US President Donald Trump’s visit to Saudi Arabia dominated the agenda this month. The controversial president signed a number of billion-dollar deals and extended his support to regional governments fighting extremism.

The Trump visit gave Riyadh an opportunity to improve its relationship with Washington amid a softening position on Iran under the previous Obama administration.

Also this month, moderate candidate Hassan Rouhani was re-elected as the Iranian president just days after the US extended the country’s 2015 sanctions relief. The poll was the first test of Rouhani’s popularity since the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action was signed with six world powers in July 2015.

Riyadh agrees multibillion-dollar deals with the US

Saudi Arabia and the US have signed deals worth more than $350bn. The announcement came as Trump arrived in Riyadh on 20 May on his first foreign visit.

The US’ GE signed memorandum of understandings for projects worth a total of $15bn. This includes $7bn-worth of GE technology and products across sectors such as oil and gas, power and healthcare. The agreements cover schemes owned by the Ministry of Energy, Industry & Mineral Resources, Saudi Aramco, Maaden and Dussur (formerly the Saudi Arabian Industrial Investments Company).

IMF optimistic about region’s oil exporters

The Washington-based IMF says economic reforms forced on the region’s oil exporters combined with a stronger-performing global economy give reasons for optimism.

The IMF also says Saudi Arabia does not need to achieve a balanced budget by 2019 and recommends a more gradual approach to economic reform in order to ease the negative impact of austerity on growth over the coming years.

Saudi Arabia has already shown signs of a softening position on austerity.

In late April, King Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud issued a series of decrees that reversed pay cuts introduced last year for government employees.

The king also issued another decree giving a bonus of two months’ salary to frontline personnel from the Interior Ministry, Defence Ministry, National Guard and intelligence services involved in military operations in Yemen.

Rouhani given a mandate to build on Iran’s progress

Hassan Rouhani won the Iranian presidential election, giving the incumbent a mandate to continue efforts to open the Middle East’s second-largest economy up to international investment.

Rouhani fought a fierce campaign against conservative cleric Ebrahim Raisi, but emerged with a comfortable lead, winning 57 per cent of the votes. Rouhani was instrumental in signing a deal with world powers giving sanctions relief in exchange for limits on the country’s nuclear development programme.

Saudi Arabia signs largest arms deal in US history

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson confirmed during Trump’s visit to Riyadh that the US has signed a $109bn arms deal with Saudi Arabia.

The deal will help create jobs in the kingdom, which lists boosting defence production as a key aim of its Vision 2030 development programme. Riyadh is targeting 50 per cent of defence spending to be sourced locally by 2030.

The defence agreement is one of the largest single arms deals in US history.

Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir also revealed that Washington and Riyadh had signed a joint ‘vision’ declaration to underpin the multibillion-dollar agreements signed during Trump’s US visit.

Production cuts provide market confidence

Opec looks increasingly likely to extend the agreement to cooperate on reducing oil production for a further nine months until the end of March 2018.

Production cuts were expected to be extended by six months, but the likelihood of a longer agreement has given the oil market greater confidence that the push could significantly reduce global oversupply. The Brent price rose above $50 a barrel when the news emerged on 10 May that key Opec producers had lent their support to a nine-month extension of the cuts. The oil price rise followed a period of largely sub-$50 prices from 21 April.

Statements from Opec governments and media reports have backed up expectations of a widespread oil production cut led by Saudi Arabia.

US extends Iranian sanctions relief

US President Donald Trump has extended the sanctions relief granted to Iran under the 2015 agreement to limit Tehran’s nuclear programme.

At the same time, the Treasury Department announced it had sanctioned an Iranian company, an Iranian official, a Chinese individual and three Chinese companies for supporting Iran’s ballistic missile programme.

During his presidential campaign, Trump was vocally opposed to the 2015 nuclear agreement, at one point calling it the “worst deal ever”.

The latest announcement shows the president has decided to keep the deal in place for the time being.

Cairo finally approves new investment law

Egypt’s parliament approved the country’s long-awaited investment law on 7 May. The new law focuses on the diversification of incentives and guarantees for investors.

The government first approved an investment law in March 2015 aimed at bolstering investor confidence, eliminating bureaucracy, easing the procedures to obtain licences for projects, and attracting foreign investment.

The new law includes a 50 per cent tax break on investments in underdeveloped areas and government support for the cost of connecting key utilities. Additionally, the law restores private sector free zones as well as rebates on acquired land for industrial projects if production begins within two years.

Major declines in profits for Emirates Group

Dubai-based Emirates Group reported profits of AED2.5bn ($670m) in the fiscal year ending 31 March, down 70 per cent from the previous year’s reported profits.

Revenue grew 2 per cent to AED94.7bn, while cash balance decreased by 19 per cent to AED19.1bn.

The decline in cash position is due to the repayment of two bonds on maturity and ongoing high investments into its fleet and aircraft-related assets, Emirates Group said in a statement.

Figures published on the company’s website said it had made significant investments in the business, worth AED13.7bn, during the period.

Further reading

Boeing signs commercial and defence deals with Riyadh

Saudi Arabia intends to procure an undisclosed number of Chinook helicopters and up to 16 widebody aircraft from US-based Boeing. Riyadh’s relationship with Boeing dates back to 1945, when US President Roosevelt presented a DC-3 to the king.

Egypt moves location of $2.2bn Dairut IPP

Egypt’s Electricity Ministry and Egyptian Electricity Holding Company have moved the location of the planned 2,250MW Dairut independent power project (IPP) to a site in Luxor. The project is estimated to cost $2.2bn.

Cairo moves PPP deadline after strong interest

Egypt’s Ministry of Education & Vocational Education has extended the submission deadline for developers interested in the country’s school public-private partnership (PPP) programme. Up to 81 companies submitted prequalification documents in February this year.

Negotiations ongoing for major Abu Dhabi refinery upgrade

Abu Dhabi Oil Refining Company is in talks with bidders over a major project to upgrade the Ruwais refinery to process additional offshore crude. Meanwhile, insurers are still investigating the damage caused by a fire at the Ruwais refinery site in January.