Interview: Mazen Batterjee

To what extent have member countries benefitted from the GCC Customs Union?

MAZEN BATTERJEE: An analysis of the volume of intra-GCC trade before and after the GCC Customs Union shows an increase in the total volume of trade exchange among GCC countries from $10bn in 1993 to $15bn in 2002, with an annual growth rate of 6%. After the establishment of the Customs union on January 1, 2003, the volume of inter-trade exchange increased at an annual growth rate of 24% up to 2013. According to information issued by the Secretariat General of the GCC, the GCC Customs Union has achieved a significant increase in the volume of intra-GCC trade from $6bn in 1984 to $110bn in 2012 and $121bn in 2013.

How can industry diversify its exports through economic restructuring?

BATTERJEE: There are several ways to reinforce the growth of Saudi industry, including improving the business environment, attracting talent, rehabilitating economic cities and activating their role, and establishing special economic zones. Increasing the energy sector’s competitiveness is also key to diversification, as is the development of the retail sector and digital infrastructure. Lastly, in order to effectively restructure the economy, it is key to identify specific sectors to focus on, fully understand their level of competitiveness and needs, and learn how to develop and sustain them to become better at competing locally, regionally and globally.

What are the active and high-growth industries that attract investments in Jeddah?

BATTERJEE: Some attractive sectors include: chemical industries; tourism and recreation; communications and IT; energy and water; health and life sciences; minerals and mining; and transport and logistics.

The chamber also plays an important role in attracting foreign investments by hosting exhibitions and receiving delegations from different countries; introducing them to existing investment opportunities and to business people interested in pursuing collaborations; providing important information and data that enables investors to conduct market research; publishing research and studies related to a variety of sectors and activities; and contributing to the improvement of the working environment through serving different economic sectors.

Do you believe port infrastructure duplication has become a problem on the West Coast?

BATTERJEE: There are expectations for more imports, exports and re-exports in the future from ports on the West Coast. People who are aware of several mega projects currently under way near the West Coast, starting with projects in Oula, The Red Sea project and that of Amal and Neom, believe that these developments will require a large port infrastructure. Lastly, having more than one port on the West Coast may lead to competition in achieving the best services.

How can the patent classification system and intellectual property (IP) rights be strengthened?

BATTERJEE: Saudi Arabia has signed several agreements and memoranda of understanding that enhance cooperation and the transfer of expertise on the subject of patents, demonstrating the desire to develop in this field. Alongside notable centres such as the King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals, the Kingdom has achieved an advanced position.

Going forward, it is key to enhance cooperation with various agencies around the world to train and qualify employees, in addition to raising awareness and educating consumers and business people in different sectors on the importance of IP rights. The chamber will strive to cooperate with King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology to hold seminars and courses for those with an interest in these areas.