Riyadh ushers in new era

26 April 2016

Right at the heart of Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed’s vision is a programme to diversify the giant Saudi economy by developing the manufacturing sector

All eyes were on Riyadh on 25 April as Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman al-Saud unveiled his long-term economic plan for the region’s biggest and most important economy.

In launching Vision 2030 for Saudi Arabia, the prince announced an ambitious set of objectives and an aggressive roadmap to end Saudi Arabia’s dependence on oil exports and on government spending. He also promised to deliver the biggest and most wide-ranging economic reform programme ever launched in the region.

But right at the heart of Prince Mohammed’s vision is a programme to diversify the giant Saudi economy by developing the manufacturing sector.

Investing in manufacturing capacity and supporting it with modern, efficient infrastructure requires huge investment and will take time, but it makes sense for Saudi Arabia.

The biggest challenge facing the kingdom is youth unemployment. A thriving manufacturing sector will create large numbers of productive jobs and rewarding careers for young Saudis, ranging from finance through to design and engineering.

The kingdom has significant structural assets at its disposal to drive and support industrial development. These include abundant and low-cost energy; huge, untapped mineral resources; and a geocentric location between the European and Asian markets, with easy access to key shipping routes on both its east and west coasts.

But to deliver the vision, Riyadh must tackle some chronic problems at the heart of Saudi Arabia’s economy.

It must overhaul its investment landscape, improve protection for private sector investors, and reduce red tape and a slow, often unhelpful government bureaucracy. Improving corporate governance and the distorting effect of subsidies is also needed.

Investment in education reform will equip young Saudis with the skills needed to lead the kingdom’s emerging industrial economy and encourage creativity, innovation and productivity.

And continued investment in efficient transportation and logistics capacity will ensure Saudi manufacturers can compete globally.

None of these issues is new and many attempts have been made to deliver similar goals. But this time it could be different.

We are seeing a generational change in leadership across the region, with Prince Mohammed the most prominent Millennial. This is accompanied by a technological revolution that has made redundant many old ways of behaving and thinking. 

And crucially, we have reached the end of an era when high oil prices allowed government spending to mask chronic economic weaknesses.

We are at the dawn of a new era.

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