UK, Saudi target £65 billion of mutual investment

Saudi Crown Prince meets with PM May (Bloomberg)

The United Kingdom and Saudi Arabia agreed a goal of £65 billion ($90 billion) of mutual trade and investment in the coming years, with Prime Minister Theresa May’s office calling it a “vote of confidence” in the economy before Britain leaves the European Union.

The target was set at a meeting between May and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in London on Wednesday, the prime minister’s office said in an e-mailed statement.

The prince also met Queen Elizabeth II as he embarked on a three-day visit aimed at burnishing his overseas credentials as a leader in waiting. He will also travel on to meet President Donald J. Trump in Washington.

The prince, who announced plans for a rapid economic overhaul and oversaw a crackdown on corruption since his appointment in June, won praise from the British prime minister for his reform program, known as Vision 2030, in particular allowing women to drive and attend sporting events.

The program is “an ambitious blueprint for internal reform that aims to create a thriving economy and a vibrant society—conditions that we agree are essential to the kingdom’s long-term stability and success,” a spokesman for May said in the statement.

Aramco plan

Memorandums of Understanding for 14 trade deals are due to be signed during the visit, but British officials don’t expect a decision on who will host the initial public offering of state oil company Aramco.

London has been vying with New York for the listing, but an announcement is not imminent, according to a person familiar with plans for the visit.

Britain is Saudi Arabia’s second-biggest supplier of defense equipment and London-based based BAE Systems has been waiting for a follow-on order for the Eurofighter Typhoon fighter jet after the controversial Al-Yamamah sale of 72 of the warplanes in 2006.

A deal would boost UK industry as Britain tightens its own defense spending.

But the crown prince’s visit has also attracted protests against Britain’s arms sales to Saudi Arabia, as well as the ongoing war in neighboring Yemen. The Saudi military heads a coalition that’s been struggling for almost three years to regain control of Yemen from rebel fighters with ties to Iran. The conflict has created what United Nations officials have described as one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises.

The UK shouldn’t be blinded by the charm offensive surrounding Prince Mohammed, the opposition Labour Party’s foreign affairs spokesman, Emily Thornberry, said on Wednesday in a Bloomberg TV interview.

He has questions to answer about Saudi involvement in the civil war in Yemen, funding for fighters in Syria and human rights at home, she said.

May raised concerns over the humanitarian situation in Yemen, and both leaders “agreed on the importance of full and unfettered humanitarian and commercial access, including through the ports, and that a political solution was ultimately the only way to end the conflict and humanitarian suffering,” according to the statement.

They also agreed to work together “to counter Iran’s destabilizing regional activity,” May’s office said.



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