Regulation reform key for global investment flows, says Saudi Investment Minister

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Regulators need to continue looking at how to reform regulation in order to encourage continued investment in a post-COVID-19 world, Saudi Arabia’s Minister of Investment Khalid al-Falih said.

Al-Falih was speaking on the opening day of the fourth edition of the Future Investment Initiative summit. The event has brought together 8,000 participants from 94 countries under the theme of the “The Neo-Renaissance.”

“We have looked, in the Kingdom, into more than 400 regulations and half of them have been revamped, the Kingdom has leapfrogged … in terms of risk of doing business and ease of doing business,” al-Falih said.

“I am pleased to say in Saudi Arabia foreign direct investment went up in 2020 over 2019. I think the pandemic has brought to the fore the capacity of certain countries … that could manage multiple crises at the same time … and showcasing who are the governments, who are the countries, who are the policymakers, who could provide security to the investors as well as the population,” he added.

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Fellow panelist Lord Grimstone of Boscobel, the Minister for Investment of the Department for International Trade and the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy in the UK, echoed al-Falih’s comments.

“Investment has become one of the world’s most competitive sports to attract investment … What do you learn from investors, you learn two things, what they want to invest in and what are the barriers to investment and all of us have an equal job to removing barriers in the same way we have to attracting investment,” Lord Grimstone said.

Ultimately, the duty of regulatory reform falls on the state, which Dr. Rania al-Mashat, the minister of International Cooperation for Egypt, noted.

“The role of the state is to try and look at the regulations quite closely … having everyone at the table and the concept of stakeholder capitalism everyone comes together because no one can reach aspirations on their own,” she said.

All of the panelists called for a return to multilateralism and increased connectivity as a way to help the world overcome the economic hit caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“My view quite clearly is it’s going to be trade and investment which pulls the world out of this, and we have to absolutely hit back on protectionism. Already we are seeing some countries think the answer is to pull themselves back into themselves,” Lord Grimstone added.

Panellists on day one of FII 2020. (Screengrab)
Panellists on day one of FII 2020. (Screengrab)

An outlook to 2021

Al-Falih opened his remarks with optimism for the global economy in 2021, following wild swings in 2020.

“One-hundred years ago the world experienced a similar pandemic with the Spanish flu and after that we are still benefitting from the boom that happened in the decade after, the roaring 20s,” he said.

“So, I’m starting this year with a lot of enthusiasm, cautiously of course, there have been a lot of setbacks, a lot of hurt, a lot of suffering because of COVID,” al-Falih added.

The minister’s optimism was echoed by Sultan Ahmed bin Sulayem, group chairman and CEO of the UAE shipping and logistics giant DP World. Bin Sulayem noted that the COVID-19 crisis has left countries, authorities, and businesses in a better position to handle future shakeups, and help shepherd in a post-pandemic return to normalcy.

“We learned how to cope with it … with the vaccine available it is the end of the pandemic … I share Khalid al-Falih’s optimism what we went through gave us a strong ability to deal with this,” he said.

The FII summit has brought over 150 speakers together, some which will be attending from hubs in Paris, Mumbai, Beijing, and New York, while others attend in person in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. The event had previously been postponed from December last year due to the pandemic and has adopted a hybrid in-person-virtual format. FII takes place from January 27-28 and will be attended by tech pioneers, investors, executives, and policymakers to maximize the potential of this impact-oriented conference.

The speakers, of whom 60 will be attending in-person and 90 virtually, will discuss how the rebirth of the global economy could be shaped despite the barriers imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

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