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Mon, Jun 21, 2004 - Page 12 News List

Saudi investment chief downplays impact of terrorism

AFP , RIYADH, JUNE 20

Saudi Arabia's new investment chief said yesterday that the kingdom is too important a market to be shunned by foreign entrepreneurs despite a spate of terror attacks against Westerners.

"Saudi Arabia is one of the large global economies, and it will always be a destination for certain foreign investments," Amr Dabbagh said.

"Competitive advantages of Saudi Arabia will always attract foreign investments, and I honestly feel that terrorism will not deviate the attention of those who are interested in the hydrocarbon market in particular," he said.

"For example, we've just seen a US$4 billion commitment by Sumitomo," he said.

Saudi Arabia signed a deal with Japan's Sumitomo Chemical Co on May 9 which set the stage for the development of a US$4.3 billion refining and petrochemical complex on the Red Sea.

Dabbagh, a prominent Western-educated businessman, is a member of the World Economic Forum and set up a regional equivalent four years ago. He said his Saudi Arabian General Investment Authority (SAGIA) was developing a strategy and business plan targeting specific investors that would address the security issue.

"The idea is to identify specific investment opportunities that are linked to specific competitive advantages, and then match these opportunities with specific investor profiles," said Dabbagh, who took over at SAGIA in March.

"Our communication will be a segmented and focused type of communication with targeted investors. One part would "focus on the security issue and how we can deal with it. SAGIA will always be here to partner investors," he said.

Al-Qaeda extremists, blamed for a wave of bombings in Riyadh which began in May last year, have in the last month carried out a series of deadly attacks against Western expatriates.

But Saudi security forces dealt a body blow to the terror group after it beheaded an American hostage on Friday, killing the alleged chief in the country and three associates.

Dabbagh stressed that terrorism was a global scourge.

"Terrorism is not exclusive to Saudi Arabia. Lots of countries have suffered from terrorism for a long time -- Ireland 40 years, Britain 20 years -- and yet they have delivered high growth rates," he said.

"The problem is there, no doubt, but the good news is that Saudi Arabia is committed and serious in dealing with the grass roots of the problem," he added.

Dabbagh said any evidence that the violence had negatively impacted on the economy had yet to emerge, and that included reported moves by foreign companies operating there to open branches or relocate in nearby Bahrain and Dubai.

"All the signals so far have been positive. The way the stock market is mushrooming in terms of value, the way the private sector is reacting to new placements ... shows that the private sector is not paying that much attention to terrorism ... This is also the case with the real estate market," he said.

"As to companies moving or opening offices in other parts of the region, I cannot comment on this at this point in time ... because I don't have specific figures," he said.

SAGIA statistics show a sharp drop in investments since 2002, including between May last year and April this year compared with the previous 12-month period, when the value of licensed projects fell from 8.9 billion riyals (US$2.38 billion) to 6.3 billion riyals.

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