Interview: Mazen Batterjee
How has the political and economic uncertainty in other parts of the Middle East affected international interest in Saudi Arabia’s economy?
MAZEN BATTERJEE: Of course there has been some impact, but this has only served to make the Saudi economy more solid. Social instability and weaknesses have been revealed elsewhere in the region, and in Saudi Arabia great steps have been taken to avoid civil unrest. The Kingdom has benefitted because many foreign investors who may have considered markets such as Egypt have been attracted to our stability.
What role could Jeddah play in the growth of the tourism sector, which has been highlighted as a strategic growth industry for the Kingdom?
BATTERJEE: Jeddah’s coastline is an excellent opportunity to promote tourism and related investment. Al Qunfudhah, Al Lith, which is 220 km south of Jeddah, and Rabigh in the north, are all prime locations along the Red Sea to develop nature tourism hotspots for excellent diving. These, among others, will be major tourism and recreation sites in the next few years.
The JCCI and municipality government are working together on a programme to establish a ferry to serve tourists and promote travel along the coast. Also, with the arrival of a new airport in Jeddah we can expect arrivals in the city to increase significantly.
Additionally, Al Balad, the old area of Jeddah, will be applying for UNESCO heritage status, which will boost its tourism appeal. The local government and JCCI are taking the lead with the tourism authority by creating an organisation with Al Balad homeowners, donors and a government fund to renovate the area.
What are the greatest obstacles for foreign direct investment in the Kingdom, and how can these challenges be addressed?
BATTERJEE: There are a lot of bureaucratic issues. Nevertheless, there has been much progress in this regard, and the environment continues to improve. Certainly, it is our responsibility to create a legal framework that is holistic and comprehensible for local and international investors alike.
Despite these challenges, there are also plenty of investment opportunities. Saudi Arabia has many resources that can be found domestically in great abundance that cannot be found elsewhere. We are not the best in regulation, but we do have the best facilities. The government offers favourable terms for financing and provision of land for potential industrial investors. This market also offers excellent access to the rest of the Arab world with 0% tax on exports.
What spin off advantages will the King Abdullah Economic City, Jazan Economic City and Knowledge Economic City bring to the rest of the Gulf?
BATTERJEE: Any project, big or small, will bring a benefit to the region, whether it is through economic growth or job creation. These are long-term strategic plans, and it takes a long time to build a new industrial city and attract a full workforce. We are looking at a 20-30-year plan. In the end, however, I am sure these cities will bring new business and opportunity to the region. Any project, no matter how small, creates jobs and supports the circulation of money.
How is entrepreneurship and new business development being encouraged in Jeddah?
BATTERJEE: This is a major issue at the moment and at the JCCI we have start-up incubators to support new small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). The JCCI is providing entrepreneurship loans and we represent many of the funds that lend to Saudi businesses.
We work with banks and set up free exhibitions for attendees to showcase and support local SMEs. The JCCI wants to encourage social entrepreneurship because we believe in social responsibility and want to encourage such projects. Therefore, we are aiming to create a nurturing environment to grow these ideas by providing office space, funding and consultants.
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