(WASHINGTON, DC) – The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s Council of Ministers endorsed the Ninth Five-Year Development Plan this week, increasing spending over the next five years by 67 percent. The total investment over the next five years is $385 billion. Despite the international economic downturn, the Kingdom continues to invest in the education and health of its people and its infrastructure.
Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz has been emphasizing education for Saudi Arabia to become more competitive in an international market. The spending plan allocates funds for 25 new colleges of technology, 28 higher technical institutes and 50 industrial training institutes, and aims to expand the capacities of public universities to 1.7 million students and primary, intermediate and secondary schools to 5.31 million students.
Additionally, the healthcare sector through the creation of117 new hospitals and 750 primary health care centers will add to the growing job market. Additionally, a plethora of new infrastructure projects, including doubling the present capacity of desalination plants from 1.05 billion to 2.07 billion cubic meters will increase job opportunities.
Trade also continues to be a top priority for the Kingdom. In 2008, bilateral trade between the Kingdom and the U.S. increased by 14 percent, with exports diversifying away from oil. In March 2010, Saudi Arabia announced plans to launch stock market index funds accessible to foreigners in a bid to open up the Arab world’s biggest stock exchange. The Saudi stock market is the region’s leader, with stocks rising to their highest prices since 2008 in March 2010.
Over the past year the Kingdom’s financial sector has become more transparent and has attracted more foreign investors. A report by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) ranked Saudi Arabia as the eighth largest recipient of direct foreign investment in the world, amounting to an estimated $35.46 billion. The previous year the Kingdom ranked 14th, demonstrating the increasing strength and stability of the Saudi economy despite a harsh international economic environment.