Irish firms set sights on Saudi cash
Saudi Arabia has opened the door to Irish companies to get involved in developing its infrastructure in projects worth billions IF YOU WERE to look around the globe for a country that is the antithesis of Ireland, Saudi Arabia might just top the list. A land of sand and oil where the dominant religion is Islam, alcohol is forbidden and sausages are a no-no, the country’s rainfall amounts to just one or two heavy showers a year. And then, of course, there’s its wealth.
With a quarter of the world’s oil reserves, it’s no surprise Saudi Arabia, with a population of 28 million, is among the top 20 economies in the world. Ranked the world’s 12th biggest exporter and 22nd biggest importer, the country’s gross domestic product is $577 billion (€458 billion).
What’s really impressive, however, is how much Saudi Arabia will spend on domestic projects in the next decade: $140 billion on physical infrastructure, $67 billion on half a million housing units and $11 billion on education. What seems just as surprising is that the country’s business community has extended a hand to Irish companies to get involved.
The invitation has come from the Council of Saudi Chambers of Commerce and Industry, the representative body of 28 chambers of commerce there, which is keen to increase its business links with Ireland. The result is the newly formed Ireland Saudi Arabia Business Council.
"We think there is a lot of potential with our friends from Ireland,” says Saudi Arabia’s assistant secretary general for foreign affairs Khalid Al-Otaibi, whose office was behind the move. "We count on this council to be a
driver or a tool to encourage and promote bi-lateral trade and investment,” he says.
The potential is enormous, according to Joseph Lynch, the chairman of the new council. A former Middle East-based Irish diplomat, he was approached by the Saudis to set it up.
So what does the council do? Nothing yet. It took almost 18 months to draw up the memorandum of understanding Lynch and his board signed with the president of the Council of Saudi Chambers of Commerce and Industry, Abdullah Al-Mobty, in June.
Lynch describes the council as still being "at base camp” but, with the first meeting of the joint council taking place in Riyadh in November, he feels opportunities for Irish businesses will follow.
But just how big is the opportunity in Saudi Arabia? Al-Otaibi describes investment, driven by his government’s plans to reduce its dependence on oil of a staggering scale. (...)