A high level Saudi Arabian Government team led by Dr Hisham Yamani, Minister of Commerce, and Alaudeen Alaskari, the Consul General in Hong Kong, took time-out from the WTO meeting to promote foreign investments in Saudi Arabia.

Along with representatives of the Saudi Arabia General Investment Authority, they advocated Saudi investments to Hong Kong funds and investors at an event hosted by KE Absolute, a regional stockbroker specializing in servicing hedge funds.

The Saudi economy is opening up, with 20 service sectors newly targeted for privatization in a recent government white paper. Liberalization of the Saudi economy and a less interventionist government stance is designed to allow the private sector a greater participation in the current boom in the Gulf of Arabia. This compares to the 1970s, when the private sector did not benefit to such a significant extent.

The Saudi petrochemicals industry was spotlighted as an area in which private investment funds have been raised. The petrochemicals sector now has an estimated value of about $125 billion in Saudi Arabia.

The Saudi Arabian budget surplus, courtesy of its oil receipts, is mainly being routed to fund infrastructure projects, often as big-ticket co-ventures with the private sector. The ministers added that Hong Kong blue-chip Hutchison Whampoa has been actively seeking investment in their region and bidding for infrastructure investments.

The ministers highlighted an investment scenario in Saudi Arabia that is becoming increasingly diversified from the core oil business, and emphasized recent legal developments, such as tax equalization aligning foreign investors with tax breaks that local investors currently receive.

They commented that Saudi Arabia is now the beneficiary of a fast growing volume of PRC direct investment, especially in the energy sector. This is leading to a degree of reciprocity, with Saudi investors channeling more investment funds to the Greater China region.

To continue this progress and make itself more attractive to investors, Saudi Arabia needs to play a more integrated role in the world's economy, beyond that of being seen as just an oil provider. Saudi Arabia's accession to the WTO will contribute to this opening-up of its trade and markets.

Jonathan Lloyd, director of KE Absolute, said that the delegation was "candid, open and ready for business."