Interview to Saudi Italian Business Council Chairman Mr. Kamel Al-Munajjed

Febbraio 2022
Di Mattia Silvestri

In the occasion of a recent visit to Italy, The Watcher Post has met Mr. Kamel Al-Munajjed, Chairman of the Saudi Italian Business Council.

Mr. Al-Munajjed, it’s been over 6 months since you’ve been elected Saudi Italian Business Council (SIBC) Chairman. What’s Your perception of the potential of the business relation between Saudi Arabia and Italy?
«The more I think about this business relation, the more I am dazzled by the diversity of the existing business across the different segments of our economies, and its growth potential!! What strikes me the most is the sheer volume of small and micro deals directly made by small entrepreneurs both countries, this clearly explains why Italy is the Kingdom’s first partner in the SME segment! Our first objective now, as SIBC, is to partner with the right entity in Italy- one with nationwide representation – with whom we can plan and coordinate multiple activities, offer support to the private sectors in both countries, and explore new opportunities together».

What are the activities carried on by the Saudi Italian Business Council and what are the plans for the near future?
«Although delayed by the Pandemic, we still managed to make our first trip to Rome last month. We met most of the major government and private economic players such as ITA, SACE, Confindustria, JIACC, and others, as well as a number of Italian officials and several honorable members of the Parliament.  It was truly refreshing to find such a high level of enthusiasm within these entities to engage with our Council.  As I mentioned earlier, our primary objective was to find a permanent and trusted partner in Italy, one that would yield the best synergy with us, and this trip was meant to fulfill that purpose.  It was indeed a successful trip, and I am to report that our objective was met. We are currently in the final stages and should be announcing the partnership imminently».

What is the trend of new businesses and joint ventures creation between Saudi and Italian companies?
«I believe it’s just a matter of time and we’ll soon be seeing a growing number of JVs.  Our government is quite keen to develop the relations between private sectors of both countries.  In Saudi Arabia, we are receiving a growing number of requests for assistance to find partners or products in Italy.  During my recent meetings in Rome, I sensed a similar appeal from the Italian entities we met.  I believe we’ll soon have a lot to say on this issue».

What are the main sectors of interest for Saudi companies in Italy and what are the main sectors of interest for Italian companies in Saudi Arabia?
«Several Saudi companies already have offices and are operating in Italy. I believe their number could be much higher.  The main ones are SABIC in the plastic industry, Saudi Arabian Airlines in the logistics and storage sectors, Gulf Infonet in the telecom sector, and a few others.  I also see great opportunities for Saudi companies in the industrial sectors, chemical sector, renewable power sectors, food sector (especially in view of the fact that  food security is a major objective for our country), and so many others. Italian companies are also operating in multiple and diverse sectors in Saudi Arabia such as management and consultancy services, engineering and construction projects, telecommunications, art sector, renewable energy, and many more.  More than 150 Italian companies are registered with our Ministry of Investment as JVs.  Most of the big known Italian corporations such as Enel, Proger, Snam, Webuild, Sparkle, Ferrovie dello Stato, Schiattarella Associati, and many others have an active presence in the Kingdom.  The sheer size of ongoing projects presently in Saudi Arabia, could justify the existence of at least double or triple that number».

2022 is the 90th Anniversary of the relation between Saudi Arabia and Italy: a long story of collaboration and friendship. What are in your opinion the business collaboration goals for the next 10 years?
«As we celebrate the 90th anniversary of the start of our relations, we look forward to a continued partnership with Italy.  Saudi Arabia has valued Italy as a close friend and strategic partner. As strategic members of the G20, Saudi Arabia and Italy have been working together to promote sustainable development.  In the 2020 G20 Summit that Saudi Arabia presided, followed by the G20 Summit in Italy, the positive synergy of progress and ambitions between the two countries resulted in several initiatives aiming at creating a better future.  Both Saudi Arabia and Italy are working hard to ensure economic growth with a strong focus on social and environmental development; this will be the biggest driver of partnerships between the two countries. The Kingdom has also embarked on a journey to drive sustainable change in the country and the region with the ‘Saudi Green Initiative’ and the ‘Middle East Green Initiative’.  As part of the program, the Kingdom plans to plant 10 billion trees across the country, raise the percentage of protected areas to more than 30% of its total land area and reduce its carbon emissions by more than 4% of global contributions. As such, the Kingdom has announced more than 60 initiatives that represent about EUR 150 billion in investments to contribute to the green economy. Italy today has one of the highest-level eco-labels and EMAS in the EU, and as such, I believe Italian companies are well placed to become partners of choice of “Saudi Green Initiative”».

Saudi Arabia with Saudi Vision 2030 is living a season of great transformation (social and economic). What are the Saudi business projects that could encounter more Italian interest? 
«The ongoing transformation of the Kingdom’s economy and society revolves around Vision 2030 and its multiple goals, including diversification of the economy, enhancing government efficiency, increasing non-oil government revenues, reducing unemployment, and increasing women’s participation in the workforce, etc. In our endeavor to achieve the Vision 2030 strategic goals, we have created immense opportunities and an attractive business environment for our strategic partners. Innovation is front and center in all of our giga projects. NEOM with its futuristic LINE and OXAGON components, the Red Sea project, Diriyah Gate, and the Qiddiya projects are all powered by innovation, and offer huge opportunities to our Italian partners. There are also other less visible areas to the business community in Italy; Saudi Arabia is leveraging its rich heritage to transform into a tourist hub. There are fascinating gems still hidden in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. In 2021, the Heritage Commission established the National Antiquities Register: 624 new archaeological and historic sites were recorded in the same year, with more than 8,000 locations registered so far.  Italy’s excellence in Archeology is unsurpassed worldwide, and is best placed to engage with us in this field. The last couple of years have also seen investment increase in the tourism sector through the introduction of new attractions and services.  AlUla in the northwest, which is home to the Kingdom’s first UNESCO World Heritage Site, has now become a world destination for eco-tourism, including history and nature lovers, with direct flights from Dubai and Paris CDG Airport. Many Italian companies are already engaged with these Mega Projects, but again, I believe their number is too small compared with the size of these opportunities».

Is the Saudi Italian Business Council the right address for an Italian entrepreneur willing to strengthen collaboration with Saudi colleagues and companies? 
«Absolutely !! Very soon, with our Italian partner, we will be able to offer Italian entrepreneurs, and large companies as well, all the help and advice they require to set up and start their businesses in Saudi Arabia.  We’re working very closely with our colleagues at the Ministry of Investment, and other ministries, to channel the right opportunities to the right partner, and ensure our Italian partners get all the assistance they need. We will facilitate the introduction of potential JV partners, we will also help the existing operating businesses in Saudi Arabia and help them expand their horizons by meeting new partners in Saudi or make them aware of new opportunities».