospace firm Lockheed Martin and Pepsico, discussed subjects ranging from how to foster entrepreneurs to ways of developing dynamic cities and increasing the role of Saudi women in the business world. Continued...