Saudi trade mission concludes its visit to five US states

May 20, 2005 02:00 AM

A 50-member Saudi trade mission concluded its visit to five US states, after the coast-to-coast tour promoted $ 623 bn in US investment opportunities through 2020 in the electrical, water, telecommunications, gas and oil industries. The Saudi officials, who began their trip in New York on May 8, held their final business forum in San Francisco.
Omar Buhlaiwa, the secretary-general for the Saudi Committee for the Development of International Trade (CIT) of the Council of Saudi Chambers of Commerce and Industry in Riyadh, said new investments in Saudi Arabia could create at least 500,000 jobs annually.

The United States is the Kingdom's largest trading partner. Despite setbacks from 9/11 terrorism attacks, bilateral trade in 2004 was at $ 26 bn, and there are currently over 360 joint US-Saudi projects in the Kingdom.
"The response was great, and the results were good. This is going to be the beginning of many more such trips," said Buhlaiwa.

The delegation held meetings in New York, Atlanta, Houston, Chicago and San Francisco. Although "each city had its own charisma," Buhlaiwa said the cities were strategically chosen.
"NYC was selected because of its financial and banking sections, Atlanta because it is the commercial capital of the United States. Houston is, needless to say, the base for gas and oil. Chicago was a combination of three sections: industry, finance and commerce. And San Francisco was chosen for its IT industry."

Asked how the delegation was received, Buhlaiwa said: "Businessmen are businessmen wherever you go. First they want to get to know you, and then they will pay attention to what you have in your briefcase."
Due to their outreach, Buhlaiwa said some US companies "changed their strategy on Saudi Arabia, and they showed a new interest in the Saudi market. One company met with us immediately after our last luncheon, and wanted to re-strategize their perspective on Saudi Arabia."

As a result of the tour, Buhlaiwa said two delegations -- from Houston and the US Arab Chamber of Commerce -- have already decided to visit Saudi Arabia.
"We need to keep this up -- both ways. Communication between America and Saudi Arabia is a must. We must understand and respect each other's cultures and opinions. With businessmen that's not a problem. The best road to build up bridges is business."

But problems remain for those wanting to do business with the US. Buhlaiwa said he and a colleague were detained for three hours in customs at a New York airport.
"I got through in 20 minutes but my colleague is 28, and it took him three hours to get through customs. All the US airports are tough, and our experience was not very comfortable. It was a real relief once we left the airports.”
"This treatment at US Customs must be improved, if not businessmen will not come over. This is true not only for Saudi businessmen, but all businessmen. If they feel they are threatened because of the security inspection at the airport, they will not come. This has to change."

Asidefrom the tough interview routine upon entering, Buhlaiwa also complained about the "sign out" requirement when leaving a US airport.
"If you forget to sign out, you're not able to return to the US for the next five years. This is unbelievable. I love the US; we consider this to be our second home. We don't want people to look at the US negatively, and the US has to look at this issue carefully and not frighten people away."

Source: Arab News
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