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EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

In 2020, the Saudi Arabian government (SAG) continued its ambitious socio-economic reforms, collectively known as “Vision 2030.” Spearheaded by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Vision 2030 provides a roadmap for the development of new economic sectors, including tourism and entertainment, and for a significant transformation toward a digital, knowledge-based economy. The reforms are aimed at diversifying the Saudi economy away from its reliance on oil and creating more private sector jobs for a young and growing population.

To help accomplish these goals, the Saudi Arabian government (SAG) took additional steps in 2020 to improve the Kingdom’s investment climate, attract increased foreign investment, and encourage greater domestic and international private sector participation in its economy. To accelerate development and facilitate investment, the SAG elevated two Saudi authorities to full ministries in 2020: the Saudi Arabian General Investment Authority became the Ministry of Investment, and the Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage became the Ministry of Tourism. On March 30, 2021, the SAG also announced the new Shareek program, an initiative designed to generate $3.2 trillion of domestic investment from the SAG, the sovereign wealth Public Investment Fund, and the private sector into Saudi Arabia’s economic development.

The Saudi Arabian government and its new stand-alone intellectual property rights (IPR) agency, the Saudi Authority for Intellectual Property (SAIP), have taken important steps since 2018 to improve IPR protection, enforcement, and awareness. In 2020, SAIP continued its inspection campaigns and seized millions of items that violated IPR protection. However, despite making measurable progress, the continued lack of effective protection of IPR in the pharmaceutical sector remains a significant concern. Several U.S. and international pharmaceutical companies allege the SAG violated their IPR and the confidentiality of trade data by licensing local firms to produce competing generic pharmaceuticals without approval. Industry attempts to engage the SAG on these issues have not led to satisfactory outcomes for the affected companies, while legal recourse and repercussions for IPR violations remain poorly defined. Primarily for these reasons, the U.S. Trade Representative included Saudi Arabia on its Special 301 Priority Watch List for the second consecutive year.

Infrastructure development remains a priority component of Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 aspiration to become the most important logistics hub in the region, linking Asia, Europe, and Africa. By establishing new business partnerships and facilitating the flow of goods, people, and capital, the country seeks to increase interconnectivity and economic integration with other Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries. Improvements to transportation, such as the $23 billion Riyadh metro, are intended to support this plan. In addition, Saudi Arabia continues to create and expand “economic cities” – including plans for special economic zones – throughout the Kingdom as hubs for petrochemicals, mining, logistics, manufacturing, and digital industries. The Kingdom also continued its early-stage work on infrastructure for NEOM, a futuristic city in northwest Saudi Arabia that Saudi officials have said will cost $500 billion to develop.

Saudi Arabia is launching an $800 billion project to double the size of Riyadh city in the next decade and transform it into an economic, social, and cultural hub for the region. The project includes 18 “mega-projects” in the capital city to improve livability, strengthen economic growth, and more than double the population to 15-20 million by 2030. The SAG is seeking private sector financing of $250 billion for these projects with similar contributions from income generated by its financial, tourism, and entertainment sectors. While specific details of a new initiative announced in February 2021 to attract multinational companies’ regional headquarters offices to Saudi Arabia have not been finalized, senior SAG officials have said publicly that beginning in 2024, government contracts will only be awarded to companies whose regional headquarters are located in the Kingdom. “Saudization” polices requiring certain businesses to employ a quota of Saudi workers have led to disruptions in some private sector activities.

In recognition of the progress made in its investment and business climate, Saudi Arabia’s rankings on several world indexes improved between 2019 and 2021. The country jumped 13 places on the IMD World Competitiveness Yearbook 2019, the biggest gain of any country surveyed, and increased two more spots in 2020 to 24th place, supported by improvements to government and business efficiency. The World Bank ranked Saudi Arabia the world’s top reformer and improver in its Doing Business 2020 report. The Kingdom rose 30 places, from 92nd to 62nd, and improved in 9 out of 10 areas measured in the report. World Economic Forum’s 2020 Global Competitiveness Report Special Edition ranked Saudi Arabia among the top 10 countries in the world for digital skills. The report attributed this progress to a number of factors including the adoption of information and communication technology, flexible work arrangements, national digital skills, and the legal digital framework.

On the social front, the removal of guardianship laws and travel restrictions for adult women, the introduction of workplace protections, and recent judicial reforms that provide additional protection have enabled more women to enter the labor force. From 2016 to 2020, the Saudi female labor participation rate increased from 19 percent to 33 percent.

Development of the Saudi tourism sector is also a priority under Vision 2030, with plans to develop tourist attractions that meet the highest international standards and develop potential UNESCO World Heritage Sites. In addition to introducing a new tourism visa in 2019 for non-religious travelers, the SAG no longer requires that foreign travelers staying in the same hotel room provide proof of marriage or family relations. Construction of several multi-billion dollar giga-projects focused on tourism, including Qiddiya, the Red Sea Project, and Amaala, continue to progress. The SAG is seeking private investments through its Tourist Investment Fund, which has initial capital of $4 billion, and the Kafalah program, which provides loan guarantees of up to $400 million. In addition, the Tourism Fund signed MOUs with local banks to finance projects valued up to $40 billion in an effort to stimulate tourism investment and increase the sector’s contribution to GDP. Due to the global pandemic, the SAG paused its Saudi Seasons initiative comprised of 11 annual tourism ‘seasons’ held in each region of the country, but has announced the program will resume in November 2021.

The Saudi entertainment and sporting events sector is growing rapidly. AMC, Vox, and other cinema companies continue to develop hundreds of movie theaters. The SAG is seeking to sign agreements for film production studios in Saudi Arabia for end-to-end film production. Saudi film festivals, like the Red Sea Film Festival, are being developed to meet the SAG’s Vision 2030 Quality of Life objectives. The SAG has also hosted several world class sporting events including the European Tour, Diriyah ePrix, Dakar Rally, Saudi Formula One Grand Prix, Diriyah Tennis Cup, WWE Crown Jewel, and Supercoppa. In addition, several festivals and concerts have demonstrated strong demand for a variety of art and culture content.

Investor concerns persist, however, over the rule of law, business predictability, and political risk. Although some have recently been released, the continued detention and prosecution of activists, including prominent women’s rights activists, remains a significant concern, while there has been little progress on fundamental freedoms of speech and religion. Pressure on Saudi Arabia’s fiscal situation from the sharp downturn in oil prices and demand in 2020, as well as the unexpected spending needed to respond to COVID-19, will likely dampen some of the SAG’s ambitious plans. Despite budget cuts imposed in 2020 and the possibility that further spending reductions may be forthcoming, companies working on the SAG’s giga-projects reported the ongoing availability of funding in 2020. Revenues generated by the tripling of Saudi Arabia’s value-added tax rate from 5 to 15 percent in July 2020 have helped ease fiscal stress.

The pressure to generate non-oil revenue and provide more jobs for Saudi citizens have prompted the SAG to implement measures that may weaken the country’s investment climate going forward. Increased fees for expatriate workers and their dependents, as well as “Saudization” polices requiring certain businesses to employ a quota of Saudi workers, have led to disruptions in some private sector activities and may lead to a decrease in domestic consumption levels.

Finally, while some U.S. companies, including those with significant experience in Saudi Arabia, continue to experience payment delays for SAG contracts, many were paid in full from late 2020 through the beginning of 2021. The SAG has committed to speed up its internal payment process and pay companies in a timely manner.

Table 1: Key Metrics and Rankings
Measure Year Index/Rank Website Address
TI Corruption Perceptions Index 2020 52 of 180 http://www.transparency.org/research/cpi/overview
World Bank’s Doing Business Report 2020 62 of 190 http://www.doingbusiness.org/en/rankings
Global Innovation Index 2020 66 of 131 https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/analysis-indicator
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, historical stock positions) 2019 $10,826 https://apps.bea.gov/international/factsheet/
World Bank GNI per capita 2019 $22,840 http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GNP.PCAP.CD

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

Policies Towards Foreign Direct Investment

The SAG seeks foreign investment that explicitly promotes economic development, transfers foreign expertise and technology to Saudi Arabia, creates jobs for Saudi nationals, and increases Saudi Arabia’s non-oil exports. As part of Vision 2030, the SAG targets increasing foreign investments in Saudi Arabia to $3 trillion. The government encourages investment in nearly all economic sectors, with priority given to chemicals, industrial, and manufacturing; transport and logistics; information and communication technology; healthcare and life sciences; water and waste management; energy; education; tourism, entertainment and sports; real estate; financial services; and mining and metals. In March 2021, the SAG announced it is seeking to attract $420 billion in foreign investments over the next 10 years in the infrastructure and transportation sectors alone.

The Ministry of Investment of Saudi Arabia (MISA), formerly the Saudi Arabian General Investment Authority (SAGIA), governs and regulates foreign investment in the Kingdom, issues licenses to prospective investors, and works to foster and promote investment opportunities across the economy. Established originally as a regulatory agency, MISA has increasingly shifted its focus to investment promotion and assistance, offering potential investors detailed guidance and a catalogue of current investment opportunities on its website (https://investsaudi.sa/en/sectors-opportunities/).

MISA promotes efforts to improve the Kingdom’s attractiveness as an investment destination: e-licenses to provide a more efficient and user-friendly process; an online “instant” license issuance or renewal service to foreign investors that are listed on a local or international stock market and meet certain conditions; a reduction in the license approval period from days to hours; a reduction in required customs documents; 100 percent foreign ownership in most sectors; a reduction in customs clearance period from weeks to hours; the launch of Saudi Center for Commercial Arbitration; and an increase in the investor license period to five years. MISA’s reforms appear to be yielding results: Saudi Arabia jumped 30 places to 62nd place in the 2020 World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business Report.

In a country where most public entertainment was once forbidden, the SAG now regularly sponsors and promotes entertainment programming, including live concerts, dance exhibitions, sports competitions, and other public performances. Significantly, the audiences for many of those events are now gender-mixed, representing a larger consumer base. In addition to reopening cinemas in 2018, the SAG has hosted Formula E races, professional golf tournaments, a world heavyweight boxing title match, and a professional tennis tournament. Saudi Arabia launched the Saudi Seasons initiative in 2019 with tourism and cultural events in each of the 11 regions of the country. The Riyadh Season included first-ever car exhibition and auction in Riyadh, which attracted 350 U.S. exhibitors. Saudi Arabia’s General Entertainment Authority announced it plans to launch the second iteration of Saudi Seasons in November 2021 after a COVID pause.

The SAG is proceeding with “economic cities” and new “giga-projects” that are at various stages of development and is seeking foreign investment in them. These projects are large-scale and self-contained developments in different regions focusing on particular industries, e.g., technology, energy, logistics (airports, railways, ports, and warehouses), tourism, entertainment, and institutional (education; medical; government entities, post offices and fire stations; religious buildings, and dams and reservoirs). Principal among these projects are:

  • Qiddiya, a new, large-scale entertainment, sports, and cultural complex near Riyadh;
  • King Abdullah Financial District, a commercial center development with nearly 60 skyscrapers in Riyadh;
  • Red Sea Project, a massive tourism development on the archipelago of islands along the western Saudi coast, which aims to create 70,000 jobs and attract one million tourists per year;
  • Amaala, a wellness, healthy living, and meditation resort on the Kingdom’s northwest coast, projected to include more than 2,500 luxury hotel rooms and 700 villas; and
  • NEOM, a $500 billion long-term development project to build a futuristic “independent economic zone” in northwest Saudi Arabia. In November 2020, the SAG announced The Line; a new, 100 mile-long, $100-$200 billion development at NEOM that will have no cars, no streets, and no carbon emissions. The project aims to create 380,000 jobs and contribute $48 billon to domestic GDP by 2030.

The long term impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and sustained downturn in oil prices in 2020 on these giga-projects is not clear. While some companies working on the projects reported the ongoing availability of funding in 2020, others reported that budget cutbacks had begun to impact their operations.

In June 2020, the SAG approved a new mining investment law that aims to boost investments in the sector. The law will facilitate the establishment of a mining fund to provide sustainable finance, support geological survey and exploration programs, and optimize national mineral resources valued at $1.3 trillion. The law could increase the sector’s contribution to GDP by $64 billion, reduce imports by $9.8 billion, and create 200,000 direct and indirect jobs by 2030.

Structural impediments to foreign investment in Saudi Arabia remain.

Foreign investors must contend with increasingly strict localization requirements in bidding for certain government contracts, labor policy requirements to hire more Saudi nationals (usually at higher wages than expatriate workers), an increasingly restrictive visa policy for foreign workers, and gender segregation in business and social settings (though gender segregation is becoming more relaxed as the SAG introduces socio-economic reforms). The General Authority for Military Industries, for example, will require that all military procurements have fifty percent local content by 2030.

The SAG implemented new taxes and fees in 2017 and early 2018, including significant visa fee increases, higher fines for traffic violations, new fees for certain billboard advertisements, and related measures. On July 1, 2020, the SAG increased the value-added tax (VAT) from five percent to 15 percent.

The SAG implemented new taxes and fees in 2017 and early 2018, including significant visa fee increases, higher fines for traffic violations, new fees for certain billboard advertisements, and related measures. On July 1, 2020, the SAG increased the value-added tax (VAT) from five percent to 15 percent.

In February 2021, MISA and the Royal Commission for Riyadh City (RCRC) announced a new directive that companies that want to contract with the SAG must establish their regional headquarters in Saudi Arabia – preferably in Riyadh – by 2024. Companies that relocate their regional headquarters to Riyadh will receive tax breaks and other incentives. Saudi officials have confirmed that offices cannot be headquarters “in name only” but, rather, must be legitimate headquarters offices with C-level executive staff in Riyadh overseeing operations and staff in the rest of the region. Companies choosing to maintain their regional headquarters in another country will not be awarded public sector contracts – including contracts from Saudi Aramco – beginning in 2024.

Foreign investment is currently prohibited in 10 sectors on the Negative List, including:

  1. Oil exploration, drilling, and production;
  2. Catering to military sectors;
  3. Security and detective services;
  4. Real estate investment in the holy cities, Mecca and Medina;
  5. Tourist orientation and guidance services for religious tourism related to Hajj and umrah;
  6. Printing and publishing (subject to a variety of exceptions);
  7. Certain internationally classified commission agents;
  8. Services provided by midwives, nurses, physical therapy services, and quasi-doctoral services;
  9. Fisheries; and
  10. Poison centers, blood banks, and quarantine services.

In addition to the negative list, older laws that remain in effect prohibit or otherwise restrict foreign investment in some economic subsectors not on the list, including some areas of healthcare. At the same time, MISA has demonstrated some flexibility in approving exceptions to the “negative list” exclusions.

Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment

Saudi Arabia fully recognizes rights to private ownership and the establishment of private business. As outlined above, the SAG excludes foreign investors from some economic sectors and places some limits on foreign control.

With respect to energy, Saudi Arabia’s largest economic sector, foreign firms are barred from investing in the upstream hydrocarbon sector, but the SAG permits foreign investment in the downstream energy sector, including refining and petrochemicals. There is significant foreign investment in these sectors. ExxonMobil, Shell, China’s Sinopec, and Japan’s Sumitomo Chemical are partners with Saudi Aramco (the SAG’s state-owned oil firm) in domestic refineries. ExxonMobil, Chevron, Shell, and other international investors have joint ventures with Saudi Aramco and/or the Saudi Basic Industries Corporation (SABIC) in large-scale petrochemical plants that utilize natural gas feedstock from Saudi Aramco’s operations. The Dow Chemical Company and Saudi Aramco are partners in the $20 billion Sadara joint venture with the world’s largest integrated petrochemical production complex.

Saudi Aramco also maintains several contractors under its Long-Term Agreement (LTA) group for a series of offshore jobs that include engineering, procurement, construction, and installation. LTA firms are prioritized for offshore contracts typically ranging between $100 to $800 million in value. Saudi Aramco also maintains a smaller group of contractors to provide hook-up, commissioning and maintenance, and modifications and operations jobs for its offshore oil and gas infrastructure. These refurbishment contracts are usually valued under $100 million and tendered exclusively to this smaller group.

With respect to other non-oil natural resources, Saudi Arabia’s mining sector continues to expand. With an estimated $1.3 trillion of mineral resources, the sector expects to have significant opportunities in exploration and development projects. Saudi Arabia’s mining sector laws were recently updated to allow foreign companies to enter the mining sector and invest in the Kingdom’s vast mining resources. Saudi Arabia’s national mining company, Ma’aden, has a $12 billion joint venture with Alcoa for bauxite mining and aluminum production and a $7 billion joint venture with the leading American fertilizer firm Mosaic and SABIC to produce phosphate-based fertilizers.

Joint ventures almost always take the form of limited liability partnerships in Saudi Arabia, to which there are some disadvantages. Foreign partners in service and contracting ventures organized as limited liability partnerships must pay, in cash or in kind, 100 percent of their contribution to authorized capital. MISA’s authorization is only the first step in setting up such a partnership.

Professionals, including architects, consultants, and consulting engineers, are required to register with, and be certified by, the Ministry of Commerce. In theory, these regulations permit the registration of Saudi-foreign joint venture consulting firms. As part of its WTO commitments, Saudi Arabia generally allows consulting firms to establish a local office without a Saudi partner. Foreign engineering consulting companies, however, must have been incorporated for at least 10 years and have operations in at least four different countries to qualify. Foreign entities practicing accounting and auditing, architecture and civil planning, or providing healthcare, dental, or veterinary services, must still have a Saudi partner.

In recent years, Saudi Arabia has opened additional service markets to foreign investment, including financial and banking services; aircraft maintenance and repair; computer reservation systems; wholesale, retail, and franchise distribution services; both basic and value-added telecom services; and investment in the computer and related services sectors. In 2016, Saudi Arabia formally approved full foreign ownership of retail and wholesale businesses in the Kingdom. While some companies have already received licenses under the new rules, the restrictions attached to obtaining full ownership – including a requirement to invest over $50 million during the first five years and ensure that 30 percent of all products sold are manufactured locally – have proven difficult to meet and precluded many investors from taking full advantage of the reform.

Other Investment Policy Reviews

Saudi Arabia completed its third WTO trade policy review in March 2021, which included investment policies ( https://www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/tpr_e/tp507_e.htm ).

Business Facilitation

In addition to applying for a license from MISA, foreign and local investors must register a new business via the Ministry of Commerce (MOC), which has begun offering online registration services for limited liability companies at: https://mc.gov.sa/en/ . Though users may submit articles of association and apply for a business name within minutes on MOC’s website, final approval from the Ministry often takes a week or longer. Applicants must also complete a number of other steps to start a business, including obtaining a municipality (baladia) license for their office premises and registering separately with the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Development, Chamber of Commerce, Passport Office, Tax Department, and the General Organization for Social Insurance. From start to finish, registering a business in Saudi Arabia takes about three weeks. The country placed at 38 of 190 countries for ease of starting a business, according to the World Bank (2020 rankings). Also, improved protections for minority investors helped Saudi Arabia tie for third place globally on that World Bank indicator.

Saudi officials have stated their intention to attract foreign small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) to the Kingdom. To facilitate and promote the growth of the SME sector, the SAG established the Small and Medium Enterprises General Authority in 2015 and released a new Companies Law in 2016, which was amended in 2018 to update the language vis-à-vis Joint Stock Companies (JSC) and Limited Liability Companies (LLC). It also substantially reduced the minimum capital and number of shareholders required to form a JSC from five to two. Additionally, as of 2019, women no longer need a male guardian to apply for a business license.

Outward Investment

Private Saudi citizens, Saudi companies, and SAG entities hold extensive overseas investments. The SAG has been transforming its Public Investment Fund (PIF), traditionally a holding company for government shares in state-controlled enterprises, into a major international investor and sovereign wealth fund. In 2016, the PIF made its first high-profile international investment by taking a $3.5 billion stake in Uber. The PIF has also announced a $400 million investment in Magic Leap, a Florida-based company that is developing “mixed reality” technology, and a $1 billion investment in Lucid Motors, a California-based electric car company. In 2020 and early 2021, the PIF made a number of new investments, including in Facebook, Starbucks, Disney, Boeing, Citigroup, LiveNation, Marriott, several European energy firms, Carnival Cruise Lines, Reliance Retail Ventures Limited (RRVL), and Hambro Perks Ltd’s Oryx Fund, but liquidated its position in many of these within a few months. Saudi Aramco and SABIC are also major investors in the United States. In 2017, Saudi Aramco acquired full ownership of Motiva, the largest refinery in North America, in Port Arthur, Texas. SABIC has announced a multi-billion dollar joint venture with ExxonMobil in a petrochemical facility in Corpus Christi, Texas.

2. Bilateral Investment and Taxation Treaties

Saudi Arabia has signed bilateral trade and investment agreements with over 20 countries. The United States and Saudi Arabia signed a Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA) in 2003, building upon a bilateral agreement on secured private investment with the United States that has been in place since February 1975. The United States and Saudi Arabia last held TIFA consultations in May 2018 in Washington, D.C.

Saudi Arabia is a founding member of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), which also includes Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates. While still under development, the GCC Customs Union formally ensures the free movement of labor and capital within the bloc.

The GCC currently maintains free trade agreements (FTA) with Lebanon, Singapore, the European Free Trade Association (Norway, Switzerland, Iceland, and Liechtenstein), and the Greater Arab Free Trade Area of 18 Arab countries. The GCC is in the process of negotiating additional FTAs with China, the European Union, New Zealand, and several other trade partners.

Saudi Arabia does not have a bilateral taxation treaty with the United States, though the country maintained double taxation agreements with 53 countries as of January 2021. ( https://gazt.gov.sa/en/RulesRegulations/Agreements/Pages/default.aspx ).

The corporate tax treatment in Saudi Arabia of foreign and domestic companies is imbalanced and favors Saudi companies and joint ventures with Saudi participation. The SAG imposes a flat 20 percent corporate tax rate on foreign investors. Saudi investors do not pay corporate income tax but are subject to a 2.5 percent tax, or “zakat,” on net current assets.

3. Legal Regime

Transparency of the Regulatory System

Saudi Arabia received the lowest score possible (zero out of five) in the World Bank’s Global Indicators of Regulatory Governance Report, which places the Kingdom in the bottom 13 countries among 186 countries surveyed ( http://rulemaking.worldbank.org/ ). Few aspects of the SAG’s regulatory system are entirely transparent, although Saudi investment policy is less opaque than other areas. Bureaucratic procedures are cumbersome, but red tape can generally be overcome with persistence. Foreign portfolio investment in the Saudi stock exchange is well-regulated by the Capital Markets Authority (CMA), with clear standards for interested foreign investors to qualify to trade on the local market. The CMA has progressively liberalized requirements for “qualified foreign investors” to trade in Saudi securities. Insurance companies and banks whose shares are listed on the Saudi stock exchange are required to publish financial statements according to International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS) accounting standards. All other companies are required to follow accounting standards issued by the Saudi Organization for Certified Public Accountants.

Stakeholder consultation on regulatory issues is inconsistent. Some Saudi organizations are diligent in consulting businesses affected by the regulatory process, while others tend to issue regulations with no consultation at all. Proposed laws and regulations are not always published in draft form for public comment. An increasing number of government agencies, however, solicit public comments through their websites. The processes and procedures for stakeholder consultation are not generally transparent or codified in law or regulations. There are no private-sector or government efforts to restrict foreign participation in the industry standards-setting consortia or organizations that are available. There are no informal regulatory processes managed by NGOs or private-sector associations.

International Regulatory Considerations

Saudi Arabia uses technical regulations developed both by the Saudi Arabian Standards Organization (SASO) and by the Gulf Standards Organization (GSO). Although the GCC member states continue to work towards common requirements and standards, each individual member state, and Saudi Arabia through SASO, continues to maintain significant autonomy in developing, implementing, and enforcing technical regulations and conformity assessment procedures in its territory. More recently, Saudi Arabia has moved towards adoption of a single standard for technical regulations. This standard is often based on International Organization for Standardization (ISO) or International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) standards, to the exclusion of other international standards, such as those developed by U.S.-domiciled standards development organizations (SDOs).

Saudi Arabia’s exclusion of these other international standards, which are often used by U.S. manufacturers, can create significant market access barriers for industrial and consumer products exported from the United States. The United States government has engaged Saudi authorities on the principles for international standards per the WTO Technical Barriers to Trade Committee Decision and encouraged Saudi Arabia to adopt standards developed according to such principles in their technical regulations, allowing all products that meet those standards to enter the Saudi market. Several U.S.-based standards organizations, including SDOs and individual companies, have also engaged SASO, with mixed success, in an effort to preserve market access for U.S. products, ranging from electrical equipment to footwear.

A member of the WTO, Saudi Arabia must notify all draft technical regulations to the WTO Committee on Technical Barriers to Trade.

Legal System and Judicial Independence

The Saudi legal system is derived from Islamic law, known as sharia. Saudi commercial law, meanwhile, is still developing. In 2016, Saudi Arabia took a significant step in improving its dispute settlement regime with the establishment of the Saudi Center for Commercial Arbitration (see “Dispute Settlement” below). Through its Commercial Law Development Program, the U.S. Department of Commerce has provided capacity-building programs for Saudi stakeholders in the areas of contract enforcement, public procurement, and insolvency.

The Saudi Ministry of Justice oversees the sharia-based judicial system, but most ministries have committees to rule on matters under their jurisdictions. Judicial and regulatory decisions can be appealed. Many disputes that would be handled in a court of law in the United States are handled through intra-ministerial administrative bodies and processes in Saudi Arabia. Generally, the Saudi Board of Grievances has jurisdiction over commercial disputes between the government and private contractors. The Board also reviews all foreign arbitral awards and foreign court decisions to ensure that they comply with sharia. This review process can be lengthy, and outcomes are unpredictable.

The Kingdom’s record of enforcing judgments issued by courts of other GCC states under the GCC Common Economic Agreement, and of other Arab League states under the Arab League Treaty, is somewhat better than enforcement of judgments from other foreign courts. Monetary judgments are based on the terms of the contract – e.g., if the contract is calculated in U.S. dollars, a judgment may be obtained in U.S. dollars. If unspecified, the judgment is denominated in Saudi riyals. Non-material damages and interest are not included in monetary judgments, based on the sharia prohibitions against interest and against indirect, consequential, and speculative damages.

As with any investment abroad, it is important that U.S. investors take steps to protect themselves by thoroughly researching the business record of a proposed Saudi partner, retaining legal counsel, complying scrupulously with all legal steps in the investment process, and securing a well-drafted agreement. Even after a decision is reached in a dispute, enforcement of a judgment can still take years. The U.S. government recommends consulting with local counsel in advance of investing to review legal options and appropriate contractual provisions for dispute resolution.

In a February 8, 2021 statement, the Crown Prince announced draft legal reforms impacting personal status law, civil transactions law, evidence law, and discretionary sentencing that aim to increase predictability and transparency in the legal system, facilitating commerce and expanding protections for women. The draft proposals, expected to be approved later in 2021, would begin to codify Saudi law to introduce transparency and help ensure consistency in court rulings and improve oversight and accountability. Details remain unclear, but if implemented effectively, the reforms would be a major step in modernizing the Saudi legal system.

Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment

In January 2019, the Saudi government established the Foreign Trade General Authority (FTGA), which aims to strengthen Saudi Arabia’s non-oil exports and investment, increase the private sector’s contribution to foreign trade, and resolve obstacles encountered by Saudi exporters and investors. The new authority monitors the Kingdom’s obligations under international trade agreements and treaties, negotiates and enters into new international commercial and investment agreements, and represents the Kingdom before the World Trade Organization. The Governor of the Foreign Trade General Authority reports to the Minister of Commerce.

Despite the list of activities excluded from foreign investment (see “Policies Toward Foreign Direct Investment”), foreign minority ownership in joint ventures with Saudi partners may be allowed in some of these sectors. Foreign investors are no longer required to take local partners in many sectors and may own real estate for company activities. They are allowed to transfer money from their enterprises out of the country and can sponsor foreign employees, provided that “Saudization” quotas are met (see “Labor Section” below). Minimum capital requirements to establish business entities range from zero to 30 million Saudi riyals ($8 million), depending on the sector and the type of investment.

MISA offers detailed information on the investment process, provides licenses and support services to foreign investors, and coordinates with government ministries to facilitate investment. According to MISA, it must grant or refuse a license within five days of receiving an application and supporting documentation from a prospective investor. MISA has established and posted online its licensing guidelines, but many companies looking to invest in Saudi Arabia continue to work with local representation to navigate the bureaucratic licensing process.

MISA licenses foreign investments by sector, each with its own regulations and requirements: (i) services, which comprise a wide range of activities including IT, healthcare, and tourism; (ii) industrial, (iii) real estate, (iv) public transportation, (v) entrepreneurial, (vi) contracting, (vii) audiovisual media, (viii) science and technical office, (ix) education (colleges and universities), and (x) domestic services employment recruitment. MISA also offers several special-purpose licenses for bidding on and performance of government contracts. Foreign firms must describe their planned commercial activities in some detail and will receive a license in one of these sectors at MISA’s discretion. Depending on the type of license issued, foreign firms may also require the approval of relevant competent authorities, such as the Ministry of Health or the Ministry of Tourism.

An important MISA objective is to ensure that investors do not just acquire and hold licenses without investing, and MISA sometimes cancels licenses of foreign investors that it deems do not contribute sufficiently to the local economy. MISA’s periodic license reviews, with the possibility of cancellation, add uncertainty for investors and can provide a disincentive to longer-term investment commitments.

MISA has agreements with various SAG agencies and ministries to facilitate and streamline foreign investment. These agreements permit MISA to facilitate the granting of visas, establish MISA branch offices at Saudi embassies in different countries, prolong tariff exemptions on imported raw materials to three years and on production and manufacturing equipment to two years, and establish commercial courts. To make it easier for businesspeople to visit the Kingdom, MISA can sponsor visa requests without involving a local company. Saudi Arabia has implemented a decree providing that sponsorship is no longer required for certain business visas. While MISA has set up the infrastructure to support foreign investment, many companies report that despite some improvements, the process remains cumbersome and time-consuming.

Competition and Antitrust Laws

The General Authority for Competition (GAC) reviews merger transactions for competition-related concerns, investigates business conduct, including allegations of price fixing, can issue fines, and can approve applications for exemptions for certain business conduct.

The Competition law, as amended in 2019, applies to all entities operating in Saudi Arabia, and has a broad application covering all activities related to the production, distribution, purchase, and sale of commodities inside the Kingdom, as well as practices that occur outside of Saudi Arabia and that have an impact on domestic competition.

The competition law prohibits anti-competitive practices and agreements, which have as their object or effect the restriction of competition. This may include certain aspects of vertically-integrated business combinations. Consequently, companies doing business in Saudi Arabia may find it difficult to register exclusivity clauses in distribution agreements, but are not necessarily precluded from enforcing such clauses in Saudi courts.

Certain merger transactions must be notified to the GAC, and each entity involved in the merger is obligated to notify the GAC. GAC may approve, conditionally approve, or reject a merger transaction.

Expropriation and Compensation

The Embassy is not aware of any cases in Saudi Arabia of expropriation from foreign investors without adequate compensation. Some small- to medium-sized foreign investors, however, have complained that their investment licenses have been cancelled without justification, causing them to forfeit their investments.

Dispute Settlement

ICSID Convention and New York Convention

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia ratified the 1958 New York Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards in 1994. Saudi Arabia is also a member state of the International Center for the Settlement of Investment Disputes Convention (ICSID), though under the terms of its accession it cannot be compelled to refer investment disputes to this system absent specific consent, provided on a case-by-case basis. Saudi Arabia has yet to consent to the referral of any investment dispute to the ICSID for resolution.

Investor-State Dispute Settlement

The use of any international or domestic dispute settlement mechanism within Saudi Arabia continues to be time-consuming and uncertain, as all outcomes are subject to a final review in the Saudi judicial system and carry the risk that principles of sharia law may potentially supersede a judgment or legal precedent. The U.S. government recommends consulting with local counsel in advance of investing to review legal options and contractual provisions for dispute resolution.

International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts

Traditionally, dispute settlement and enforcement of foreign arbitral awards in Saudi Arabia have proven time-consuming and uncertain, carrying the risk that sharia principles can potentially supersede any foreign judgments or legal precedents. Even after a decision is reached in a dispute, effective enforcement of the judgment can be lengthy. In several cases, disputes have caused serious problems for foreign investors. In cases of alleged fraud or debt, foreign partners may also be jailed to prevent their departure from the country while awaiting police investigation or court adjudication. Courts can in theory impose precautionary restraint on personal property pending the adjudication of a commercial dispute, though this remedy has been applied sparingly.

The SAG has demonstrated a commitment to improve the quality of commercial legal proceedings and access to alternative dispute resolution mechanisms. Local attorneys indicate that the quality of final judgments in the court system has improved, but that cases still take too long to litigate. The Saudi Center for Commercial Arbitration (SCCA) offers comprehensive arbitration services to domestic and international firms. The SCCA reports that both domestic and foreign law firms have begun to include referrals to the SCCA in the arbitration clauses of their contracts. However, it is currently too early to assess the quality and effectiveness of SCCA proceedings, as the SCCA is still in the early stages of operation. Awards rendered by the SCCA can be enforced in local courts, though judges remain empowered to reject enforcement of provisions they deem noncompliant with sharia law.

In December 2017, the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL) recognized Saudi Arabia as a jurisdiction that has adopted an arbitration law based on the 2006 UNCITRAL Model Arbitration Law. UNCITRAL took this step after Saudi judges clarified that sharia would not affect the enforcement of foreign arbitral awards. In May 2020, Saudi Arabia ratified the United Nations Convention on International Settlement Agreements Resulting from Mediation, also known as the “Singapore Convention on Mediation,” becoming the fourth state to ratify the Convention. As a result of Saudi Arabia’s ratification, international settlement agreements falling under the Convention and involving assets located in Saudi Arabia may be enforced by Saudi Arabian courts.

Bankruptcy Regulations

In August 2018, the SAG implemented new bankruptcy legislation which seeks to “further facilitate a healthy business environment that encourages participation by foreign and domestic investors, as well as local small and medium enterprises.” The new law clarifies procedural processes and recognizes distinct creditor classes (e.g., secured creditors). The new law also includes procedures for continued operation of the distressed company via financial restructuring. Alternatively, the parties may pursue an orderly liquidation of company assets, which would be managed by a court-appointed licensed bankruptcy trustee. Saudi courts have begun to accept and hear cases under this new legislation.

4. Industrial Policies

Investment Incentives

MISA advertises a number of financial advantages for foreigners looking to invest in the Kingdom, including custom duty drawback and exemption on selected materials, equipment and machinery; the lack of personal income taxes; and a corporate tax rate of 20 percent on foreign companies’ profits (the lowest among G20 countries). MISA also lists various SAG-sponsored regional and international financial programs to which foreign investors have access, such as the Saudi Export Program, Arab Fund for Economic and Social Development, the Arab Trade Financing Program, and the Islamic Development Bank.

On March 30, 2021, the Crown Prince announced the Shareek (Arabic for partner) program to encourage local investment. To participate in the program, companies must commit to investing a minimum of $5.2 billion by 2030 and have the ability to invest at least $106 million in each additional project. Participating companies will be eligible for loans, grants, and co-investment from the Shareek program as well as special support from the SAG on regulatory and other issues.

The Saudi Industrial Development Fund (SIDF), a government financial institution established in 1974, supports private-sector industrial investments by providing medium- and long-term loans for new factories and for projects to expand, upgrade, and modernize existing manufacturing facilities. The SIDF offers loans of 50 to 75 percent of a project’s value, depending on the project’s location. Foreign investors that set up manufacturing facilities in developed areas (Riyadh, Jeddah, Dammam, Jubail, Mecca, Yanbu, and Ras al-Khair), for example, can receive a 15-year loan for up to 50 percent of a project’s value; investors in the Kingdom’s least developed areas can receive a 20-year loan for up to 75 percent of the project’s value. The SIDF also offers consultancy services for local industrial projects in the administrative, financial, technical, and marketing fields. (The SIDF’s website is https://www.sidf.gov.sa/en/Pages/default.aspx .)

The SAG offers several incentive programs to promote employment of Saudi nationals in certain cases. The Saudi Human Resources Development Fund (HRDF) ( https://www.hrdf.org.sa/ ), for example, will pay 30 percent of a Saudi national’s wages for the first year of work, with a wage subsidy of 20 percent and 10 percent for the second and third year of employment, respectively (subject to certain limits and caps). “Tamheer” is an on-the-job training program through which the SAG provides Saudi graduates with a SAR 3,000 monthly stipend plus occupational hazard insurance for a period of three to six months.

American and other foreign firms are able to participate in SAG-financed and/or -subsidized research-and-development (R&D) programs. Many of these programs are run though the King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology (KACST), which funds many of the Kingdom’s R&D programs.

Foreign Trade Zones/Free Ports/Trade Facilitation

Saudi Arabia does not operate free trade zones or free ports. However, as part of its Vision 2030 program, the SAG has announced it will create special zones with special regulations to encourage investment and diversify government revenues. The SAG is considering the establishment of special regulatory zones in certain areas, including at NEOM and the King Abdullah Financial District in Riyadh. During the G20 Leaders Summit in November 2020, the SAG announced plans to launch special economic zones in 2022 that will be focused on greenfield investment in various sectors including pharmaceuticals, biotechnology, and digital industries. These zones will have a special legislative environment and include attractive incentives, according to the SAG.

Saudi Arabia has established a network of “economic cities” as part of the country’s efforts to reduce its dependence on oil. Overseen by MISA, these four economic cities aim to provide a variety of advantages to companies that choose to locate their operations within the city limits, including in matters of logistics and ease of doing business. The four economic cities are: King Abdullah Economic City near Jeddah, Prince AbdulAziz Bin Mousaed Economic City in north-central Saudi Arabia, Knowledge Economic City in Medina, and Jazan Economic City near the southwest border with Yemen. The cities are in various stages of development, and their future development potential is unclear, given competing Vision 2030 economic development projects.

The Saudi Industrial Property Authority (MODON in Arabic) oversees the development of 35 industrial cities, including some still under development, in addition to private industrial cities and complexes. MODON offers incentives for commercial investment in these cities, including competitive rents for industrial land, government-sponsored financing, export guarantees, and certain customs exemptions. (MODON’s website is https://www.modon.gov.sa/en/Pages/default.aspx .)

The Royal Commission for Jubail and Yanbu (RCJY) was formed in 1975 and established the industrial cities of Jubail, located in eastern Saudi Arabia on the Persian Gulf coast, and Yanbu, located in north western Saudi Arabia on the Red Sea coast. A significant portion of Saudi Arabia’s refining, petrochemical, and other heavy industries are located in the Jubail and Yanbu industrial cities. The RCJY’s mission is to plan, promote, develop, and manage petrochemicals and energy intensive industrial cities. In connection with this mission, RCJY promotes investment opportunities in the two cities and can offer a variety of incentives, including tax holidays, customs exemptions, low-cost loans, and favorable land and utility rates. More recently, the RCJY has assumed responsibility for managing the Ras Al Khair City for Mining Industries (2009) and the Jazan City for Primary and Downstream Industries (2015). (The RCJY’s website is https://www.rcjy.gov.sa).

Performance and Data Localization Requirements

The government does not impose systematic conditions on foreign investment. In line with its bid to diversify the economy and provide more private sector jobs for Saudi nationals, the SAG has embarked on a broad effort to source goods and services domestically and is seeking commitments from investors to do so. In 2017, the Council of Economic and Development Affairs (CEDA) established the Local Content and Private Sector Development Unit (NAMAA in Arabic) to promote local content and improve the balance of payments. NAMAA is responsible for monitoring and implementing regulations, suggesting new policies, and coordinating with the private sector on all local content matters. In December 2018, a royal decree was issued to establish the Local Content and Government Procurement Authority (LCGPA) to develop local content and to improve government procurement operation. The LCGPA is mandated to set local content requirements for individual contracts, track the amount of local content used by contractors, and obtain and audit commitments by contractors to use local content.

Government-controlled enterprises are also increasingly introducing local content requirements for foreign firms. Saudi Aramco’s “In-Kingdom Total Value Added” (IKTVA) program, for example, strongly encourages the purchase of goods and services from a local supplier base and aims to double Aramco’s percentage of locally-manufactured energy-related goods and services to 70 percent by 2021.

In the defense sector, Saudi Arabia’s military is in the process of reforming its procurement processes and policies to incorporate new ambitious goals of Saudi employment and localized production. The SAG has shifted over the last two years away from offsets in favor of “localization” of purchases of goods and services and “Saudization” of the labor force. Previously, the government required offsets in investments equivalent to up to 40 percent of a program’s value for defense contracts, depending on the value of the contract. The SAG is currently mandating increasingly strict localization requirements for government contracts in the defense sector.

In 2017 the General Authority for Military Industries (GAMI) was established by the Saudi Council of Ministers to develop Saudi Arabia’s national military manufacturing capabilities. GAMI’s mandate is to localize 50 percent of Saudi Arabia’s military spending over the next decade.

Another key player in the defense sector is Saudi Arabian Military Industries (SAMI) – a wholly-owned subsidiary of the PIF launched in 2017. SAMI aims to be among the top 25 military industries companies in the ‎world by 2030 and supports the Kingdom’s localization goals by forming joint ventures to locally manufacture defense articles.

The government encourages recruitment of Saudi employees through a series of incentives (see section 11 on “Labor Policies” for details of the “Saudization” program) and limits placed on the number of visas for foreign workers available to companies. The Saudi electronic visitor visa system defaults to five-year visas for all U.S. citizen applicants. “Business visas” are routinely issued to U.S. visitors who do not have an invitation letter from a Saudi company, but the visa applicant must provide evidence that he or she is engaged in legitimate commercial activity. “Commercial visas” are issued by invitation from Saudi companies to applicants who have a specific reason to visit a Saudi company.

The cost of a single-entry business visit visa is $533. In January 2018, the SAG implemented new fees for expatriate employers ranging between $80 and $107 per employee per month and increased levies on expatriates with dependents to a $54 monthly fee for each dependent (see section 11 on “Labor Policies”). In January 2019, fees on expatriate employees increased to between $133 to $160 per month, and levies on expatriate dependents increased to $80 per month. These fees increased again in 2020 to between $186 to $212, but no additional increases are announced beyond 2020.

Data Treatment

Due to the demands of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, Saudi Arabia substantially accelerated its Vision 2030 digital transformation reform to move its economy to an e-services platform. Also in 2020, infrastructure supporting the information and communications technology sector and 5G network expanded significantly. Concerns about cybersecurity and data treatment regulations increased in 2020, driven in part by the roll-out of healthcare and travel applications during the pandemic that collect and track individuals’ data.

In 2020, the National Data Governance Interim Regulations were issued to deal mainly with government-related data. However, part 5 of the National Data Regulations addresses personal data protection and applies to all entities in Saudi Arabia that process personal data in whole or in part, as well as entities outside the Kingdom that possess personal data related to individuals residing in Saudi Arabia. It remains unclear if the National Data Regulations are being enforced, as no sanctions for a potential breach are specified. Personal data is also protected under general provisions of Saudi law that impose strict obligations on businesses in relation to how, who, and when personal data can be collected, used, and stored.

Saudi Arabia’s Medical Practitioners’ Law of 2005 safeguards information obtained during medical practice, including personal data. It is unclear if personal data safeguards on government software applications rolled out during the COVID-19 pandemic provide the same level of personal data protection.

The Saudi E-Commerce Law of 2019, together with its 2020 implementing regulations, covers data protection of consumers’ personal information and applies to all e-commerce providers (domestic and international) that offer goods and services to customers based in Saudi Arabia. Its provisions regulate e-commerce business practices, requiring transparency and consumer protection, as well as protection of customers’ personal data, with the goal to enhance cybersecurity and trust in online transactions. Data retention is also restricted; service providers are not allowed to retain personal data any longer than required to complete business transactions for which data was collected. Also, sharing of data and customer information with third-party providers is prohibited without express permission. In March 2021, the General Authority of Zakat and Tax released guidelines for VAT registration for store owners engaged in e-commerce activities.

With increased emphasis on data-driven technologies, such as artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, cloud computing, blockchain, automation and robotics, the internet of things (IoT), and smart mobility, among others, it is anticipated that further developments will occur in the data protection space in the near- to mid-term. Under its Vision 2030 National Transformation Program strategy, Saudi Arabia is relying on data-driven “leapfrog” technologies to drive its 21st century economy. In 2020, Saudi Arabia announced two lynchpin policies aimed at advancing data mining to meet its ambitious digital transformation goals: the National Digital Economy Policy, and the National Strategy for Data and Artificial Intelligence (NSDAI). Recognizing the need for new data protection and cybersecurity laws and regulations for its evolving digital economy, Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Communications and Information Technologies (MCIT) has indicated it is willing to take a more pragmatic approach to its data localization regulations, such as the 2018 Essential Cybersecurity Controls – and would provide incentives for big tech joint ventures. Saudi Arabia aims to be the region’s high-technology hub.

Saudi Arabia’s Cloud Computing Regulatory Framework (CCRF), issued in 2018 and amended in 2019 by the Saudi Communication and Information Technology Commission (CITC), applies to any cloud service provided to cloud customers with a home or business address in Saudi Arabia. The Framework governs the rights and obligations of cloud service providers, customers, businesses, and government entities, and includes data protection principles. Unless expressly allowed by Saudi law, CCRF regulations do not allow cross-border data flows by cloud service providers or customers of sensitive business content, or of highly-sensitive and secret content belonging to government agencies and institutions.

Saudi Arabia’s IOT Regulatory Framework regulates the use of all IoT services and includes data security, privacy, and protection requirements. IoT providers and implementors must comply with existing and future published laws, regulations, and requirements concerning data management, which will likely continue to focus on cybersecurity and data security. The IoT Regulatory Framework specifies data security measures, such as limited retention and data localization for IoT services and networks, which are also regulated by the CITC.

Saudi Arabia’s Electronic Transactions Law imposes obligations on internet service providers (ISPs) to maintain confidentiality of business information and personal data in electronic transactions.

Saudi Arabia’s Anti-Cyber Crime Law seeks to protect the national economy by deterring cybercrimes such as destruction or alteration of data, illegal access to bank or credit information, interruption of computer and information network transmissions, and other disruptions to ICT infrastructure. The law also requires consent from individuals whose personal data or documents are to be disclosed.

In 2018, the Saudi National Cybersecurity Authority (NCA) developed, and continues to update, the country’s Essential Cyber Controls (ECC) regulation with input from multiple Saudi cybersecurity and ICT authorities. For the first time, large American cloud, ISP, and ICT industry representatives have also provided feedback on how to protect consumer data while still enabling innovation and growth of the digital economy and cross-border trade. The ECC sets the minimum cybersecurity requirements for national organizations that are within its scope of ECC implementation.

There are no requirements for foreign IT providers to turn over source code or provide access to encryption. Other than a requirement to retain records locally for ten years for tax purposes, there is no requirement regarding data storage or access to surveillance.

5. Protection of Property Rights

Real Property

The Saudi legal system protects and facilitates acquisition and disposition of all property, consistent with the Islamic practice of upholding private property rights. Non-Saudi corporate entities are allowed to purchase real estate in Saudi Arabia in accordance with the foreign-investment code. Other foreign-owned corporate and personal property is protected by law. Saudi Arabia has a system of recording security interests, and plans to modernize its land registry system. Saudi Arabia ranked 19th out of 190 countries for ease of registering property in the 2020 World Bank Doing Business Report.

In 2017, the Saudi Ministry of Municipal, Rural Affairs, and Housing implemented an annual vacant land tax of 2.5 percent of the assessed value on vacant lands in urban centers in an attempt to spur development. Additionally, in January 2018, in an effort to increase Saudis’ access to finance and stimulate the mortgage and housing markets, Saudi Arabia’s central bank lifted the maximum loan-to-value rate for mortgages for first-time homebuyers to 90 percent from 85 percent, and increased interest payment subsidies for first-time buyers. This further liberalized stringent down-payment requirements that prevailed up to 2016, when the central bank raised the maximum loan-to-value rate from 70 percent to 85 percent.

Intellectual Property Rights

Saudi Arabia has been on the U.S. Trade Representative’s (USTR) Special 301 Report “Priority Watch List” since 2019. In the U.S. Chamber International IP Index 2021 report, Saudi Arabia ranked 37th out of 53 countries surveyed.

In 2018, Saudi Arabia established the Saudi Authority for Intellectual Property (SAIP) to regulate, support, develop, sponsor, protect, enforce, and upgrade IP fields in accordance with the best international practices. In 2020, SAIP worked to consolidate IP protection competence, including creating a government-wide IPR respect program, establishing a specialized IP court, launching online and in-market enforcement programs, continuing market raids against counterfeit and pirated goods, and conducting significant pro-IPR awareness campaigns. SAIP has cooperated with USTR and the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), including the signing of a Cooperation Arrangement in October 2018 between SAIP and USPTO. Saudi Arabia Customs Authority has significantly enhanced its IP enforcement efforts and capacity, seized and destroyed 2 million counterfeit items across all ports during 2020 in coordination with SAIP, partnered closely with trademark and copyright owners, and systematically notified right holders of suspected shipments.

Since 2016, the Saudi Arabia Food and Drug Authority (SFDA), which the Minister of Health oversees, has granted marketing approval for pharmaceuticals to domestic companies relying on another company’s undisclosed test or other data for products despite the protection provided by Saudi regulations.

The United States government also continues to remain concerned about reportedly high levels of online piracy in Saudi Arabia, particularly through illicit streaming devices (ISDs), which right holders report are widely available and generally unregulated in Saudi Arabia. Industry reported in December 2020 that 32.6 percent of the 510,000 worldwide users of livehd7, a popular streaming website that violates IP laws, were from Saudi Arabia. However, in August 2019, beoutQ, a Saudi-based rampant satellite and online piracy service, ceased operations. In June 2020, the SAIP announced that it had disabled access to 231 websites that had been disseminating infringing content.

U.S. software firms report that the Saudi government continues to use unlicensed and “under-licensed” (in which an insufficient number of licenses is procured for the total number of users) software on government computer systems in violation of their copyrights. Other concerns include the lack of seizure and destruction of counterfeit goods in enforcement actions, and limits on the ability to enter facilities suspected of involvement in the sale or manufacture of counterfeit goods, including facilities located in residential areas.

In 2020, SAIP launched a copyright enforcement campaign in 2020 in Riyadh, Mecca, Jeddah, Dammam, and al-Ahsa. During the campaign, SAIP inspected 359 shops and seized 9,137 counterfeit and illicit items in marketplaces. In collaboration with the Ministry of Media, SAIP confiscated and destroyed over 3.5 million counterfeit and illicit items in 2020, including CDs, computers, and TV receivers.

For additional information about national laws and points of contact at local IP offices, please see WIPO’s country profiles at http://www.wipo.int/directory/en/ .

Resources for Rights Holders

Embassy point of contact:

Darin Christensen
Economic Officer+966 11 488-3800 Ext. 4097
christensends2@state.gov

Regional IPR Attaché:

Pete C. Mehravari
U.S. Intellectual Property Attaché for Middle East and North Africa
Patent Attorney
U.S. Embassy Abu Dhabi | U.S. Department of Commerce
Office: +965 2259-1455 | Cell: +965 9758-9223 | WhatsApp: +1 404-429-9986
Peter.mehravari@trade.gov 

6. Financial Sector

Capital Markets and Portfolio Investment

Saudi Arabia’s financial policies generally facilitate the free flow of private capital and currency can be transferred in and out of the Kingdom without restriction. Saudi Arabia maintains an effective regulatory system governing portfolio investment in the Kingdom. The Capital Markets Law, passed in 2003, allows for brokerages, asset managers, and other nonbank financial intermediaries to operate in the Kingdom. The law created a market regulator, the Capital Market Authority (CMA), established in 2004, and opened the Saudi stock exchange (Tadawul) to public investment.

Since 2015, the CMA has progressively relaxed the rules applicable to qualified foreign investors, easing barriers to entry and expanding the foreign investor base. The CMA adopted regulations in 2017 permitting corporate debt securities to be listed and traded on the exchange; in March 2018, the CMA authorized government debt instruments to be listed and traded on the Tadawul. The Tadawul was incorporated into the FTSE Russell Emerging Markets Index in March 2019, resulting in a foreign capital injection of $6.8 billion. Separately, the $11 billion infusion into the Tadawul from integration into the MSCI Emerging Markets Index took place in May 2019. The Tadawul was also added to the S&P Dow Jones Emerging Market Index.

Money and Banking System

The banking system in the Kingdom is generally well-capitalized and healthy. The public has easy access to deposit-taking institutions. The legal, regulatory, and accounting systems used in the banking sector are generally transparent and consistent with international norms. In November 2020, the SAG approved the Saudi Central Bank Law, which changed the name of the Saudi Arabian Monetary Authority (SAMA) to the Saudi Central Bank. Under the new law, the Saudi Central Bank is responsible for maintaining monetary stability, promoting the stability of and enhancing confidence in the financial sector, and supporting economic growth. The Saudi Central Bank will continue to use the acronym “SAMA” due to its widespread use.

SAMA generally gets high marks for its prudential oversight of commercial banks in Saudi Arabia. SAMA is a member and shareholder of the Bank for International Settlements in Basel, Switzerland.

In 2017, SAMA enhanced and updated its previous Circular on Guidelines for the Prevention of Money Laundering and Terrorist Financing. The enhanced guidelines have increased alignment with the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) 40 Recommendations, the nine Special Recommendations on Terrorist Financing, and relevant UN Security Council Resolutions. Saudi Arabia is a member of the Middle East and North Africa Financial Action Task Force (MENA-FATF). In 2019, Saudi Arabia became the first Arab country to be granted full membership of the FATF, following the organization’s recognition of the Kingdom’s efforts in combating money laundering, financing of terrorism, and proliferation of arms. Saudi Arabia had been an observer member since 2015.

The SAG has authorized increased foreign participation in its banking sector over the last several years. SAMA has granted licenses to a number of new foreign banks to operate in the Kingdom, including Deutsche Bank, J.P. Morgan Chase N.A., and Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (ICBC). A number of additional, CMA-licensed foreign banks participate in the Saudi market as investors or wealth management advisors. Citigroup, for example, returned to the Saudi market in early 2018 under a CMA license.

Credit is normally widely available to both Saudi and foreign entities from commercial banks and is allocated on market terms. The Saudi banking sector has one of the world’s lowest non-performing loan (NPL) ratios, roughly 2.0 percent in 2020. In addition, credit is available from several government institutions, such as the SIDF, which allocate credit based on government-set criteria rather than market conditions. Companies must have a legal presence in Saudi Arabia to qualify for credit. The private sector has access to term loans, and there have been a number of corporate issuances of sharia-compliant bonds, known as sukuk.

The New Government Tenders and Procurement Law (GTPL) was approved in 2019. The New GTPL applies to procurement by government entities and works and procurements executed outside of Saudi Arabia. The Ministry of Finance has a pivotal role under the new GTPL by setting policies and issuing directives, collating and distributing information, maintaining a list of boycotts, and approving tender and prequalification forms, contract forms, performance evaluation forms, and other documents. In 2018, the Ministry of Finance launched the Electronic Government Procurement System (Etimad Portal) to consolidate and facilitate the process of bidding and government procurement for all government sectors, enhancing transparency amongst sectors of government and among competing entities.

In 2021, SAMA introduced the new Instant Payment System (Sarie) to facilitate instant, 24/7 money transfers across local banks.

Foreign Exchange and Remittances

Foreign Exchange

There is no limitation in Saudi Arabia on the inflow or outflow of funds for remittances of profits, debt service, capital, capital gains, returns on intellectual property, or imported inputs, other than certain withholding taxes (withholding taxes range from five percent for technical services and dividend distributions to 15 percent for transfers to related parties, and 20 percent or more for management fees). Bulk cash shipments greater than $10,000 must be declared at entry or exit points. Since 1986, when the last currency devaluation occurred, the official exchange rate has been fixed by SAMA at 3.75 Saudi riyals per U.S. dollar. Transactions typically take place using rates very close to the official rate.

Remittance Policies

Saudi Arabia is one of the largest remitting countries in the world, with roughly 75 percent of the Saudi labor force comprised of foreign workers. Remittances totaled approximately $39.9 billion in 2020. There are currently no restrictions on converting and transferring funds associated with an investment (including remittances of investment capital, dividends, earnings, loan repayments, principal on debt, lease payments, and/or management fees) into a freely usable currency at a legal market-clearing rate. There are no waiting periods in effect for remitting investment returns through normal legal channels.

The Ministry of Human Resources and Social Development is progressively implementing a “Wage Protection System” designed to verify that expatriate workers, the predominant source of remittances, are being properly paid according to their contracts. Under this system, employers are required to transfer salary payments from a local Saudi bank account to an employee’s local bank account, from which expatriates can freely remit their earnings to their home countries.

Sovereign Wealth Funds

The Public Investment Fund (PIF, www.pif.gov.sa ) is the Kingdom’s officially designated sovereign wealth fund. While PIF lacks many of the attributes of a traditional sovereign wealth fund, it has evolved into the SAG’s primary investment vehicle.

Established in 1971 to channel oil wealth into economic development, the PIF has historically been a holding company for government shares in partially privatized state-owned enterprises (SOEs), including SABIC, the National Commercial Bank, Saudi Telecom Company, Saudi Electricity Company, and others. Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is the chairman of the PIF and announced his intention in April 2016 to build the PIF into a $2 trillion global investment fund, relying in part on proceeds from the initial public offering of up to five percent of Saudi Aramco shares.

Since that announcement, the PIF has made a number of high-profile international investments, including a $3.5 billion investment in Uber, a commitment to invest $45 billion into Japanese SoftBank’s VisionFund, a commitment to invest $20 billion into U.S. Blackstone’s Infrastructure Fund, a $1 billion investment in U.S. electric car company Lucid Motors, and a partnership with cinema company AMC to operate movie theaters in the Kingdom. Under the Vision 2030 reform program, the PIF is financing a number of strategic domestic development projects, including: “NEOM,” a planned $500 billion project to build an “independent economic zone” in northwest Saudi Arabia; “The Line,” a $100-$200 billion project to build an environmentally friendly, carless, zero-carbon city at NEOM; “Qiddiya,” a new, large-scale entertainment, sports, and cultural complex near Riyadh; “the Red Sea Project”, a massive tourism development on the western Saudi coast; and “Amaala,” a wellness, healthy living, and meditation resort also located on the Red Sea.

At the end of 2020, the PIF reported its investment portfolio was valued at nearly $400 billion, mainly in shares of state-controlled domestic companies. In an effort to rebalance its investment portfolio, the PIF has divided its assets into six investment pools comprising local and global investments in various sectors and asset classes: Saudi holdings; Saudi sector development; Saudi real estate and infrastructure development; Saudi giga-projects; international strategic investments; and an international diversified pool of investments.

In 2021, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman launched a new five-year strategy for the PIF. The 2021-2025 strategy will focus on launching new sectors, empowering the private sector, developing the PIF’s portfolio, achieving effective long-term investments, supporting the localization of sectors, and building strategic economic partnerships. Under the new strategy, by 2025, the PIF will invest $267 billion into the local economy, contribute $320 billion to non-oil GDP, and create 1.8 million jobs. The Crown Prince also stated that the SAG would increase the size of the PIF more than five-fold to $2 trillion by 2030. The SAG declared it is investing nearly $220 billion through PIF, the National Development Fund, and the Royal Commission for Riyadh to transform Riyadh into a global city with 15 to 20 million inhabitants by 2030 (from its current population of about 7.5 million), and expects to attract a similar amount of investment from the private sector. The PIF also plans to establish a new major airline that will complement the state-owned Saudia (formerly Saudi Arabian Airlines) and compete with other major aviation companies in the region.

The Ministry of Finance announced in 2020 that $40 billion was being transferred from the Kingdom’s foreign reserves, held by the central bank SAMA, to the PIF to fund investments. In addition to previous investments in Uber, Magic Leap, Lucid Motors, Facebook, Starbucks, Disney, Boeing, Citigroup, LiveNation, Marriott, several European energy firms, and Carnival Cruise Lines, the PIF made a number of new investments in the latter half of 2020 including equity investments in CloudKitchens, Activision Blizzard, Electronic Arts, and Take-Two Interactive Software.

In practice, SAMA’s foreign reserve holdings also operate as a quasi-sovereign wealth fund, accounting for the majority of the SAG’s foreign assets. SAMA invests the Kingdom’s surplus oil revenues primarily in low-risk liquid assets, such as sovereign debt instruments and fixed-income securities. SAMA’s foreign reserves fell from $502 billion in January 2020 to $450 billion in January 2021. SAMA’s foreign reserve holdings peaked at $746 billion in mid-2014.

Though not a formal member, Saudi Arabia serves as a permanent observer to the International Working Group on Sovereign Wealth Funds.

7. State-Owned Enterprises

SOEs play a leading role in the Saudi economy, particularly in water, power, oil, natural gas, petrochemicals, and transportation. Saudi Aramco, the world’s largest exporter of crude oil and a large-scale oil refiner and producer of natural gas, is 98.5 percent SAG-owned, and its revenues typically contribute the majority of the SAG’s budget. Four of the eleven representatives on Aramco’s board of directors are from the SAG, including the chairman, who serves concurrently as the Managing Director of the PIF. In December 2019, the Kingdom fulfilled its long-standing promise to publicly list shares of its crown jewel – Saudi Aramco, the most profitable company in the world. The initial public offering (IPO) of 1.5 percent of Aramco’s shares on the Saudi Tadawul stock market on December 11, 2019 was a cornerstone of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s Vision 2030 program. The largest-ever IPO valued Aramco at $1.7 trillion, the highest market capitalization of any company at the time, and generated $25.6 billion in proceeds, exceeding the $25 billion Alibaba raised in 2014 in the largest previous IPO in history.

During the annual Future Investment Initiative conference held in January 2021, the Crown Prince announced that Saudi Aramco would launch a second offering of shares as a continuation of the historical initial public offering of 2019, but did not provide additional details. Proceeds from a second floatation will be transferred to the PIF and will be reinvested domestically and internationally.

In March 2019, Saudi Aramco signed a share purchase agreement to acquire 70 percent of SABIC, Saudi Arabia’s leading petrochemical company and the fourth largest in the world, from the PIF in a transaction worth $69.1 billion. Five of the nine representatives on SABIC’s board of directors are from the SAG, including the chairman and vice chairman. The SAG is similarly well-represented in the leadership of other SOEs. The SAG either wholly owns or holds controlling shares in many other major Saudi companies, such as the Saudi Electricity Company, Saudi Arabian Airlines (Saudia), the Saline Water Conversion Company, Saudi Arabian Mining Company (Ma’aden ), the National Commercial Bank, and other leading financial institutions.

Privatization Program

Saudi Arabia has undertaken a limited privatization process for state-owned companies and assets dating back to 2002. The process, which is open to domestic and foreign investors, has resulted in partial privatizations of state-owned enterprises in the banking, mining, telecommunications, petrochemicals, water desalination, insurance, and other sectors.

As part of Vision 2030 reforms, the SAG has announced its intention to privatize additional sectors of the economy. Privatization is a key element underpinning the Vision 2030 goal of increasing the private sector’s contribution to GDP from 40 percent to 65 percent by 2030. In April 2018, the SAG launched a Vision 2030 Privatization Program that aims to: strengthen the role of the private sector by unlocking state-owned assets for investment, attract foreign direct investment, create jobs, reduce government overhead, improve the quality of public services, and strengthen the balance of payments. (The full Privatization Program report is available online at http://vision2030.gov.sa/en/ncp .)

The program report references a range of approaches to privatization, including full and partial asset sales, initial public offerings, management buy-outs, public-private partnerships (build-operate-transfer models), concessions, and outsourcing. While the privatization report outlines the general guidelines for the program and indicated 16 targeted sectors, it does not include an exhaustive list of assets to be privatized. The report does, however, reference education, healthcare, transportation, renewable energy, power generation, waste management, sports clubs, grain silos, and water desalination facilities as prime areas for privatization or public-private partnerships

In 2017, Saudi Arabia established the National Center for Privatization and Public Private Partnerships, which will oversee and manage the Privatization Program. (The Center’s website is http://www.ncp.gov.sa/en/pages/home.aspx .) The NCCP’s mandate is to introduce privatization through the development of programs, regulations, and mechanisms for facilitating private sector participation in entities now controlled by the government.

In March 2021, Saudi Arabia approved the Private Sector Participation (PSP) Law. The PSP law aims to increase private sector participation in infrastructure projects and in providing public services by supporting Public-Private-Partnerships (PPP) and privatization of public sector assets.

8. Responsible Business Conduct

There is a growing awareness of corporate social responsibility (CSR) in Saudi Arabia. The King Khalid Foundation issues annual “responsible competitiveness” awards to companies doing business in Saudi Arabia for outstanding CSR activities. In March 2021, the SAG approved the formation of a committee on corporate social responsibility in the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Development.

Additional Resources

Department of State

Country Reports on Human Rights Practices (https://www.state.gov/reports-bureau-of-democracy-human-rights-and-labor/country-reports-on-human-rights-practices/);

Trafficking in Persons Report (https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-reporabilab/resources/reports/child-labor/findings );

List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor (https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/reports/child-labor/list-of-goods);

Sweat & Toil: Child Labor, Forced Labor, and Human Trafficking Around the World (https://www.dol.gov/general/apps/ilab) and;

Comply Chain (https://www.dol.gov/ilab/complychain/).

9. Corruption

Foreign firms have identified corruption as a barrier to investment in Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia has a relatively comprehensive legal framework that addresses corruption, but many firms perceive enforcement as selective. The Combating Bribery Law and the Civil Service Law, the two primary Saudi laws that address corruption, provide for criminal penalties in cases of official corruption. Government employees who are found guilty of accepting bribes face 10 years in prison or fines up to one million riyals ($267,000). Ministers and other senior government officials appointed by royal decree are forbidden from engaging in business activities with their ministry or organization. Saudi corruption laws cover most methods of bribery and abuse of authority for personal interest, but not bribery between private parties. Only senior Oversight and Anti-Corruption Commission (“Nazaha”) officials are subject to financial disclosure laws. The government is considering disclosure regulations for other officials, but has yet to finalize them. Some officials have engaged in corrupt practices with impunity, and perceptions of corruption persist in some sectors, but combatting corruption remains a priority.

Nazaha, originally established in 2011, is responsible for promoting transparency and combating all forms of financial and administrative corruption In December 2019, King Salman issued royal decrees consolidating the Control and Investigation Board and the Mabahith’s Administrative Investigations Directorate under the National Anti-Corruption Commission, and renamed the new entity as the Oversight and Anti-Corruption Commission (“Nazaha”). The decrees consolidated investigations and prosecutions under the new Nazaha and mandated that the Public Prosecutor’s Office transfer any ongoing corruption investigations to the newly consolidated commission. Nazaha reports directly to King Salman and has the power to dismiss a government employee even if not found guilty by the specialized anti-corruption court.

Since its reorganization, Nazaha has not shied away from prosecuting influential players whose indiscretions may previously have been ignored. Throughout 2020, Nazaha published monthly press releases detailing its arrests and investigations, often including high-ranking officials, such as generals and judges, from every ministry in the SAG. The releases are available on the Nazaha website ( http://www.nazaha.gov.sa/en/Pages/Default.aspx ).

SAMA, the central bank, oversees a strict regime to combat money laundering. Saudi Arabia’s Anti-Money Laundering Law provides for sentences up to 10 years in prison and fines up to $1.3 million. The Basic Law of Governance contains provisions on proper management of state assets and authorizes audits and investigation of administrative and financial malfeasance.

The Government Tenders and Procurement Law regulates public procurements, which are often a source of corruption. The law provides for public announcement of tenders and guidelines for the award of public contracts. Saudi Arabia is an observer of the WTO Agreement on Government Procurement (GPA)

Saudi Arabia ratified the UN Convention against Corruption in April 2013 and signed the G20 Anti-Corruption Action Plan in November 2010. Saudi Arabia was admitted to the OECD Working Group on Bribery in February 2021.

Globally, Saudi Arabia ranks 52 out of 180 countries in Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index 2020.

Resources to Report Corruption

The National Anti-Corruption Commission’s address is:

National Anti-Corruption Commission
P.O. Box (Wasl) 7667, AlOlaya – Ghadir District
Riyadh 2525-13311
The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia
Fax: 0112645555
E-mail: info@nazaha.gov.sa 

Nazaha accepts complaints about corruption through its website www.nazaha.gov.sa  or mobile application.

10. Political and Security Environment

Saudi Arabia is a monarchy ruled by King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud. The King’s son, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, has assumed a central role in government decision-making. The Department of State regularly reviews and updates a travel advisory to apprise U.S. citizens of the security situation in Saudi Arabia and frequently reminds U.S. citizens of recommended security precautions. In addition to a Global Travel Advisory due to COVID-19, the Department of State has a current travel advisory for Saudi Arabia that was updated in August 2020. The Travel Advisory urges U.S. citizens to exercise increased caution when traveling to Saudi Arabia due to terrorism and the threat of missile and drone attacks on civilian targets and to not travel within 50 miles of the Saudi Arabia-Yemen border.

Please visit www.travel.state.gov  for further information, including the latest Travel Advisory.

Due to risks to civil aviation operating within the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman region, including Saudi Arabia, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has issued an advisory Notice to Airmen (NOTAM).

11. Labor Policies and Practices

The Ministry of Human Resources and Social Development (MHRSD) sets labor policy and, along with the Ministry of Interior, regulates recruitment and employment of expatriate labor, which makes up a majority of the private-sector workforce. About 76 percent of total jobs in the country are held by expatriates, who represent roughly 38 percent of the total population of approximately 34.2 million. The largest groups of foreign workers come from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Egypt, the Philippines, and Yemen. Saudis occupy about 93 percent of government jobs, but only about 24 percent of the total jobs in the Kingdom. Roughly 46 percent of employed Saudi nationals work in the public sector.

Saudi Arabia’s General Authority for Statistics estimates unemployment at 7.4 percent for the total population and 12.6 percent for Saudi nationals (Q4 2020 figures), but these figures mask a high youth unemployment rate, a Saudi female unemployment rate of 24.4 percent, and low Saudi labor participation rates (51.2 percent overall; 33.2 percent for women). With approximately 60 percent of the Saudi population under the age of 35, job creation for new Saudi labor market entrants will prove a serious challenge for years.

The SAG encourages Saudi employment through “Saudization” policies that place quotas on employment of Saudi nationals in certain sectors, coupled with limits placed on the number of visas for foreign workers available to companies. In 2011, the Ministry of Labor and Social Development (the forerunner of MHRSD) laid out a sophisticated plan known as Nitaqat, under which companies are divided into categories, each with a different set of quotas for Saudi employment based on company size.

The SAG has taken additional measures to strengthen the Nitaqat program and expand the scope of Saudization to require the hiring of Saudi nationals. The MHRSD has mandated that certain job categories in specific economic sectors only employ Saudi nationals, beginning with mobile phone stores in 2016. The ministry has likewise mandated that only Saudi women can occupy retail jobs in certain businesses that cater to female customers, such as lingerie and cosmetics shops. In 2017, Saudi Arabia began to phase in rules forbidding employment of foreigners in retail sales positions in 12 sectors, including: watches, eyewear, medical equipment and devices, electrical and electronic appliances, auto parts, building materials, carpets, cars and motorcycles, home and office furniture, children’s clothing and men’s accessories, home kitchenware, and confectioneries. Many elements of Saudization and Nitaqat have garnered criticism from the private sector, but the SAG claims these policies have substantially increased the percentage of Saudi nationals working in the private sector over the last several years and has indicated that there is flexibility in implementation for special cases.

In 2017, the SAG launched the latest phase of an ongoing campaign to deport illegal and improperly documented workers. The combination of Saudization and Nitaqat policies, new expatriate fees, increased visa and entry/exit permit fees, the increased VAT, and the COVID-19 pandemic has prompted approximately 2.2 million expatriates to depart the Kingdom over the past few years. These measures have also significantly increased labor costs for employers, both Saudi and foreign alike.

Saudi Arabia’s labor laws forbid union activity, strikes, and collective bargaining. However, the government allows companies that employ more than 100 Saudis to form “labor committees” to discuss work conditions and grievances with management. In 2015, the SAG published 38 amendments to the existing labor law with the aim of expanding Saudi employees’ rights and benefits. In March 2021, MHRSD implemented its Labor Reform Initiative (LRI) which allows foreign workers greater job mobility and freedom to exit Saudi Arabia without the need for the employer’s prior permission. Domestic workers are not covered under the provisions of either the 2015 regulations or the LRI; separate regulations covering domestic workers were issued in 2013, stipulating employers provide at least nine hours of rest per day, one day off a week, and one month of paid vacation every two years.

Saudi Arabia has taken significant steps to address labor abuses, but weak enforcement continues to result in credible reports of employer violations of foreign employee labor rights. In some instances, foreign workers and particularly domestic staff encounter employer practices (including passport withholding and non-payment of wages) that constitute trafficking in persons. The Department’s annual Trafficking in Persons Report details concerns about labor law enforcement within Saudi Arabia’s sponsorship system is available at: https://www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.

Overtime is normally compensated at time-and-a-half rates. The minimum age for employment is 14. The SAG does not adhere to the International Labor Organization’s convention protecting workers’ rights. Non-Saudis have the right to appeal to specialized committees in the MHRSD regarding wage non-payment and other issues. Penalties issued by the ministry include banning infringing employers from recruiting foreign and/or domestic workers for a minimum of five years.

12. U.S. International Development Finance Corporation (DFC) and Other Investment Insurance or Development Finance Programs

Saudi Arabia has been a member of the Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency since April 1988. Additionally, Saudi Arabia signed an Investment Incentive Agreement Washington, D.C. on February 27, 1975.

13. Foreign Direct Investment and Foreign Portfolio Investment Statistics

Table 2: Key Macroeconomic Data, U.S. FDI in Host Country/Economy
Host Country Statistical source* USG or international statistical source USG or International Source of Data:  BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
Economic Data Year Amount Year Amount  
Host Country Gross Domestic Product (GDP) ($M USD) 2020 $700,118  2019 $792,967 www.worldbank.org/en/country
Foreign Direct Investment Host Country Statistical source* USG or international statistical source USG or international Source of data:  BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, stock positions) N/A N/A 2019 $10,826 BEA data available at
https://apps.bea.gov/
international/factsheet/
Host country’s FDI in the United States ($M USD, stock positions) N/A N/A 2019 $6,220 BEA data available at
https://www.bea.gov/international/
direct-investment-and-multinational-
enterprises-comprehensive-data
Total inbound stock of FDI as % host GDP N/A N/A 2019 29.8% UNCTAD data available at
https://stats.unctad.org/
handbook/EconomicTrends/Fdi.html

* Source for Host Country Data: Saudi General Authority for Statistics   

Table 3: Sources and Destination of FDI

According to the 2020 UNCTAD World Investment Report, Saudi Arabia’s total FDI inward stock was $236.2 billion and total FDI outward stock was $123.1 billion (in both cases, as of 2019).

Detailed data for inward direct investment (below) is as of 2010, which is the latest available breakdown of inward FDI by country.

Direct Investment from/in Counterpart Economy Data
From Top Five Sources/To Top Five Destinations (US Dollars, Millions)
Inward Direct Investment Outward Direct Investment
Total Inward $169,206 100% Total Outward N/A N/A
Kuwait $16,761 10% Country #1 N/A N/A
France $15,918 9% Country #2 N/A N/A
Japan $13,160 8% Country #3 N/A N/A
United Arab Emirates $12,601 7% Country #4 N/A N/A
China, P.R. $9,035 5% Country #5 N/A N/A
“0” reflects amounts rounded to +/- USD 500,000.

*Source: IMF Coordinated Direct Investment Survey (2010 – latest available complete data)

Table 4: Sources of Portfolio Investment
Portfolio Investment Assets
Top Five Partners (Millions, current US Dollars)
Total Equity Securities Total Debt Securities
All Countries $308,806 100% All Countries $231,500 100% All Countries $77,306 100%
United States $108,474 35% United States $94,132 41% United States $14,342 19%
Cayman Islands $37,101 12% Cayman Islands $33,281 14% U.A.E $10,550 14%
Japan $20,827 7% China P.R $16,091 7% Turkey $7,284 9%
China P.R. $16,501 5% Japan $13,813 6% Japan $7,014 9%
U.A.E $15,464 5% Switzerland $8,964 4% Egypt $5,543 7%

Source: IMF’s Coordinated Portfolio Investment Survey (CPIS); data as of June 2020.

14. Contact for More Information

Economic Section and Foreign Commercial Service Offices
Embassy of the United States of America
P.O. Box 94309
Riyadh 11693, Saudi Arabia
Phone: +966 11 488-3800

2021 Investment Climate Statements: Saudi Arabia
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