70 Percent Increase in New Licenses for Foreign Businesses in First Quarter, Al-Omar Says

The number of new licenses approved for foreign businesses in Saudi Arabia rose by 70 percent in the first quarter from a year earlier, the head of Saudi Arabia’s General Investment Authority (SAGIA) said.

According to Bloomberg, applications from British and Chinese companies drove the increase, rising by 86 percent and 71 percent, respectively. The data was revealed by Ibrahim Al-Omar, governor of SAGIA, in an interview.

According to Al-Omar, the fastest-growing industries were education — which the kingdom only opened to foreign investors in November — and information and communications technology.

Riyadh continues to push for greater involvement of foreign companies in the Kingdom to help diversify the economy away from oil exports.

Riyadh continues to push for greater involvement of foreign companies in the Kingdom to help diversify the economy away from oil exports.

Opening up Saudi Arabia to greater foreign investment remains a priority for Saudi officials as they press ahead with economic reforms, with FDI seen as a crucial driver for reducing the Kingdom’s dependence on oil exports.

Al-Omar said that SAGIA is “continuing to see strong momentum from foreign investors…We’ve seen a good increase in the number of companies looking to operate in Saudi Arabia, and in the number of industries that they are looking to invest in.

FDI more than doubled in 2018 to $3.5bn, after a shock collapse in 2017, according to the Financial Times. However, that number is still far short of the average from the past decade for Saudi Arabia. Before the global financial crisis, Saudi Arabia was pulling in an average of more than $18bn a year in FDI, the FT notes.