Saudi Arabia launches $70b investment plan

BEIRUT — Saudi Oil Minister Ali Al Naimi yesterday took a break from the volatile crude market to pitch a petrochemical industry programme to make the kingdom the world's number three in the sector by 2015 and boost youth employment.

By (Reuters)

Published: Sat 5 May 2007, 8:28 AM

Last updated: Sat 4 Apr 2015, 10:56 PM

Naimi said the government has started a $70 billion investment programme to take Saudi Arabia from its current ranking as the world's 10th largest petrochemical producer.

"What we have achieved so far has been a dream. The petrochemicals industry gives us value added and employment for a large number of the young," Naimi said.

The Saudi economy grew at 4.2 per cent last year, according to Samba bank, but male unemployment remained stuck at an estimated eight per cent. Female unemployment is lower.

Several regional bankers have questioned whether the petrochemical investment would make a profit, saying the money could constitute a huge subsidy, but Naimi said it will be profitable in the long-term.

The minister expected petrochemical output to rise from 60 million tonnes to 100 million by 2015 and the kinds of petrochemicals produced to double.

"The products we're manufacturing using petrochemical components are highly competitive with anything in the world," said Naimi, who delivered the keynote speech at the Arab Economic Forum, a gathering organised by the Al Iktissad Wal-Aamal magazine.

Naimi said returns from the oil boom were being used to expand Saudi industry and raise the number of Saudis among the workforce, a process known as Saudisation.

Saudi Arabia is the world's top oil exporter. Naimi said the diversification strategy includes a $13 billion investment in a phosphate and fertiliser complex in Ras al-Zor on the Gulf, which is expected to start production by 2010.

A 1,4000km (875 mile) railway network will be built to supply raw materials from Saudi Arabia's north and central regions to the complex.

Declining to answer questions about the oil market and impact of regional turmoil on prices, Naimi said the new investments will help Saudi Arabia weather any political storm.

"Progress in the economy, research, science and society will help remove dangers surrounding us," said Naimi, who attended the American University of Beirut decades ago, when it was a bastion of liberal thinking.

"A strong economy will help stabilise the state," he said. "Underdevelopment only leads to desperation."

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