Author: ARAB NEWSWed, 2017-01-11ID: 1484090540580923300JEDDAH: Saudi Arabia has adopted a new mechanism to grant business visas for foreign investors within 24 hours. Foreign Ministry official Usama Nugali confirmed the move to Arab News on S…
RIYADH: Riyadh Metro is an impressive project, which will change the lifestyle of the people in the city, said EU Commissioner Violetta Bulc.
Bulc’s comments followed her tour of the ongoing SR85 billion ($22.5 billion) project in Riyadh.
She earlier inaugurated the second EU-GCC Business Forum, PPP and Infrastructure Investment Opportunities in the GCC in Riyadh.
“The deadlines are very demanding, but so far they’re following the deadlines well,” she told the media on the sidelines of the forum.
“As far as I could tell … it’s moving well,” she said.
Describing the metro as the largest investment project in the field of transport in Saudi Arabia, Bulc said that she was happy to note that those involved in the project are using state-of-the art equipment and services for the convenience of commuters.
Bulc said she understood the completion date to be 2019, and described the metro as “the biggest global project in urban mobility.”
The metro, the biggest infrastructure project in the history of Riyadh, is an urban rail and bus system, and the project is on track, Pietro Bagnati, project director for the Italian construction group Salini Impregilo, separately told AFP.
“The project is going on satisfactorily. It is a priority project for the government,” Bagnati said on the sidelines of the forum.
His firm leads the ArRiyadh New Mobility consortium, one of three foreign groups building the six-line Metro project planned to cover 179km of the sprawling city.
The underground and elevated rail network is to be supported by a bus system.
New Mobility’s portion of the project — the Line 3 railway — covers 42 kilometers.
During her opening address at the press briefing, the EU commissioner said that the purpose of her mission is to focus on a new investment plan with Saudi Arabia and other GCC countries, which took 18 months of preparation by the EU.
The commissioner addressed the media following a meeting with EU ambassadors in Riyadh.
Commending Saudi Vision 2030, she said it is an integrated action plan, which covers the implementation of a vast range of projects with the participation of local businessmen.
Bulc also said that she was touched by the hospitality of the people, who were cooperating with free and frank discussions.
Her talks with government officials focused on transport — railways and aviation — and digitization of these projects.
She added that other areas, including research and innovation in transport projects and urban mobility, crowd congestion and pollution, were also taken up during the talks.
In the field of aviation, she said it was agreed to sign trade agreements between the two parties.
Bulc said she had the opportunity of meeting a group of local women and praised the tremendous improvements in their lifestyle.
Bulc said that the literacy rate among women has greatly improved and she was happy to see a large number of women graduates completing their respective degrees at local and foreign universities.
AMMAN: The Saudi National Campaign to support Syrian refugees has distributed aid to 5,562 beneficiaries, constituting 1,119 families, in Irbid and Mafraq on the Jordanian-Syrian border.
The aid included basic winter necessities such as blankets, cardigans, hats, jackets and other relief material. Families also received a health pack with basic sanitary items.
Badr bin Abdul Rahman Al-Samhan, regional director of Saudi National Campaign to support the brothers in Syria, pledged continued assistance to Syrian families, both refugees and displaced people.
In response to King Salman’s directives, the campaign’s program strives to provide relief to maximum number of Syrians, to help them through the winter.
Al-Samhan stressed the importance of various humanitarian programs launched by the campaign, which have a major positive impact on Syrians.
Harsh weather conditions require a doubling of efforts to help the needy Syrians, he said.
Temperatures drop below zero degrees Celsius in some areas, Al-Samhan pointed out.
JEDDAH: One-third of the Saudi population is obese. And if the trend of minimal physical activity mixed with the proclivity to eat cheap processed food continues the pounds will only pile on.
But Saudi Arabia is not alone, as every country worldwide is experiencing a spike obesity rates.
The startling data comes from a group of health scientists, who recently released a single study published by the Lancet Medical Journal that compiled data from 1,698 studies in 186 countries and 19.2 million participants.
The study, which uses the standardized Body Mass Index (BMI) chart to determine the average weight of men and women, covers obesity rates from 1975 to today.
It found that if the trend in rising obesity continues, an estimated average of 18 percent of all men and more than 21 percent of all women would be obese by 2025. Severe obesity will surpass 6 percent in men and 9 percent in women.
The study also found that Saudi Arabia had an obesity rate in 1975 of 14.2 percent of the population. Today it is 33.5 percent, second to Qatar in the Gulf region, which in 1975 had a 14.9 percent obesity rate that mushroomed to 36.9 percent today.
In contrast, Japan had a rate of 1.1 percent in 1975 and 3.3 percent today. North Korea barely budged, recording a 1.6 percent rate 41 years ago and now is recorded at 2.8 percent.
Wejdan Kutb, a dietician at the Maroom Medical Center in Jeddah, said it has only been recently that Saudis became aware that obesity could be dangerous.
“The lack of awareness about the risks of obesity among people is a contributing factor,” Kutb said. “Many believe that obese people struggle psychologically and appearance-wise. However, people used to be unaware of the diseases that accompany obesity, such as heart diseases, diabetes and blood pressure. Now, awareness started to increase in our society.”
As alarming as the Saudi Arabia’s figures are, the study provides little context in what leads Saudis to gain so much weight.
The climate alone, often exceeding 35 degrees centigrade on many days year-round, is a major contributing factor to people living a sedentary lifestyle with few opportunities aside from the gym to get exercise.
“Living in Saudi Arabia plays a role in the growing proportion of obesity due … high temperatures and lack of transportation accessibility to everyone, and the lack of health clubs in all districts,” said Jeddah dietician Vivian Wehbe.
“Not all women can provide drivers to join the gym and this causes hindrance in keeping their bodies fit.”
Dr. Rowaidah N. Idriss, executive director of the Nutri Life Center for Healthy Meals, said the food industry has changed dramatically over the decades that has contributed to the epidemic.
She said that food was once produced or planted by families, which has since evolved in manufactured foods containing an abundance of sugar, salt and artificial flavors.
“Even the agriculture and livestock industry are affected by genetic engineering and antibiotics and hormone injections, which led to messing up the hormones in the human body, and therefore, affected people’s weight significantly,” Idriss said.
The lifestyles among Saudis changed as well, she said. Families, once dependent on physical activity to perform household chores, have now given way to machines and housekeepers.
Dr. Idriss also said that electronic devices and snacking go hand in hand. Television was once relegated to a specific time of the day, but 24-hour programming encourages people to spend more time in front of the screen while eating more snacks for a longer period without engaging in physical activity, she said.
Perhaps a more subtle form of generating maximum profits is the strategy to offer “super size” meals to fast-food customers by selling a larger drink and larger order of french fries for a few extra riyals. McDonalds led the fast-food industry in super-sizing meals, but phased out the incentive to buy and eat more in 2004 to simplify its menu and because it was receiving intense pressure from nutritionists.
Yet super-sizing has not quite left fast-food menus in many restaurants in Saudi Arabia.
“Attractive offers provide an opportunity to eat larger amounts of food that exceed our body’s needs,” said Idriss, adding that cheap food has made it affordable for people to purchase more.
While Saudis are becoming more aware of the health hazards associated with obesity, their knowledge is still lacking.
There is a misconception among people that the sugar they consume will be burned once they exercise, Kutb said.
However, carbohydrates and sugar turn into fat once they enter the body and it’s difficult to burn it off.
Kutb sees encouraging signs, though.
“The consumption of dates in our communities is very, very high,” she said.
“However, due to our awareness nowadays, people started to consume less amounts or at least eat them as a whole meale like at breakfast with milk or yogurt to form an integrated meal.”
JEDDAH: Saudi Arabia’s efforts to promote regional and international cooperation to achieve security and maritime safety are the focus of a conference taking place here.
Delegates also explored the piracy threats off the coast of Somalia and their impact on other maritime crimes.
In his inaugural speech at the event, Vice Admiral Awwad bin Eid Al-Balawi, director general of Border Guards, stressed the need for a legal framework to combat maritime crimes, illegal fishing and the smuggling of weapons, explosives and drugs.
The Saudi Interior Ministry, represented by the General Directorate of Border Guards, is hosting the conference at the Mohammed bin Naif Academy of Marine Science and Security Studies in Jeddah.
The official reiterated Saudi Arabia’s commitment to the International Maritime Organization’s (IMO) Djibouti Code of Conduct, which aims to combat piracy and armed robbery in the western Indian Ocean and Gulf of Aden.
Chris Trelawny, IMO’s special adviser on maritime security and facilitation, also highlighted the importance of the code in his speech.
The code provides for sharing of piracy-related information, through its information sharing network.
Nineteen countries that have signed up for the code endorsed Saudi Arabia’s election as the chairperson of the conference.
Observers from various countries and organizations are also taking part in the event, which ends on Thursday.
Al-Balawi thanked Crown Prince Mohammed bin Naif, deputy prime minister and minister of interior, for the confidence given to the Border Guards to host such importance events.
He also thanked Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, second deputy premier and minister of defense.
There is consistent effective partnership between Saudi Arabia and the International Maritime Organization on issues concerning the Djibouti Code of Conduct, Al-Balawi said.
He called for effective measures to curb the risks posed by terrorist organizations and armed militias in light of the security and political situation prevailing in some regional countries.
In his speech, Al-Balawi also highlighted Saudi Arabia’s achievements in its battle against terrorism.
He praised the code of conduct and its role in fighting piracy and armed robbery in the western Indian Ocean and the Gulf of Aden.
The first day’s sessions discussed the trends and features of maritime crimes in the western Indian Ocean and Gulf of Aden.
The participating delegations will also visit the Western Fleet Command of the Royal Saudi Naval Forces, the Jeddah Islamic Port and the Border Guards’ Center of Search and Rescue Operations.
RIYADH: Saudi Arabia is stepping up private sector participation in education projects, officials said on Tuesday.
The government has allocated SR200 billion for education in its new budget, said Education Minister Ahmed Al-Isa.
He made these remarks as he opened the Investment and Finance in Educational Buildings Conference in Riyadh.
In addition to Commerce and Investment Minister Majid Al-Qassabi and Deputy Finance Minister Hamad bin Suleiman Al-Bazee, around 35 speakers representing different government agencies, and employees of the banking sector were present at the inauguration.
The Ministry of Education and the Tatweer Building Company are organizing the conference at the ministry’s headquarters with the aim of boosting partnership between the public and private sectors to develop infrastructure services and facilities.
He said the conference aims at seeking the private sector’s cooperation by launching an executive program to construct new facilities and buildings to promote education.
The program, which will be carried out in line with Vision 2030, opens new opportunities for investors.
Tatweer signed nine agreements with various private sector organizations for the construction of new complexes.
In his speech, Al-Qassabi said the government has allocated 22.4 percent of its national budget to education, which is a larger proportion compared to countries such as Germany and South Korea that spend less than 5 percent of their budgets for education.
Tatweer CEO Fahad Al-Hammad outlined the gigantic development made in Saudi Arabia in the field of education.
He recalled that some 5,000 buildings have been constructed during the past 10 years to promote education.
Al-Isa also opened an exhibition, which was attended by more than 20 local companies.
The conference comes to complement efforts made in promoting partnerships with the private sector to provide educational buildings.
Discussions will take place over on opportunities for investment and financing educational buildings, and the attractive environment for investors in the educational field, in accordance with Vision 2030, and the role of education development companies in fostering an investment environment.
The conference aims to increase the amount of rapid financing by the private sector, reduce the operating expenses of the Kingdom, and reduce public debt.
It will also strive to provide a quality experience in the practices and experiences of local, regional and international initiatives of public-private partnerships.
Ahmad Al-Enzi, head of the organizing committee for the conference, said the conference will open new investment channels to provide educational buildings. The aim is to utilize the resources of the Education Ministry by targeting several categories of investors and developers in the education and property sectors in addition to companies and financial institutions. They are expected to provide long-term solutions and programs with appropriate returns, he added.
Al-Enzi said the most important investment opportunities presented by the conference include school construction financing mechanisms through existing rented educational buildings in exchange for advanced sums and then re-leasing these buildings in exchange for annual installments.
The conference will discuss programs for renting and leasing and mechanisms for partnerships with the private sector.
RIYADH : Michel Aoun, who arrived here Monday on his first foreign trip since becoming Lebanon’s president in October, said he came to the Kingdom to dispel recent misunderstandings in bilateral relations.
Aoun, whose delegation included senior ministers, met King Salman Tuesday and held official talks at Al-Yamamah Palace.
The two leaders reviewed bilateral relations and ways of enhancing them in various fields, and discussed the latest Arab and international developments.
Aoun told Al-Ekhbariya TV that supporting the Lebanese army would be among the issues covered.
“We need cooperation with Saudi Arabia and other countries in the fight against terrorism,” he said, adding that security and stability had been maintained in Lebanon.
Citing the 1989 Taif Accord that ended Lebanon’s civil war, Aoun expressed hope that neighboring countries would adopt political solutions to end conflicts.
The Lebanese delegation held talks with various ministers. Aoun met with Minister of Culture and Information Adel Al-Toraifi to review bilateral cooperation in information and culture.
The president also met Commerce and Investment Minister Majid Al-Qassabi to discuss ways to develop economic and trade relations.
Al-Qassabi was quoted as saying at the end of the meeting that Lebanon is an integral part of the Arab world whose stability and security consolidate those of the region.
Finance Minister Mohammed Al-Jadaan met his Lebanese counterpart Ali Hassan Khalil at King Saud Palace, and discussed issues of common interest in economics and finance, and ways to enhance them.
Talks between Al-Toraifi and his Lebanese counterpart Melhem Riachy focused on the media sector in both countries and ways to bolster it.
Al-Qassabi also received Lebanese Minister of Economy and Trade Raed Khoury at King Saud Palace.
They discussed investment opportunities between the two countries, especially in agriculture, and the development of the food industry. They described the talks as positive.
Earlier, sources told Asharq Al-Awsat, a sister publication of Arab News, that the Saudi-Lebanese talks would tackle key issues including Saudi deposits, double-taxation rules, facilitating transfers between the two countries, and joint cooperation in the health sector.
RIYADH : Lebanese President Michel Aoun, who arrived here Monday night on a two-day visit, met King Salman and senior members of the Cabinet to revive cooperation between the two countries today.
Aoun, who was accompanied by a large ministerial delegation on his first foreign trip, came to Riyadh at the invitation of the king.
He will hold talks with senior leaders and is expected to attend a meeting with Saudi and Lebanese businessmen on Tuesday before heading to Qatar for a two-day visit.
The high-profile visit is widely seen as a significant trip to bolster bilateral cooperation including military and tourism cooperation, marking a new era in Saudi-Lebanese ties and further enhancing cooperation between Lebanon and other Gulf countries.
Majed Abdullah Al-Hedayan, legal affairs in charge at the Riyadh Chamber of Commerce and Industry (RCCI), told Arab News, “The Lebanese president’s first foreign visit to the Kingdom has important implications and sends very strong domestic and regional messages.”
He said the visit comes as part of an attempt to take the Lebanese presidency out of the international and regional conflicts and with concerns for the larger interests of Lebanon’s better economic relationship with the Gulf and Arab countries.
The visit also aims to strengthen the relationship between the Kingdom and Lebanon politically and economically, he added.
Adnan Kassar, former Lebanese minister and current chairman of General Union of Chambers of Commerce, Industry and Agriculture for Arab Countries, told Asharq Al-Awsat, a sister publication of Arab News, that Saudi Arabia and other GCC countries are “the backbone of the Lebanese economy” and pinned hopes about the significant visit to the Kingdom on the economic and political levels. He said he hoped that this visit turns the page over the strained relations between Lebanon and the GCC in the past year.
“It is the first foreign visit of the president since his election, heading a high-ranking Lebanese delegation and the significance of the visit in this timing is important as it represents a transformation in the historic relations between the Kingdom and Lebanon,” he said.
Earlier, the increased influence of Iran-backed Hezbollah in the official affairs of Lebanon had apparently undermined Saudi-Lebanese ties.
The Kingdom stopped funding a program to rearm Lebanon’s military last February because of hostile Lebanese positions due to Hezbollah’s stranglehold on the state.
Under the Saudi-funded “Donas” program, France was to provide military equipment to Lebanon to ensure stability in the divided country. The program was to ship vehicles, helicopters, drones, cannons and other equipment.
The Kingdom also warned its citizens against travel to Lebanon last February for safety reasons.
JEDDAH: Anti-narcotics forces in Madinah foiled the smuggling of 623,000 Captagon pills. The drug consignment, which was coming from Tabuk and heading for Jeddah, was intercepted in Madinah and the alleged smuggler arrested.
Meanwhile, customs officers at the Prince Naif bin Abdulaziz Airport in Qassim stopped an attempt by a passenger to smuggle 21,000 Captagon pills into the Kingdom. The airport’s customs director general, Walid Al-Fouzan, said an officer found the tablets wrapped in foil in the passenger’s suitcase.
The demand for Captagon appears to increase with the approach of school exams. The Interior Ministry has registered cases against people who promoted the pills under the pretext that they help students remember and stay awake to study and get higher marks. But studies have shown that the drugs do just the opposite.
Abdul-Illah bin Mohammad Al-Sharif, assistant-director of Narcotics Prevention Affairs and an international consultant, said narcotics is a problem with young people. “There are many reasons for consuming drugs such as lack of religious deterrence, family break-up, psychological problems at childhood and bad friends and their influence,” he said.
Two weeks before the exams begin, drug dealers become more active. According to research papers published by the College of Pharmacology at King Saud University and the Toxicology Center, the regular consumption of Captagon pills between three and six months kills millions of cells in the brain.
Some 60 percent of addicts in Al-Amal hospitals in Riyadh, Jeddah and Dammam and the rehab center in Al-Qasim are addicted to Captagon, according to the research findings.
Government agencies regularly conduct awareness programs to educate families and young people about the harmful effects of drugs.
RIYADH: EU Commissioner Violetta Bulc said here Monday that old recurring conflicts need continuous attention, and only in peace can there be prosperity and a sustainable future.
Bulc was speaking at the inauguration of the Second EU-GCC Business Forum, PPP and Infrastructure Investment Opportunities in the GCC.
Bulc and acting Governor of SAGIA Prince Saud bin Khaled Al-Faisal jointly opened the forum at the Narcissus Hotel in the capital.
“Political risks are significant in many parts of the world; so are the needs to stand up and support peaceful solutions,” she said, pointing out that these elements offer a major opportunity for further development and wider cooperation between the EU and GCC countries. “More than ever, we need to act together to promote sound economic policies and close cooperation between public and private actors, which is one of the key topics of today’s business forum.
“We are in a period of rapid changes globally. We can observe that while global economic growth has picked up in the past 6 months, it remains quite moderate and fragile, with major differences globally and important downside risks. Some factors which helped support the recent global economic recovery, such as low interest rates, low inflation, and low commodity prices, may be changing,” she said.
The outcome of the US presidential election and the uncertainties surrounding the policy stance of the future US administration in key policy areas adds to global economic and political uncertainty, she added.
“More divergent global monetary policies could also entail renewed financial market volatility going forward. Moreover, the policies of free trade which so much supported the global economic growth of the last decades are being challenged by some more inward-looking and protectionist national views. To sustain the global recovery, free-trade is crucial,” she concluded.
In his speech, Prince Saud said Saudi Vision 2030 has opened up an array of investment opportunities with the active participation of the public and private sectors. The prince called upon investors in the EU and the GCC to make use of the attractive opportunities available in the Kingdom that would provide mutual benefits.
The forum was a continuation of the first EU-GCC Business Forum held in Brussels last May. Its focus was on the most crucial areas of economic development: transport, infrastructure, and sustainable urban development.
The EU enjoys long-established relationships with Saudi Arabia and the other GCC states on a range of issues within the framework of the EU-GCC Cooperation Agreement of 1985.
Trade volumes between the two regions have almost doubled during the past decade, and stood at slightly more than 155 billion euros ($164 billion) in 2015.
The GCC countries together are the EU’s fourth largest export market, and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia alone is Europe’s 12th largest export market. The EU is the first trading partner of the Kingdom (and the GCC).
Economic and trade matters have, therefore, been at the forefront of EU-GCC cooperation since its inception.
With the economic changes in the Gulf region, and the most recently announced Saudi Vision 2030 as well as the corresponding National Transformation Plan, opportunities for both bilateral cooperation and increased trade and investment were underlined at the forum.
In 2014, the European Union launched the EU-GCC Trade and Business Cooperation Facility, a three-year project aimed at strengthening trade, investment, and business cooperation between the two blocs through business networks, mutual understanding and dialogue.
The project facilitates various activities in GCC and EU cities, including high-level annual business forums, policy working groups and round tables aimed at EU and GCC business communities, policy makers, opinion leaders and the media.
The project is managed by a consortium of leading EU and GCC private sector institutions with a total membership base of 2.5 million companies.
The partners of the project are the Confederation of Danish Industries (DI), the Federation of GCC Chambers (FGCCC), and BUSINESSEUROPE.