Thank you for inviting me to speak here this evening. I am glad to be in Iowa. Moreover, in Cedar Rapids, where the first mosque in the United States was constructed – along with the first national Muslim cemetery – more than seventy years ago. truly, you are a welcoming people.
I certainly appreciate the warmth and hospitality that I have received. I would like to thank Congressman Leach and Dr. Hamod for their kind remarks.
Before I begin, I would also like to thank the National U.S.-Arab Chamber of Commerce and the Iowa City and Cedar Rapids Chambers of Commerce for hosting this event. And I want to extend my appreciation to the Midamar Corporation for sponsoring us here tonight. I thank you all for your support.
Ladies and Gentlemen:
Iowa, I’ve learned, is the birthplace of the late, great actor John Wayne. Over the course of my time as Ambassador, I’ve come to take heed of Mr. Wayne’s advice, when he once said: “Talk low, talk slow, and don’t talk too much.”
With that in mind, I would like to share with you some brief remarks regarding recent developments in Saudi Arabia – specifically regarding our economy.
When it comes down to it, ladies and Gentlemen, I would say that Saudi Arabia and Iowa are not far apart in this area. They share a mutual goal. It is common knowledge that the state of Iowa is traditionally known for its great agricultural production, especially its corn.
Recently, however, the Hawkeye state has increased its efforts to stimulate business from within, and attract businesses from other states. This worthy and wise decision to diversify your economy has been successful. From what I understand, Iowa has seen strong growth in the biosciences, advanced manufacturing and consulting sectors. Through more open state policies, lower taxes, or tariffs, there has been positive economic growth within the state.
Just as Iowa is taking steps to grow its economy, so too is Saudi Arabia. You all know that the Kingdom is known for its oil. And I assure you that oil will flow for a long while to come. But the people of Saudi Arabia cannot live on oil alone.
To help diversify our economy, King Abdullah is encouraging the development of education, banking, information technology and other industries. We are using the financial prosperity we have seen in recent years from oil revenues to invest in impressive projects to promote employment, opportunity and prosperity. We are doing so with a thoughtful and comprehensive economic strategy. A plan is being carried out that examines areas of need, and lays the groundwork for sustainable growth.
The King Abdullah Economic City is an example of this planning. A nearly $26 billion project, the Economic City will serve as a center in Saudi Arabia for the private sector. Companies and investors will actively participate and benefit from the ultra-modern metropolis.
Complete with one of the largest deepwater sea ports in the world, large freighters carrying goods and equipment can move easily between the Mediterranean Sea and the Indian Ocean. An industrial district with modern factories and equipment will support Saudi Arabia’s manufacturing capabilities. There is also a financial island that will be home to many of the world’s largest financial firms – including banks, brokers and insurance companies. There is even an educational zone, resorts, and a residential area with the latest in infrastructure and technology.
The master plan for this project is quite a remarkable achievement, and one of which the citizens of the Kingdom are taking advantage. For them to do so, however, the Saudi people must be equipped with the tools and the educational background to succeed. A skilled and educated workforce is critical to the growth of a nation. The strength of educational institutions enables this.
In Saudi Arabia, we have made significant strides to modernize and improve our education system. The Kingdom, currently, is in the process of reviewing all of its education practices and materials, and is updating any element that is inconsistent with the needs of a modern education. Improved teacher training, and the overhauling of textbooks and classroom materials is already underway.
The Kingdom has introduced new curricula emphasizing critical thinking, math and science, but also the importance of good citizenship and productivity. This curriculum also addresses the environment, health, and human rights – so that every student at every level can understand the value and importance of their contributions to the global community.
We are also reinvigorating programs, such as Saudi Student Scholarships. We are sending Saudi students to colleges and universities abroad to learn, to make friends, and to experience foreign cultures. In the first phase of the program, 10,000 students have been offered full four-year scholarships. Most of them are studying here in the United States.
This program will help to improve the outlook of Saudis on the world. If they are to compete globally, they must be able to think globally.
We want our citizens and youth not only to participate, but to be leaders in an increasingly competitive environment. That is why Saudi Arabia is doing everything it can to keep up with a global economy that moves and changes at such a rapid pace.
Along with internal economic reforms and modernizations in our education system, Saudi Arabia has opened its doors to outside contributors. One of Saudi Arabia’s most significant steps to open up Saudis to the world was to join the World Trade Organization last year. This will give Saudi products increased access to the global marketplace, creating jobs and opportunities for our citizens. And it will also encourage more international investments and products to come to the Kingdom.
Today, there are investment opportunities worth over $600 billion available in Saudi Arabia in the next 15 years in a number of fields, including expanding the natural gas industry, growing information technology, developing the mining and tourism sectors, and further privatizing state-owned corporations, such as our airlines.
Saudi Arabia is the largest economy in the Middle East and in the Arab World and one of the fastest growing in the world. Last year the Saudi stock exchange set records, and is now, by far, the largest emerging market in the world, with a market capitalization exceeding $700 billion. Technology has been integrated into our society and economy, and is driving our performance. In the last five years, internet usage has grown by more than 1,000 percent, and this year, we are sending into space six communications and observation satellites.
It is important that foreign investors see the Kingdom as a welcoming environment for business development and growth. That is why – in addition to its WTO initiatives – the Kingdom has entered into bilateral investment agreements with other nations.
Currently, Saudi Arabia has agreements with Germany, France, Italy, Belgium, Netherlands and India. With the U.S., the Kingdom already has a Trade and Investment Framework Agreement – or TIFA agreement – and is working to develop a bilateral free-trade agreement. Building on these relationships, Saudi Arabia looks to be an even greater contributor in the global economy.
For Saudi Arabia and the U.S., the commercial relationship between the two countries is a critical one. We should continue to cultivate the historical partnership between our nations. There is a great deal more business that we could, and should be doing. Our governments, through recent dialogue and policies, have made it easier than ever for business development.
I believe that every nation has many different options about the way they choose to interact with the world. History has proven that nations that choose to isolate themselves are less prosperous and less stable. Saudi Arabia has chosen to be a leader and a champion for a definitively opposite approach. Our economic reforms put us in a position to participate, and grow increasingly competitive in the global marketplace.
Our belief as a nation is to offer our citizens the best opportunities available so they can pursue prosperity. We also believe that economic cooperation brings nations closer together – and the relationship between Saudi Arabia and the U.S. is critical to our shared interests and goals.
I hope that we nurture this economic partnership, because it can be a cornerstone for the triumph of peace, stability and prosperity in the Middle East, and the world.