Saudi Arabia showcases $53B in deals at conference

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Saudi Arabia says nearly 40 agreements worth $53 billion were signed Monday at the second major investment conference held in the kingdom since the killing of writer Jamal Khashoggi sparked an international outcry.

The government's National Industrial Development and Logistics Program said a further 29 deals worth $960 million in sectors such as mining, logistics and energy were announced at the event. The initiative is part of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's Vision 2030, a blueprint for transforming the economy and weaning it off oil.

The crown prince looked on from the front row Monday evening as foreign and local investors walked across a stage at the Ritz Carlton in Riyadh to shake hands with Saudi officials. After the ceremony, the prince was surrounded by Saudis who held jostled for selfies with the 33-year-old heir to the throne.

Saudi Energy Minister Khalid al-Falih said 20 "deal rooms" were created so that investors could sit and discuss the various investment opportunities and air their concerns. "We addressed many of the issues they're concerned with when it comes to institutions, procedures, facilitation, and what's left of that is on the path to being resolved, God willing," he said.

It was the second major investor conference in Saudi Arabia since Khashoggi was killed by Saudi agents inside the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul. The killing of Khashoggi, who'd been a critic of the crown prince, prompted leading Western CEOs and officials to back out of attending the prince's flagship investment forum in October.

Investors have also expressed concern over an unprecedented anti-corruption sweep launched by the prince in 2017 that targeted senior royals, leading businessmen and officials.

Monday's investment forum comes as Saudi expenditures are set to hit a record-high this year of $295 billion, even as declining oil prices have forced the kingdom to adopt austerity measures.

Facing several more years of deficit, the government is looking to the private sector and investors to help spur new domestic industries and create millions of new jobs for young Saudis entering the workforce in coming years.

The kingdom is aiming to attract more than $426 billion in investment and create 1.6 million new jobs in its manufacturing, mining, logistics and energy sectors.

Saudi Arabia, which is home to around 30 million people, two-thirds of whom are Saudi nationals, wants to build new airports and sea ports, metro lines and railways to play a leading logistics role in connecting Asia with Europe. Saudi Arabia also wants to start producing its own pharmaceuticals, renewables and much of its military procurement.

One of the agreements signed Monday includes a partnership agreement between chemicals companies Alrafiyah and Eastman Chemical of the U.S. to set up a factory for hydrocarbon resins worth nearly $500 million.

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