As part of an interview series in light of the 2017 Transatlantic Economic Forum in Washington D.C., today we talk with Omar A. Bahlaiwa, President of the Optimum Business Consulting Bureau (OBCB), Member of the Board of Committee for International trade (CIT), and former Secretary General of the Council of Saudi Chambers (CSC) in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
Bahlaiwa is a prominent figure in the high dignitaries among business communities within the Kingdom as well as overseas; his role was to enhance and promote the country’s image internationally and leading prominent delegations to Europe, North America and other key OECD nations to establish a globally favorable image of Saudi Arabia. In 2007 and 2011, he was selected as one of the Leaders in Saudi Arabia in the book issued by Leaders Publishing Corporation.
Bahlaiwa will actively participate in the upcoming Transatlantic Economic Forum organized by the Center for Transatlantic Relations SAIS at Johns Hopkins University in Washington D.C. in partnership with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. He will also be recognized with the “2017 Mediterranean Leadership Award.”
U.S. President Trump visited the Riyadh Summit in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) on his first stop during his maiden foreign trip in May this year – what can you tell us about the future of U.S.-Saudi relations in terms of trade and commerce?
The visit of U.S. President Trump to Riyadh was a historical visit. While it showed solidarity in U.S-KSA relations, it also widened the horizon of the bilateral relation in all aspects, including political, economic and social relations. For the first time, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia licensed several U.S. companies in the retail sector, and more in the manufacturing sector, in addition to the transfer of technology and know-how. This will eventually increase bilateral trade to a new level in the near future, which in turn, will enable the U.S. to gain back its position as the number one partner in export/import with Saudi Arabia.
Within Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s Vision 2030 plan, Saudi Arabia is rapidly diversifying its economy away from oil. Last month, Saudi Arabia announced major projects as part of Vision 2030 to diversify its economy (the so-called economic cities, e.g. a major project on the Red Sea that is expected to add $4 billion dollars to the economy per year, among others). What is your vision for the private sector within Vision 2030?
Vision 2030 is the new future of Saudi Arabia. It will give us the chance to enhance our development and advance our level of becoming a world leader in numerous fields. Saudi Arabia is a member of the G20 and it is considered to be one of the leading economies in the MENA [Middle East and North Africa] region. In addition to the economic cities, there are many other fields that are now open for investments, and KSA is an attractive destination for investors. With Vision 2030, we are not only transparent, we are also drawing the road map for our nation and welcoming investors to be partners in our future. Saudi Arabia is shaping up to become a model for young people to see their future through the planning of a strategic vision.
Saudi Arabia has a young population, plenty of science graduates, and relatively high rates of investment in healthcare, technology, and infrastructure. What is the youth’s role in the economy?
Saudi Arabia’s economy is built by Saudis and that will continue. The young generation within our population is a highly educated and extremely sophisticated group that graduated from local and international institutions, and they will continue to build the country and will further lead to the development of a bright future. This young leadership will orchestrate the development within this population. Ahead of us we see harmony in a society with a bright and promising future.
In a recent statement, the Saudi government confirmed its commitment to an initial public offering (IPO) of shares in Saudi ARAMCO. If the IPO goes through, what do you expect the effects will be on the Saudi economy, and in particular, on the private sector?
Saudi ARAMCO is considered one of the largest oil companies in the world. Offering an IPO for such a company will take time and effort. Ultimately, this is considered to be part of the plan for diversification. The revenue from this IPO will be utilized in investments locally and internationally, and the return on these investments will facilitate more income to the Saudi government, consequently making it less dependant on oil returns. This plan was included in Vision 2030.
In November, you will receive the Center for Transatlantic Relations SAIS “Mediterranean Leadership Award 2017.” What would you say to the countries of the wider Mediterranean (and beyond) that are attending the Forum?
It is my honor and privilege to receive the Mediterranean Leadership Award 2017 from the Center for Transatlantic Relations SAIS at John Hopkins University. I hereby encourage the Mediterranean countries (and beyond) to engage their economy closer with the U.S. and consider it a trustworthy, reliable, and lasting partner. My message to you is that trade is a road to friendship, so I would encourage everyone to take that road in a start to building this relationship.