Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Saudi approves over $10.6B in new projects

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia has approved over $10.6 billion in projects in the first four months of the year, the OPEC kingpin's foreign minister said Tuesday.

The approvals of some 652 projects valued at 40 billion riyals ($10.67 billion) underscores that the oil rich nation is continuing a policy of spending heavily on infrastructure projects to cushion its economy from the effects of the global economic crisis.

Last year, the kingdom spent $33.83 billion in project investment, an amount it is now on track to surpass.

Officials have said $400 billion in mostly infrastructure investment are slated through 2013.

The increase in investment on infrastructure, industry and other services "will major new opportunities for the private sector," Finance Minister Ibrahim al-Assaf said at the start of an economic conference in the capital.

Al-Assaf said spending on infrastructure in 2009 in the kingdom, which sits atop the world's largest proven reserves of conventional crude, was 37 percent higher than the previous year.

While Saudi Arabia relies overwhelmingly on oil exports to fuel its growth, the country has been pushing to boost the role of the private sector as a means of diversifying the economy.

The country is projected to run an almost $19 billion deficit in the current fiscal year, largely as it has ramped up spending on developing its economy and boosting services. That defect comes even as oil prices have climbed over $80 per barrel in past weeks before dropping to around $71 per barrel.

The focus comes as Saudi Arabia looks to carve a greater role for itself, both in the region and outside. It is the only Arab country represented in the Group of 20 nations. It also comes as euro zone nations struggle to contain potential fallout from Greece's massive public debt crisis that has helped batter the value of the euro and threatens to spread to other European nations like Portugal.

Al-Assaf said the world's economic recovery was still shaky, with developed nations -- particularly those grappling with high public debt loads -- experiencing slower recovery than developing nations.

"Among the dangers that the world economy still faces is shaky public finances and the increase of public debt in many countries, particularly developed (nations)," he said.

Al-Assaf said that the focus must remain on controlling public finances in these nations while not withdrawing stimulus measures until the situation is brought under control.

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