No oil, but a phosphate future for Saudi desert outpost

Thu Feb 13, 2014 3:02am EST
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* Industrial complex planned in far north around phosphate mine

* Total investment to cost $9 billion

* Part of Saudi strategy to diversify from oil

* Oil and gas still roughly half of Saudi GDP

* Future oil revenue uncertain if prices hit by U.S. shale oil

By Angus McDowall

TURAIF, Saudi Arabia, Feb 13 (Reuters) - Billboards on the highway outside Turaif, a remote desert town in the far north of Saudi Arabia, foretell a glittering future of glass offices and palm-shaded residential streets. A future that won't rely on Saudi oil.

Last week an array of government ministers gathered in a tent near this barren outpost, 1,100 kilometres (700 miles) from Riyadh, to sign contracts to develop an industrial complex around a phosphate mine, with a new railway link to a Gulf port and total investments estimated at more than $9 billion.

The Waad al-Shimal project, or "Northern Promise", is part of a wider strategy in the kingdom, the world's largest oil exporter, of building downstream industries and boosting the private sector instead of simply exporting raw materials.   Continued...