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Saudi Shoura delegation visits UK for first time in years to boost relations and investment

LONDON: A high-level delegation from Saudi Arabia’s Shoura Council is visiting the UK for the first time in years, to share the Kingdom’s latest development and investment plans, enhance relations and exchange expertise.

“Our visit (aims) to highlight the huge changes taking place in the Kingdom as part of Vision 2030, and the opportunities they bring, and also to underscore the importance and the significance of the umbrella strategic agreement between Saudi Arabia and the United Kingdom, with all the various areas that it intends to build,” Ghazi Binzagr, a member of the Shoura Council, told Arab News.

Binzagr, who is heading the delegation and is the chairman of the Shoura Council’s Saudi-British Parliamentary Friendship Committee, said an objective of the visit is to deepen and widen the bilateral relationship, specifically in the fields of investment and commerce, to provide more opportunities for British companies and organizations to participate in Vision 2030 initiatives.

“We are underscoring the importance of the Vision in bringing new directions to areas that are going to be important to both countries, things such as health, financial services, tourism, energy, culture, sports,” he said. “These are all new opportunities that we believe will be important for joint ventures to emerge (and) joint investments.”

He added that they also hope to gain from the “benefit of the many years of knowledge and expertise that British society has had in many of these areas, some of which are now new to the Kingdom.”

The members of the Saudi delegation, who arrived in the UK on Sunday, have held meetings with Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Kwasi Kwarteng and members of the British Defense Committee, along with MPs and members of various subcommittees during their week-long visit.

“In the area of defense, we explored the strong relationship that has always been there between Saudi Arabia and the UK, and dialogue over issues of mutual concern with the shared commitment to a stable region, and the importance of that for stable trade, investment and prosperity, not just for the region, but the globe at large,” Binzagr said.

He added that the “response has been great” and both sides agree on the need to increase the frequency of mutual visits because they recognize that such face-to-face meetings and engagement creates a form of bilateral friendship that is very difficult to develop without in-person exchanges. They are now discussing dates for a British parliamentary delegation to visit the Kingdom after the summer recess in the UK, with more to follow.

“We were able to learn more deeply about how the British Parliament works, and there is a keenness and eagerness from the British side to also learn about how the Shoura Council works and to see how both bodies can help enable and support the efforts of both governments, which are quite strong in strengthening their relationship with each other,” said Binzagr.

The visit has also included tours of the House of Commons and the House of Lords, in which the delegation observed parliamentary sessions. It also met former sports ministers Lord Moynihan and Tracey Crouch to learn about the sports ecosystem overseen by the UK parliament and how its best practices might be applied to the expanding sports sector in the Kingdom, Binzagr said.

On Tuesday delegates took part in a roundtable discussion, organized by the Arab British Chamber of Commerce, with British executives and investors during which they talked about the transformation of the Kingdom’s commercial environment and introduced the Invest in Saudi initiative launched by the Ministry of Investment.

“We both believe that these visits are vital, not just for our own individual understandings, but we both play a role in the oversight of the performance of the government, we can both … better follow the development of the components of the strategic agreement between both countries,” Binzagr said.

Another important development highlighted by the visit is the recent easing of visa requirements for travel between the two countries, which authorities say will contribute to the strengthening of the bilateral relationship.

Alia Aldahlawi, a member of the Shoura Council and the friendship committee, said it was important for the members of the Saudi delegation to learn about the nature of legislation within the British Parliament and that they had benefited from the meetings that have taken place. A common topic that was raised, she added, was the role of women in the Kingdom.

“We addressed the woman issue in several meetings, especially the empowerment of women and how women now have become engaged in the political decision making and in higher positions in Saudi Arabia, and also the increased participation of women in the labor market, because it’s one of the major objectives of Vision 2030,” Aldahlawi said.

The government and private sectors have been working to increase female participation in the labor force, she added, and already have not only achieved but surpassed the percentage targets set for 2030.

For example, 30 members of the 150-person Shoura Council — 20 percent — are women, she said, which is a larger proportion than in many other regional and international parliaments.

The empowerment of women in Saudi Arabia is a clear and obvious goal, Aldahlawi said, and the Kingdom has always offered equal opportunities in terms of education and scholarships to men and women. She herself obtained a doctorate from King’s College London many years ago, she added.

“We (women) are qualified to engage in our economy, we are human capital that is educated and have full experience,” she said.

“So this empowerment (leads to more) females in the labor market, in higher positions, and a lot of diverse types of job opportunities.”



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