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Tuesday, 22 January, 2002, 18:22 GMT
Saudi bid for foreign investment
Saudi market scene
Standards of living have fallen in Saudi Arabia
The Saudi Arabian authorities are stepping up efforts to attract foreign investors.

The world's biggest oil exporter has been hit hard by falling oil prices, which pushed its budget into deficit by about $6bn last year.

Falling oil prices "made us think about seriously plugging our economy into what is happening in the world," Prince Abdullah bin Faisal bin Turki - head of the country's investment authority - told the BBC's World Business Report.

He said the country - which wants to join the World Trade Organisation (WTO) - is also speeding up moves to open up to investors.

Poor economic performance and rapid population growth have seen standards of living fall there.

Plugging into growth

"The direct investment process is the quickest way to economic growth. We have not been thinking about the global or the foreign direct investor. We feel that now is a good time and we have enough opportunities," he added.

The telecoms, insurance and banking sectors are closed to many investors - though pressure is growing for this to change.

"There is a realisation that we have to open up quicker, if we are going to make gains," he added.

He foresees opportunities for growth in industry - particularly downstream products - as well as in the service sector.

"We have a low percentage of our GDP in services and I know there is a big demand," he said.

High unemployment

Oil revenues comprise about three-quarters of the national income, making the country highly vulnerable to world price fluctuations.

This year, the Saudi budget deficit will double to $12bn, though a balanced budget had been forecast.

Unemployment runs at 15-20% - but foreign migrants continue to account for about 65% of the workforce.

Parts of Riyadh are particularly deprived, bearing the brunt of government spending cutbacks.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
Prince Abdullah bin Faisal bin Turki
"Direct investment is the quickest way to economic growth"
Residents of Faisalia, Riyadh
discuss deprivation in the area
See also:

28 Dec 01 | Country profiles
Country profile: Saudi Arabia
09 Dec 01 | Business
Saudi Arabia misses budget target
24 Mar 00 | World
Q&A: The oil business
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