SAUDI ARABIA

Saudi-US trade relationship moving toward knowledge-based economy: Steve Lutes

September 19, 2022

By Anas Alyusuf

JEDDAH — The trade relationship between Saudi Arabia and the United States is moving toward a Knowledge-based economy and the digital space, said Steve Lutes, vice president for Middle East Affairs at the US Chamber of Commerce.

Speaking to Saudi Gazette, Lutes described the idea of limiting the business relationship between Riyadh and Washington to oil, energy, and defense as dated thinking.

“It’s about the creative economy today. We see huge opportunities in the digital economy,” Lutes said.

But he added, “Historically the relationship centered on oil, energy, and defense and will continue to be.”

The American business official, who recently concluded his first visit to the Kingdom since the pandemic along with a delegation from the US Chamber of Commerce, hoped the trip would “refresh the relationship with Saudi officials.”

During the visit, Lutes and his colleagues met a wide range of Saudi officials, including key ministers from commerce, energy, and industry to health, and more.

“We focused our meeting with a range of officials who have different responsibilities related to the digital economy because the Kingdom is a young and early adopter of technologies and very talented and educated when it comes to the creative ecosystem. I think for anything in the digital space there’re massive opportunities for American companies,” Lutes said.

He said, “The number of American companies investing in Saudi Arabia is significant and growing. And we’re trying our best to make more companies aware of what’s happening in the Kingdom.”

He pointed out that part of the challenges in making awareness of the opportunities in the Kingdom in the American business community is the size of the US.

“There’s a need for efforts to educate the American companies on the opportunities in the Kingdom. Part of the challenge is making the companies understand the economic transformation happening in the Kingdom.”

COVID increased momentum



Lutes said because the Saudi government adopted quickly the digital transformation, the level of engagement increased during the pandemic.

“One of the things productively came out of the pandemic while we continue to come in person is we can have meetings and discussions virtually so we don’t lose momentum and, in fact, we increased the momentum as we could quickly have a meeting to tackle issues,” he added.

Saudi Green initiatives



Lutes held a meeting with Adel Al-Jubeir, Saudi Arabia’s climate envoy. “It was a productive meeting,” Lutes said.

“For us, Al-Jubeir was the ambassador in Washington and he has a deep understanding of our country and he knows the potential for the US business to walk hand-by-hand on the Saudi Green initiative and the Middle East Green initiative,” the American official said.

He added: “One of the pillars of our economic relationship has been the energy sector, the question is how we can grow that and take advantage of the new opportunities that present themselves through the global energy transition.

“Saudi Arabia is investing in renewable and carbon circular economy. And we’re focused on US companies that are aware of the opportunities in the Saudi green plan and getting involved in them. We want to bring new companies to the table so they can seize on those opportunities.

“At the US chamber, with COP26 happening in Egypt, we’re focused on the role of the private sector in advancing climate solutions. Governments set net-zero targets and programs and initiatives, but it’s the private sector companies that are the implementers.”

Regional headquarters initiative



Regarding Saudi Arabia’s regional headquarters initiative, Lutes said the initiative is important.

“Saudi Ministry of Investment is doing a lot to promote all activities in the Kingdom and be part of the economic transformation.

“Companies will respond positively as they’re giving incentives while enabling the environment and with reforms happening those things will encourage companies to come and set up their businesses and have their regional presence here.”

Engaging business community



Lutes pointed to what he described as one of the most untold stories about the change in the new Saudi — “the government approach to engaging the business community in the decision-making process.”

He said: “The government is coming to the business community and asking to be a part of the regulating process, and understand how it will affect the business and investment decision.

“They’re proactively coming to the business community and making them part of the decision-making process that is revolutionary and productive and it had a big impact on companies. Consulting businesses and engaging them makes a huge difference.”

About the future plans, he said, “We are focused on bringing a delegation of GreenTech US companies to the Kingdom during 2023 and we want to visit more Saudi cities.”


September 19, 2022
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