Reforms pave way for investment

PUBLISHED : Friday, 23 September, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 23 September, 2005, 12:00am

The kingdom has introduced measures to foster development of its energy, transport and knowledge-based industries

SAUDI ARABIA announced recently a series of measures to make the country more investment friendly. The kingdom has smoothed the path for private investors by allowing foreign manpower recruitment and speeding up licensing procedures.

Foreign investors can now establish businesses in the kingdom with or without Saudi partners.

The Saudi Arabian General Investment Authority (Sagia) is the one-stop-shop for foreign investors.

Since its establishment, Sagia has licensed more than 2,000 projects worth about $117 billion.

Sagia's mission is to create a pro-business environment, provide comprehensive services to investors and foster investment opportunities in energy, transport and knowledge-based industries.

Sagia has been working with the government and other agencies towards a Saudi development vision for the 21st century.

Sagia chief Amr Al-Dabbagh said that the agreements encouraged the private sector to set up specialised universities and colleges in conjunction with renowned universities in other countries, fostered industrial projects by giving exemptions on customs tariffs, and granted facilities such as entry visas to foreign investors.

The reforms also streamlined judicial procedures to resolve trade disputes, strengthened guarantees for investors, promoted women's input in investment and hastened the collection of imported goods from ports, he said.

Capital gains tax on foreign investors has been slashed from 45 per cent to 20 per cent and the tax on natural gas fixed at 30 per cent.

Other measures include offering incentives to locals and foreigners who invest in less-developed areas of the vast kingdom and drafting plans to raise the operational capacity of Saudi ports.

Foreigners can now own land and avoid double taxation.

A new copyright law meets the requirements of the WTO's Agreement on Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights.

Saudi Arabia has also joined the Universal Copyright Convention and the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works.

A patent law protects patents, integrated circuits, plant varieties and industrial designs.

The next stage is for Sagia and the other agencies to implement the agreements.

The agreements include the reduction of investment and trade registration to begin foreign projects and their activities, as well as offering special incentives for projects that contribute to the Saudi gross domestic product by making it easy to bring in the expatriate workers they need, and incentives to attract projects that will employ large numbers of Saudis.

Another agreement involves devising mechanisms to solve the problems facing different investment sectors, especially industrial projects, offering them longer customs exemption periods and providing the workers they need, taking into consideration the special needs of each sector.

The new measures simplified the process for foreign investors to get entry visas through Saudi embassies directly without the need for a letter of invitation, Mr Dabbagh said, adding that this facility would be available in all 30 countries in the Organisation of Economic Co-operation and Development.

Sagia offices in a number of Saudi embassies abroad will process documents and provide information to foreigners interested in investing in the kingdom.