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Saudi Arabia considers foreign ownership of retail businesses

Saudi Arabia may allow 100% ownership of retail businesses to encourage foreign investment into the country as oil prices remain low, Bloomberg has reported. 27 Jan 2016

The Saudi Arabian General Investment Authority will submit the proposal to the country's cabinet by the end of the first quarter of 2016, the authority's governor Abdullatif Al-Othman told Bloomberg.

“We really wanted people to recognise that the kingdom’s economy, even in a low prevailing oil price environment, can be extremely productive in terms of leveraging the sectors that are growing,” Al-Othman told Bloomberg.

Al-Othman said that Saudi Arabia has been attracting an average of $10 billion a year in foreign direct investment and that the government is aiming to double or triple that, Bloomberg said.

The authority has already had proposals from international companies, Al-Othman said. "Some offered some plans for establishing a regional hub, others offered some plans to do manufacturing," he told Bloomberg.

The authority has also been talking to businesses already operating in Saudi Arabia to ask how it can help them, Al-Othman said.

“We would love anyone to say look, if you change this law or regulation, I am coming here with these investments. Any regulation,” he told Bloomberg.

Middle East infrastructure expert Sachin Kerur of Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law.com said: “This is an unsurprising development. The Saudi government has been very clear that it regards a progressive opening up of economic sectors to foreign participation as being in the interests of the kingdom and these moves are further evidence of that policy. Retail is relatively undeveloped and with the size and demographics of the kingdom, foreign retailers are avidly awaiting appealing market-entry rules."

Earlier this month, Saudi Arabia's aviation regulator said that foreign companies will be allowed to invest in the privatisation of Saudi Arabia's airports without the need for local partners, and local investment will be capped to encourage overseas investment.

The kingdom's deputy crown prince Muhammad bin Salman also said this month that Saudi Arabia may list shares in state-owned oil company Saudi Aramco.

Saudi Arabia is likely to post a budget deficit of almost 20% of gross domestic product this year, according to the International Monetary Fund (IMF).