Saudi-US business ties set to get further boost

Strategic business interests that are shared between the US and Saudi will be one of the main topics

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When President Obama lands in Saudi's capital Riyadh on Air Force One next week, he won’t just be coming to talk about diplomacy, but about the strategic business interests that are shared between the United States and Saudi Arabia.

Overseeing many of those key strategic business interests is Tom Donohue, president and CEO of the US Chamber of Commerce, which is the world’s largest business organization representing the interests of more than 3 million businesses of all sizes, sectors, and regions.

Speaking to Saudi Gazette about President Obama’s upcoming visit to the Kingdom, Donohue said, “Our alliance cannot be based solely on our common strategic interests, it must be based on our shared commercial interests as well. And there is tremendous and largely untapped potential for greater economic cooperation between our countries.”

The US Chamber of Commerce was founded in 1912 by President Taft, as a counterbalance to the labor movement of the time. Since then, its power and influence on Capitol Hill and with CEOs and businesses has made it the largest lobbying organization in the United States. In 2015, the US Chamber of Commerce’s lobbying expenditures were more than two-and-a-half times higher than the next highest spender: the American Medical Association, at $23.9 million.

Since 1997, when he became CEO, Tom Donohue has built the Chamber into a powerhouse with expanded influence across the globe. He sees Saudi Arabia as a key partner and leader in economic opportunity, job creation and investment. During his interview from Washington DC.

Donohue told Saudi Gazette, “There is a longstanding strategic relationship between US and Saudi Arabia. One of the pillars of our strategic bilateral relationship is the strong economic relationship our companies have developed over the past 50+ years. Today, that remains at the heart of the relationship and the Chamber is working with our friends in the Kingdom to enhance and deepen it.”

Those ties are certainly strengthening. In the past year, Donohue hosted a dinner for King Salman during his visit to Washington last September, and he’s also spoken to Deputy Crown Prince Muhammad Bin Salman, second deputy premier and minister of defense.

“I’ve spent extraordinary times with the leadership of the Kingdom. Recently we met with the leaders of major industries in Saudi Arabia. I have spent a lot of time around the world with high-level business people and heads of state. But I was so impressed with the group I met from Saudi Arabia. They were just so current, so focused on the global engagement on the industries they’re in. They are so clear on their expansions and investments they’re making. I came away saying, ‘Boy, this is serious business.’ There’s a new ‘let’s go and get something done’ attitude. They are so eager to find patterns and move forward. I haven’t seen that in many countries to this level yet.”

That is certainly good news for the leading US companies which have invested in Saudi Arabia, including Coca Cola, Goldman Sachs, Microsoft, Dow Chemical, GE, Lockhead Martin, and Boeing. Earlier this year twenty five American CEOs and business leaders came to Riyadh to meet with their counterparts from Saudi companies so they could support the Kingdom’s ambitious economic development and diversification plans, by bringing US-Saudi trade and investment groups together and to promote economic growth and job creation in both countries.

It’s certainly an agenda item that he would like to pass to President Obama and King Salman when they meet next week in Saudi Arabia. During his interview, Donohue explained: “Economic strength can drive strategic strength to help overcome geopolitical challenges. To this end, there is a desire from both countries for the business community to lead the way in identifying where we can create more bilateral trade and investment opportunities for increased economic growth and job creation.”

Donohue sees the number of students from Saudi Arabia who are at universities across the US as a sign of ongoing potential for growth, “There’s an unbelievable amount of Saudi young adults getting advanced degrees here, and they are helping build a strong attachment to the Untied States. We really like that as it improves the government-to-government, people-to-people, business-to-business relationship we’re trying to develop.”

Donohue said, “There is one over riding issue that struck me with the Deputy Crown Prince Muhammad Bin Salman. He has a fundamental vision of where he wants to go and where he wants to take the country, and he’s got the right contacts to get it done. He’s got things moving. And I’m so impressed with his vision and the speed he wants to do it in. I’m waiting for him to hurry up to get to the United States so we can help him.” No doubt business leaders are too.

This article was first published by the Saudi Gazette on April 16, 2016.