Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030, which was launched by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in 2016, is the major driver for current investment opportunities presented in the country. In the second quarter of 2021, Foreign Direct Investment in Saudi Arabia reached an impressive $1.4 billion. Through many incentivization programs and regulatory transformations, the government hopes to increase this to an annual figure of $100 billion by 2030.
With Saudi Arabia’s rapid economic recovery in the wake of the global pandemic, French companies and investors have an opportunity to leverage the array of new business and investment opportunities on offer within the Kingdom. However, to engage in business with the Saudi market, French companies will first need to familiarize themselves with the legal and regulatory factors that may affect their business operations in this rapidly transforming nation.
What Is Vision 2030?
The aim of Vision 2030 is to create a more diversified economy that is less reliant on oil revenue. As part of this process, the National Transformation Program seeks to increase non-oil government revenue from SR163 billion to SR1 trillion by 2030.
The government hopes to achieve this goal by the development of public-private partnerships (PPP), encouraging foreign investment in the country, introducing value-added tax (VAT), and privatizing several sectors including transport, education, and healthcare. The vision also includes plans to invest heavily in renewable energy and to develop the nation as a hub of technology and entrepreneurship in the MENA region.
So far, Vision 2030 has already seen significant success, with a string of major international companies, including Siemens and Google, committing to multi-billion dollar investments in the country. Since the program was first launched, the government has pledged over $1 trillion in development schemes. This has led to the creation of over 550,000 new jobs for local Saudis, with a further 1 million expected to materialize before 2030. In addition, foreign investment licenses nearly doubled from 700 in 2018 to 1300 in 2020, demonstrating that there is a keen interest from within the international venture capitalist community to make moves towards Saudi Arabia.
How Can French Business & Venture Capitalists Leverage This Opportunity?
In 2001, the Saudi-French Business Council was set up by the Saudi Arabian Chambers of Commerce & Industry with the aim to further develop business ties between both nations. French investment in Saudi Arabia now stands at $4.37 billion and trade between the two countries has nearly doubled over the past 10 years. French business leaders can build on this positive relationship history and take advantage of the plethora of new opportunities in the Kingdom created by Vision 2030.
The planned expansion of investments in infrastructure, healthcare, education, renewable energy, and tourism throughout the country will undoubtedly create a great number of prospects for French companies and investors across a broad range of sectors. Saudi Arabia has recently unveiled plans to invest over $100 billion to develop its renewable energy infrastructure and solar power capacity. France’s longstanding push towards increasing its use of renewable energy sources makes it a perfect partner for Saudi Arabia’s new infrastructure plans.
In addition to this, Saudi Arabia is positioning itself within the Gulf region as a hub of technological progress and development. However, achieving this status will be no easy feat without the assistance of foreign expertise and investment. French companies and technical experts may find themselves ideally positioned to enter this market given France’s highly developed digital sector.
Legal Considerations for French Businesses Entering The Kingdom
Off the back of the National Transformation Program, there has been a significant lifting of red tape. Local business regulations have been streamlined and simplified, to create a more transparent and agile process. But as with any new business venture, French companies need to be aware of the laws regulating Saudi Arabia’s commercial sector before commencing activities in the region.
Expatriates can now have full ownership of their company based in Saudi Arabia without requiring the involvement of a local business partner. However, they will still need to obtain a MISA Entrepreneurial Licence issued by the Saudi Arabian General Investment Authority before commencing business within the Kingdom. Additionally, they will be required to apply for Commercial Registration and get a certificate from the Chamber of Commerce. For businesses operating in certain sectors, additional licensing may also be required. With these documents, you will be able to open a bank account and start operating your business within Saudi Arabia.
Saudization (nitiqat) Rules
As a result of the government’s Saudization program, all companies operating within Saudi Arabia are required to employ a certain number of Saudis to maintain their business license. Employers are required to meet these quotas to ensure that the labor market continues to develop within Saudi Arabia rather than simply relying on imported foreign workers. This is particularly pertinent for companies operating in certain sectors such as marketing, where the percentage of Saudi employees must be at least 30% of the total workforce.
Other sectors, such as secretarial, translation, storekeeping, and data entry jobs, are prohibited from employing any non-Saudis. These new regulations will come into place in April of 2022. Any business operating in the Kingdom must adhere strictly to Saudization rules, or they may face penalties.
In addition to employment quotas, Saudi workers are also entitled to a minimum wage appropriate to their industry. This starts at 4000 SAR per month, but it increases to 7000 SAR for certain professionals, such as qualified dental professionals. If your company employs a Saudi national on a part-time basis, then they will only partially count towards your Saudization figures.
Saudi nationals and GCC residents in Saudi Arabia are not subject to any form of personal income tax. Businesses owned wholly by Saudis are subject to Zakat, which is a form of Islamic taxation set at a flat rate of 2.5%. However, businesses owned wholly by non-Saudi/GCC nationals will be subject to income tax.
If business ownership is a combination of Saudi and non-Saudi/GCC nationals, then Zakat and income tax will be paid in proportion to ownership. Income tax is set at a flat rate of 20%, but this increases to between 50% and 85% if the income is derived from oil and hydrocarbon production revenue.
In 2018, Saudi Arabia introduced VAT at a standard rate of 5%. However, it has now increased to 15% with an exception for the financial sector.
A Mutually Beneficial Relationship
Vision 2030 has eased investment restrictions and streamlined registration processes for foreigners. This means that there has never been a better time for French investors to start doing business with the Kingdom.
France has always been a world leader in terms of innovation, so they are well-placed to accommodate the needs of Saudi Arabia’s growing technology sector. In the long term, this will be a mutually beneficial relationship for both French businesses and the people of Saudi Arabia.
French companies will have greater access to a market of almost 35 million consumers, where there is a growing middle class seeking innovative and high-quality products and services. As a rapidly developing and youthful nation, Saudi Arabia will benefit from more foreign investment and expertise, while they achieve their national transformation goals.
Unlocking Saudi Arabia with Hammad & Al-Mehdar
Hammad & Al-Mehdar is a new-age law firm bridging traditional and emerging business sectors for private sector companies, family offices and SMEs entering or operating in the Middle East. We help navigate essential legal and regulatory requirements to grow and succeed in the Middle East, with specialty in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia given our 40-year track record. Our firm is forward thinking and has depth of knowledge in business of the past, present and future, and therefore well qualified to support French companies as they evolve their presence into Saudi Arabia and the wider MENA region. To discuss your business presence and expansion in Saudi Arabia contact Senior Associate, Samy Elsheikh.