The 7th two-day Saudi-Lebanese Economic Forum is being held with the support of Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati, which ended yesterday. Its participants included 500 senior officials, economists, investors, major bank managers, heads of chambers of commerce and industry, and businessmen from both countries. The officials attending included Minister of Trade and Industry Tawfiq Al-Rabiah and Lebanese Minister of Industry Vrej Sabounjian.
Saudi investments in Lebanon total about $4.5 billion, and the number of Lebanese citizens in the Kingdom is estimated between 150,000 and 200,000, of whom 600 are investors, compared to around 2,500 Saudi investors in Lebanon.
The forum is the result of much work by prominent economists and investors as well as government agencies to launch initiatives aimed at strengthening the economic ties between Saudi Arabia and Lebanon. It provides an opportunity for Saudi and Lebanese businessmen to meet, discuss and promote cooperation between them through work sessions and bilateral meetings on common trade and investment projects.
Saudi attorney Khalid Alnowaiser presented a working paper titled "The Role of Saudi Legislations in Promoting the Investment Environment," which discussed the major steps taken by the Kingdom to overcome the obstacles that hinder foreign investments and encourage local investments. He discussed the establishment of the Supreme Economic Council, under the chairmanship of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah, which is tasked with developing the economic policy of the country, the establishment of the General Authority for Investment, and the accession of Saudi Arabia to the World Trade Organization.
He further highlighted the country's progress in developing the judiciary system, guaranteeing its independence, and promoting judges' competences. Of additional interest to foreign investors, the Kingdom has been working on new legislation for the Saudi arbitration system, the issuance of the foreign investment system, and the property ownership system for non-Saudis.
Alnowaiser also listed several obstacles faced by the Saudi investment process, such as bureaucracy, the need to update some legal systems, the delay in the issuance of work permits in some sectors, slow procedures for the issuance of customs licenses, and the ongoing issue of importing skilled labor. He pointed out that, despite the Arab Spring, Saudi Arabia remains in fact the best investment environment in the Middle East compared to many countries due to its stability at all levels.
Finally, he suggested several ways to activate the investment process and promote a better investment climate, such as the establishment of a court specialized in the investment disputes between investors and the state or between the investors themselves. Such a court would speed up judicial proceedings; remove investment barriers by issuing new regulations that motivate investment and investors, and develop government agencies' performance.