WASHINGTON—Saudi Arabia’s finance minister, Mohammed al-Jadaan, says that the oil-rich kingdom is putting down major capital in its efforts to diversify the economy, investing money in technology and “spending as if there is no tomorrow.”
The tech push is part of the country’s effort to decrease its reliance on oil as Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman has stressed a need for a new direction in the nation. He has advocated a vision for 2030 that would see Saudi Arabia as a technology hub for the Middle East.
On the sidelines of the IMF/World Bank spring meetings in Washington, al-Jadaan told Yahoo Finance that the country aims to become a serious player in the world of technology and is investing heavily. He detailed a number of investment areas in tech including artificial intelligence, augmented reality and data mining where the kingdom is looking to attract talent and companies.
“A lot of technology companies are being targeted by Saudi today,” al-Jadaan said during a talk at the IMF on Saturday. “Why? Because we think that’s the future, [and] because we want to use them to bring that expertise and know-how into Saudi Arabia and build and maintain our talent. We think that’s the future and we are investing in the future.”
Crown Prince bin Salman recently finished a three-week tour across the United States. He spent a week on the West Coast meeting with a number of big names in tech, including Jeff Bezos and Richard Branson, and working to net agreements with companies such as Snap (SNAP), Amazon (AMZN), Google (GOOGL) and Apple (AAPL).
The Ministry of Finance announced recently its goal is to make Saudi Arabia one of the 15 largest economies in the world by 2030 with 22 programs and 74 projects the country seeks to complete by 2020. The country has recently rolled back some of its more clandestine laws, including restricting women from driving, as part of its push to attract outside capital.
al-Jadaan last year unveiled a four-year stimulus package of 200 billion Saudi riyals ($53.4 billion) intended to help businesses restructure debts, extend lending limits to companies that contribute to employment and fund small- and medium-sized enterprises. The kingdom announced in December that it was extending 53 billion riyals ($19.2 billion) to stimulate growth in the private sector.
al-Jadaan said that he did see risks ahead, including cyber security, for which he said Saudi Arabia is developing an entirely new entity, and the country’s ability to implement its ambitious program.
“One challenge I would lose my sleep over is capacity,” he said. “If there’s anything that would challenge us seriously, it’s not design, it’s not planning, it’s implementation. So far we have been successful, but I would like to continue that success.”
More from the IMF/World Bank meetings:
- It will take ‘trillions of dollars’ to fix the world’s education problem
- World Bank issues first-ever poverty bond, gets $1.5 billion
- IMF’s Lagarde ‘very pleased’ and ‘supportive’ of U.S. tax cut
- No need to break-up big tech companies like Amazon and Facebook yet, says IMF’s Lagarde
- One troubling theme is permeating the IMF’s spring meeting
- Gates Foundation lays out its 3 steps to global financial inclusion