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JEDDAH

Khalil Khazindar Law Firm
in Association with
JASON HUF INTERNATIONAL pc
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Kingdom of Saudi Arabia
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  • Non-Billable Time Can Still Be Valuable Time

    By R. Jason Huf

    When recollecting the uses of my spare time as I sat down to pen my previously promised piece on fully utilizing the summer months to achieve Work-Life Balance goals, I realized that a simple "How I Spent My Summer Vacation" article would be insufficient. During the summer, indeed throught 2017 thus far, I seemed to gravitate to leisure activities that were relaxing and - sometimes - valuable beyond taking a mere breather for myself.

    So, I have instead decided to include something in this writing about how time taken to relax, though not billable, can still be valuable - to ourselves and others. Indirectly, a more relaxed you is likely to be of greater help to your client. But, beyond that, there are activites that are relaxing, interesting AND enriching to your profession and society more broadly.

    After all, a desire to influence and shepherd positive change is at least part of the motivation that drove us - and still drives us - along our respective career paths, isn't it?


    I have always been public-service minded. This is reflected in my legal practice, wherein certain investments, projects and other client matters have over time and in the aggregate served as a small piece of a small piece of the large, complicated puzzle of establishing a foundation for economic and social reform in Saudi Arabia and the larger Middle East (parenthetically, I am pleased to see that today's reforms are more sweeping and are being enacted much more quickly than I had anticipated, or even hoped).

    Accordingly, I often find "relaxation" and satisfaction when I can make time for pursuits that have some intrinsic (but, not necessarily obvious) value to the larger world around me. Take, for example, a presentation hosted by Oxford University's North American office on Manar al-Athar and its efforts to catalogue ancient sites in the war-torn Levant so that they can be preserved or (in the event they have already been or are going to be destroyed by insidious groups like Daesh) restored after the shooting finally stops. When "endangered" cultures become lost civilizations, it degrades the whole of humanity. I encourage you to give this group's efforts a fair look.  And, hey, wine was served...

    Jason Huf and HRH Princess Sarah Zeid Ra'ad of Jordan  (Sometimes, to your surprise, you may get to meet fabulous people like the one pictued here. Also pictured, standing next to this fabulous person, is a member of the Hashemite Royal Family... )

    (Attorney Disclaimer:  NOT an endorsement of JHI by HRH!)


    Whatever your line of work, your position as a professional provides you with access. In addition to being present at the above-referenced presentation, I'm rather excited to say that I have accepted an invitation to join the New York City Bar Associations's Committee on Middle Eastern & North African Affairs (MENA Committee).  Then again, the MENA Committee has a pretty robust agenda, so I may end up regretting this...

    Kidding aside, there aren't too many bar association committees in New York, Pennsylvania or New Jersey (the jurisdictions where I am admitted to practice) that specifically focus on subject matter so closely aligned to my practice, so in addition to being recognized for my work after so many years in the field, I am actually looking forward to the (non-billable) work ahead.


    Now, I'm not saying that all of your spare time needs to be "meaningful", only that the added element of being satisfyingly productive in some measure may add to the value of your relaxing uses of the downttime you manage to carve out of your busy schedule. Different people have different interests and run at different speeds. I may be someone who has yet to take a real "vacation" at any point in my life, but I do not dispute the notion that relaxation for relaxation's sake is absolutely fine.

    For those of you who have the discipline to make the effort to force yourself to take a vacation, more power to you. For the rest of us its enough of an endeavor to find forms of refreshment that are somewhat more limited in scope. But, no worries - it ain't that tough. Really!

    Again, Pennsylvania is one of the jurisdictions in which I am admitted to practice. On occassion, I travel to Philadelphia on business. When I know I'm to make the short drive into Philly, well, being a long-time Philadelphia Phillies fan (and, you cannot be a Phillies fan without being a an of baseball period - trust me on that one) I like to catch an evening game when they are playing at home. Why not? I'm a phan, its the thinking man's sport, Citizens Bank Park is a great ballpark and I love Dollar Dog Day.

    Also, this past year, the NFL Draft was hosted there (great event, and Philly did a fantastic job of hosting); and, the Philadelphia Orchestra celebrated the works of Mozart not very long ago - as part of that celebration, there was an opportunity to see a showing of the film "Amadeus" (one of my favorites), with the orchestra providing a live sound track.

    NFL Draft Day (Night) Philadelphia, Pa.  (NFL Draft - Philadelphia, Pa.)

    Some things can be done spur of the moment, without planning, and can be done by almost anyone, especially in New York. Catching the recent solar eclipse without special glasses was easily done by using my phone - I perched it over my shoulder and recorded a brief video.  Anyone who could walk to Battery Park (or any open space where the sun was at least partially blocked by the moon that afternoon) could have done the same thing.  Many did.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SpdAcRPtZ8Y   (As you can see, the Firm's YouTube Channel is still in the "experimental" stage)


    When I lived in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia years ago, I took up snorkeling on the weekends and fell in love with the Red Sea and the coral reef beneath its surface. Some folks encouraged me to take up diving, but diving is a great deal of work. If what I do for recreation is more work that what I do for a living, I have something of a philosophical problem with that...

    My dog can be a great deal of work (and, don't get a dog unless you are honestly ready, willing and able to do all of the work associated with sharing your home with a dog), but she is without question the exception to the above-referenced rule. When it comes to time well-spent, I am hard-pressed to think of anything more rewarding and relaxing than walking my dog.

    Sometimes, I'll just call it an early day at the office and go out. Its New York, man - hit the town. Fridays tend to be ideal: the Middle East is closed on Fridays and the West is in the process of shutting down for the weekend, with businesses in London generally closing by 12:00 noon, US Eastern time (though, I must be mindful of places in other time zones, such as Houston, Texas, which is an hour behind New York). And, naturally, your employees won't mind being able to knock off a little early before the weekend, or will they... 

    "Seriously, you don't have to stay... "  - Jason Huf  ("Seriously, you can leave... ")

    In any event, I find that making time for yourself and your favorite people (or, pets) is not impossible - it really boils down to time management. I have also found that taking the occasional, but regular, breather won't kill the bottom line, can make you better at your job and (depending on the activity at hand) may even have the potential to make the world a better place.  And, I feel like a million dirhams.

    This is what a million dirhams looks like... (Jason Huf)  (This is what a million dirhams looks like... )

    So, even with the cold winds of winter coming, ready to whistle through the concrete canyons of downtown Manhattan (and I hate winter) - I'm going to continue to make time for me. Since returning to the United States several years ago, I have ordinarily gone into hybernation every winter (absent JHI's Annual Informal Holiday Gathering), but not this year.

    Why work so hard in the first place?  I don't live to work, I work to live (and, my work is pretty darned good anyway, if I do say so myself).  So, I'll work as hard as I play, and play as hard as I work.  Maybe you should, too? Whether its rubbing elbows with royalty from an ancient noble line, or having a beer or two with your cheeseburger during an extra-long lunch.  Hey, whatever floats your boat.

    The bottom line is this:  You have an epic and fabulous career, so Live an EPIC and Fabulous Life. There is no point to doing anything else.

    I decided against supplying the entire list of extra-curricular activites because if I did you'd still be reading this instead of engaging in your own leisure pursuits (if reading this little blog is one of your leisure pursuits, well, I'm flattered).

    Oh, and we all have to get some work in once and a while, too.  OK, now back to the grind...  : )

    Jason Huf Heading Out 

     – Jason Huf
    Thursday, October 12, 2017
    New York, NY

  • Saudi Arabia's "Companies Law" of 2015

    Saudi Arabia's (KSA) new Companies Law of 2015 came into effect on May 2, 2016.  At JHI, we wished to see the new law in practice and how it would be enforced by Saudi authorities before commenting.  In the meantime, much has already been written about the new law and we need not cover the same ground here.

    Of particular interest to clients and potential clients of JHI is, we believe, the law's provision of the option of Sole Proprietorships (or "Single-Shareholder" companies), and how applications for the licensing and registration of such by foreign investors are treated by the Ministry of Commerce and Investment and the Saudi Arabian General Investment Authority (SAGIA).

    As a general matter, the new law provides that SAGIA may continue to impose additionally stringent incorporation requirements on companies being established with the backing of foreign investors.  While the process of approving incorporation applications has been somewhat streamlined at SAGIA, a certain level of uncertainty, especially at the beginning stages of such an application, remains.

    When considering establishing or reforming an entity in the KSA, JHI feels that if a foreign investor has a trustworthy local partner/ agent (or "sponsor") then, for the time being, it may remain prudent to make use of such local parties when doing business in the Kingdom.  In addition to possibly enjoying a smoother approval process, one might avoid any potential bureaucratic pushback by some recalcitrant officials who may still be resistant to the Vision 2030 reforms more generally.

    The relationship with one's local sponsor can be further clarified via a side letter to the sponsorship agreement.  Such sideletters have been enforced by Saudi courts with increasing regularity.  And, JHI hopes that the provision for Single-Shareholder companies in the new Companies Law is not seen by the local judiciary as a rationale for reversing this trend.

    We will have more to say about the execution and enforement of the new Companies Law and other reforms as events (rapidly) progress.  Speaking of events, recent news indicates a very real likelihood of a shift in the direction of investment capital flowing between the Untied States and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

    Where the Riyals of the Sovereign Wealth Fund go, other Saudi-based investment capital tends to follow.  With that in mind, JHI is seriously considering offering the shepherding of EB-5 (Investor) Visa applications to the menu of professional services our firm offers to incoming companies that invest in the United States, particularly New York, Pennsylvania and/ or New Jersey, where Mr. Huf is admitted to bar.  JHI will have more to say on this in the near future as well.
  • Happy Memorial Day & Ramadan Mubarak

    In the United States, we set aside one day to remember those who have fallen in war, defending our freedoms.  But, there isn't a single day wherein we forget.  We hope that you and yours enjoy the holiday weekend, and that we all take a little time to say a prayer of rememberance and gratitude for our fallen heroes and their families this Memorial Day.

    We all die, the only variables are where, when and how - and, sometimes, why.  They may be gone, but our war dead are never lost.  These soldiers, sailors, airmen & marines are forever in our hearts.

    To all of our friends around the world who observe the Holy Month of Ramadan, we at JHI hope that you and your families enjoy a meaningful period of dedication to fasting, reflection and prayer during this period of tremendous changes throughout the Middle East.  May your loved ones take this holiday as an opportunity grow closer to each other, your neighbors, the less fortunate and the whole of humanity.

    We wish you good health in the year ahead.  Ramadan Mubarak!
  • A "21st Century" Saudi Arabia

    21st Century Saudi Arabia

    Near the close of 2016, while the West was focused on the High Holidays, a new American President and the NFL Post-Season that would culminate in a historic Super Bowl LI, the government of Saudi Arabia (KSA) leapt into the 21st Century - literally.

    Under the direction of Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, with the full support of his father King Salman, the Saudi Government officially abandoned the Hijri Calendar (the Islamic, lunar calendar which begins with the Prophet Mohammed's trek from Mecca to Medina and the establishment of the first-ever Islamic state), and has adpoted the "Gregorian" calendar (named after Pope Gregory XIII, the solar calendar predominantly used as the civil calendar in the West and elsewhere, which begins one week following the Roman church's, and the day of the Eastern Orthodox churches', traditionally espoused birth of Jesus Christ; the civil calendar used in the West arbitrarily measures months as being either 28/29, 30 or 31 days in length).

    Initially functioning as a budget cutting measure, with government employees receiving the same monthly salaries while working an additional eleven (11) days of the year, its the eternal questions of "what next?" that holds the world's attention as those with commercial ties to the KSA wait the other shoe(s) to drop.  What are the other consequences, both intended and unintended, of the Saudi government's adherence to this new calendar?  How, if at all, will this impact governance and/ or commerce in the Kingdom?

    Saudi Arabia is, and was founded to be, an Islamic state.  Its Constitution is the Quran.  The change from a calendar that is dear to their faith and which honors the pilgrimage of their holiest and most revered prophet, to a calendar created by a Roman military dictator and revised by a Catholic Pontiff is, in and of itself, revolutionary.

    For now, its impact is seen strictly as a government austerity measure. Nonetheless, and predictably, the more conservative elements of Saudi society, including the clerics with whom the King shares and exercises power, are resisting this particular change.  They presently appear to center their resistance around their concern that the masses will not adhere as faithfully as they have in the past to the holy month of Ramadan (which, like all months in the Hijri calendar, is measured by the lunar cycle).
     
    JHI is confident that good muslims will adhere to Ramadan, just as good christians adhere to Easter, the date of which is determined by the advent of the Jewish observance of the Passover holiday (the Jewish calendar measures months by lunar cycles, occasionally adding a month to make up the discrepancy in days between 12 lunar months and one solar year; thus, while Passover - and the subsequent Christian Easter - are celebrated on the same days of year, every year, on the Jewish calendar, they are celebrated at different times of the year on the civil, or "Gregorian", calendar).

    Neverless, acquiescence to the Saudi government's new calendar will not occur overnight.  As conservative elements tend to dominate the judiciary, and are well-ensconced in the various levels of the bureaucracy in the KSA, JHI feels that for the time being it remains prudent to continue to use language referencing the "Gregorian" calendar as controlling in the boilerplate of contracts and other documents pertaining to business in the Kindgdom of Saudi Arabia - including and especially those documents related to participation in government projects, whether as a contractor or sub-contractor.

    JHI will continue to follow the evolution of this particular change, and other developments related to the Vision 2030 reforms, as the Deputy Crown Prince pulls his country into the 21st Century - both metaphorically and literally.
  • "A Day in Riyadh": An Exhibition of History, Culture, Modernization & Reformation

    During the last week of September, immediately following the opening of the United Nations (UN) General Assembly in New York, a series of seminars, workshops and interactive displays collectively coined "A Day in Riyadh" was showcased at the UN.  This week-long "Riyadh Day" was sponsored by the High Commission for the Development of Arriyadh (Riyadh), and particularly featured the ongoing work of the Arriyadh (Riyadh) Development Authority (ADA).  As a Representative (Observer) for a Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) to the UN, and an attorney with an office in Saudi Arabia, Mr. Huf, Principal of JHI, was pleased and excited to attend.

    Riyadh (Saudi) Exhibition at the United Nations
    Focused on the capital city of Saudi Arabia (KSA, or the Kingdom) and the governate (province) of Riyadh, the series of presentations covered subjects relevant to the economy, culture, commerce and development of the entire Kingdom, and the Arab and Islamic worlds more generally.

    Of particular interest to those who follow this space will be the planned reformation of Riyadh's transportation system which, if fully executed, may be the single-largest public works project on earth during the period of construction. However, we will list all of the subjects covered by the panel presentations at the UN between September 27 - 30, to provide a broad look at the planned continued development of Riyadh (one of the chief purposes of the conference) which, in turn, may give us a better view of the Kingdom-wide social and economic reforms known as Saudi Arabia's "Vision 2030".

    Eng Khalid Al Hogail, CEO Saudi Public Transport Company  Saudi Nuclear Program  Arriyadh Development Authority

    9/27 "Riyadh:  Planning for People" - the overall City Plan (by 2030) moving forward, including details on Riyadh's new "Smart City" initiative.

    9/28 "Riyadh:  A Sustainable & People-Friendly City" - details concerning the Sustainable Development of Riyadh.

    9/29 "Riyadh:  On the Move" -  The King Abdulaziz Project for Riyadh Public Transport.

    9/30 "Riyadh:  Development of Civilization and Social Partnership" - Plans for the continued social, economic and intellectual development of the city's population in line with Islamic principles and the traditions of Arabia, particularly youth and especially young women, empowering them to take a more active role in the growth of the city and the future of the Kingdom as a whole.

    Dr. Sana H Alorf and Jason Huf
    (Jason Huf and Dr. Sana Alorf.  Dr. Sana is extraordinary, but not unique. She is a medical doctor working in Riyadh who also participates in many charitable and civic endeavors.  She volunteered, along with many other young Saudis, to travel to New York and talk about their culture, heritage and way of life in side bars at the exhibition.  Many ladies are taking up professions [including and increasingly fields such as law, medicine and science], starting businesses and participating in life outside their homes in the Kingdom.  Dr. Sana has a wealth of information that dispells many of the illusions concerning Saudi society and highlights the progress Saudi women have made - and continue to make.)

    The public transortation project, scheduled for completion in 2018, is a massive affair that could revolutionize life in Riyadh.  In addition to a new bus service, the project includes the construction of a commuter railway (Riyadh Metro) with six lines, dozens of stations, a main terminal for each line, and services areas at each stop, including large-scale shopping complexes at each of the main terminals.  Anticipating use by roughly 3.6 million residents daily, over 3,000 transport stands will be constructed to accomodate waiting commuters.

    With billions of Saudi Riyals being invested into the project, and given the rather brief time frame, this will generate a labor boom in the capital for qualified Saudis and expatriates.  Mr. Huf asked Eng. Hassan Al Musa, Deputy Director of the Transport Planning Department of the High Commission for the Development of Riyadh, if resources had been allocated to process what should be a substantial spike in Visa applications.  Potential contractors and subcontractors will be interested to know that the Deputy Director responded that his office is in touch with the Ministry of Labor on a regular basis as they set up for this contingency.  So long as employers comply with their filing requirements, he said, there should be no delays in the project caused by a labor shortage brought about by paperwork backlogs.

    Eng Hassan Al Musa and Jason Huf
    (Eng. Hassan Al Musa and Jason Huf.  Mr. Huf found him to be capable, earnest and modest.  Although entrusted with day-to-day management of a massive public works project that progresses under a tight schedule, he always gives credit to others, refering to his "Army" of dedicated public servants.  "That makes you a General", responded Mr. Huf, who later added, "Eng. Hassan is a nice guy".)

    In addition to the lifestyle transformation and relief of traffic congestion that will take place once this project is complete, young Saudis who are lacking in resources such as cars of their own will be able to much more easily venture beyond the confines of their own neighborhoods to look for satisfying work and important educational opportunities.  And, everyone who lives in Riyadh should enjoy the benefit of cleaner air arising from fewer cars on the highways.

    The entire program provided a window through which one could sample Saudi Arabia's Vision 2030, the rapid modernization and other wide-ranging reforms ordered by King Salman and spearheaded by Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, with the aim of guiding a modern but authentically Islamic Saudi Arabia that remains true to its people's history and traditions into a future "Post-Oil" economy.

    These reforms include the KSA's Sustainable Development program, which closely follows the UN's Sustainable Development Goals while keeping in conformity with Kingdom's Islamic principles; increased opportunities for youth & women; and, Saudi Arabia's nuclear power program.

    At JHI, we have offered our own modest suggestions for the shaping of such sweeping reforms, with an emphasis on attracting increased Foreign Direct Investment in the Saudi market.

    With an incoming US Administration that seems keen on utilizing America's energy resources; and, (if feasible) working with Russia to defeat ISIS (which, in addition to commiting henious atrocities, has been fighting forces led directly or indirectly by the Iranians), some may see such investment from the West as slow in coming, and the KSA's reception of it to be less-than-enthusiastic.

    Seen by some as signalling potential push-back against the further development of US energy resources and other recent or possible future policy changes, Prince Alaweed bin Talal of Kingdom Holding Company (Saudi Arabia's soverign investment apparatus) suggested selling holdings previously classified "not sellable" (such as shares in Citi Group and US Treasury bonds), which would be a divorce from Saudi Arabia's long-standing policy of having "buy-ins" in important American economic institutions and, thus, the American economy - effectively giving the US a stake in the KSA's existence and continued success.

    Noises concerning such potential push-back seem unlikely to stem the increased exploitation of US energy resources (another dip in the price of oil, for example, would seem more likely to give pause to an increase in US production).  And, the US-Saudi alliance of over seven decades, while fraying a bit over the last several years, should remain rather tightly tethered:  after ISIS is destroyed, a check on Iranian ambition will have been eliminated, and the US and the KSA will more clearly and simply share strong interests in containing Iran and managing increasingly complicated relationships with Russia.

    In fact, the strong relationships the KSA enjoys with the West, the interest Western countries have in seeing the continued modernization of Arab states, and Western companies' keen eye to continue - and, possibly increase - their investments in the Gulf region were reinforced recently by UK Prime Minister Theresa May in her mid-December visit to the Gulf Cooperation Council summit in Bahrain.

    Overview City Plan Riyadh 2030
    Pending changes to the Kingdom's commercial and corporate laws, which continue to be rolled out, and given at least one or two geopolitical uncertainties, JHI presently and on the whole views it likely that the environment for Foreign Investors will become even more attractive as the Vision 2030 reforms are implemented in the KSA.  As to the Great Social & Economic Reformation of the Kingdom known as "Saudi Arabia's Vision 2030", Mr. Huf doesn't think its on par with the Maji Restoration (the radical transformation experienced in Japan during the late 19th century), but he does see it as the most significant series of reforms in the history of the KSA since the reign of King Faisal (perhaps in the Kingdom's entire history - we'll see) and the most positive collection of developments to take place in the Arab world thus far in this new, turbulent 21st century - and, he certainly viewed the exhibition at the UN positively.

  • Saudi Arabia's Vision 2030 & "Riyadh Day" at the UN

    You are about to see a rapid-fire (for this space, anyway) succession of as yet unpublished updates covering a period from Spring 2016 to present.  We will start with an initial discussion of Saudi Arabia’s “Vision 2030”, touted as the most sweeping series of reforms in the Kingdom’s history.
     
    In a nutshell, Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 is a collection of planned economic and social reforms designed to construct a “Post-Oil” Saudi Arabia, in line with globally-held concepts of Sustainable Development. King Salman has invested his son, Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, with broad, sweeping powers to enable him, his advisors and other subordinates to design and execute these reforms between now and the target date of 2030.
     
    Within the stated goals of weaning the Kingdom (KSA) off of being an Oil-based economy and becoming an industrialized state, with greater Foreign Direct Investment (FDI), full employment for working-aged males, improved access to high-quality education, greater rights for women and a more liberal social structure generally, two items are immediately obvious:  we are seeing Riyadh’s intent to finalize the end the era wherein OPEC, the powerful cartel of oil-producing states, has been the world’s definitive maker of oil policy; and, a rapid and intense military build-up intended to strengthen a block of states that includes the KSA, Egypt and the smaller Gulf States determined to withstand growing Iranian and Russian influence in the Gulf region following continued declining US influence and interest there and in the greater Middle East.
     
    While JHI is not a policy think tank, we feel it is important to know the backdrop and overall purpose of any upcoming reforms.
     
    Our principle concern is FDI, and the impact any reforms may have on the attractiveness of FDI in the KSA. This program is still young, so specific laws and regulations impacting FDI are not yet in effect. For the time being, there is nothing set in concrete that a law firm can dissect for the benefit of its clients.
     
    Therefore, in our typical less-than-modest fashion, JHI offers some suggestions on how to make FDI in the KSA more attractive to potential investors:
     
    1.  The Corporate Income Tax should continue to be (gradually) lowered, and personal income tax should remain zero.  Although declining oil revenues and their impact on the national government’s budget needs to be addressed, increasing the number of companies investing in the KSA, rather than increasing the tax existing companies pay, seems the best way to address the current budget shortfalls giving rise to the KSA’s national debt.
     
    2.  Saudization is seen, by and large, as a form of tax by potential foreign investors. The best way to address the employment crisis in the KSA is not by compelling investors to hire Saudi nationals, but by making the hiring of them more attractive.  Foreign investors ordinarily love to avail themselves of a local workforce – after all, importing staff and finding housing for them is pretty darned expensive!  Many such imported workers do not know the language or withstand the culture shock very well.  Unfortunately, fairly or unfairly, the idea of hiring Saudis is generally considered unattractive, thus the current Saudization requirements.  Rather than increase these requirements, education should be improved and made more accessible, and a sense of work ethic (rather than entitlement) needs to be instilled in the Kingdom’s youth.  And, the world needs to actually KNOW of the existence of such an educated, hard-working labor pool – numbering in the millions, and proud of real accomplishment at the workplace.  Do this, and Saudization will no longer be necessary at all.
     
    3.  Make the process of obtaining a business license less burdensome and more efficient.  Telling clients that it could take a minimum of six (6) months to obtain the necessary documentation before proceeding with business activity tends to be something of a turn-off for them.  Additional agencies designed to steer and otherwise regulate foreign investment eases nothing and are simply additional "layers” of bureaucracy.  Streamlining, rather than adding to, the process of licensing incoming businesses would be a productive step.
     
    4.  Women’s rights, and human rights generally, should be broadened – and, can be without offending the Kingdom’s religious sensibilities or its historical traditions.  It is much easier, on multiple levels, for a company to invest in a country whose culture is not the focus of controversial discussions centered around notions of equality and individual human dignity.  Additionally, it is essential that people throughout the Kingdom feel some sense of “ownership” in their country and their respective futures (see, 2. above).  They need to feel that their rights are being protected by their government, not denied.  This isn’t a call for the overnight imposition of Jeffersonian democracy.  Quite the contrary:  JHI asserts that the keys to unlocking a more liberal social structure (without rocking the stability of the KSA) lay within the old tribal and other cultural traditions of the modern Kingdom.
     
    5.  The labor market, and the regulation of such, should be loosened, and greater rights should be provided to foreign “unskilled” laborers and household staff.  As above (see, 4.), this is a matter of conscious for many potential investors, as well as foreign professional staff who visit the KSA.
     
    6.  Banking reform is a must.  The KSA is one of the most – if not the most – “underbanked” markets on the face of the earth.  While new banks and fresh capital and competition need to be allowed in, stronger regulation and monitoring needs to be in place, giving rise to stronger internal compliance programs.  While banking needs to be more readily available in the KSA, companies and governments around the world also need to have more confidence in the country’s banks.
     
    7.  For local and foreign companies alike, receivables can be something of a headache in the KSA.  Its no secret that debt, and the collection of debt, can be problematic there.  As the Kingdom undertakes judicial reform, it should continue to consider the importance of the confidence a company can have in the investment it makes in Saudi Arabia.
     
    8.  One of the most crucial assets in play when investing in any country is a company’s intellectual property. Intellectual property protections and anti-piracy measures need to be greatly strengthened, and quickly.  It is important for any company (say, you sell shampoo and find yourself competing with a counterfeit knock-off of your product – that’s not good), but when looking to attract high-tech industries, especially, it is absolutely fundamental that such companies have confidence that intellectual property worth hundreds of millions, perhaps billions, of US dollars will not be stolen from them and effectively rendered next to worthless overnight.
     
    These are eight basic principle points upon which JHI would like to see the building of any reform package affecting FDI in the KSA.
     
    JHI will track any concrete steps within this subject, and Mr. Huf hopes to learn more when “Riyadh Day” (its actually a week of symposiums, workshops and other such meetings), sponsored by the KSA’s High Commission for the Development of Riyadh, is held at the United Nations in New York at the end of September.
  • Saudi Banking Market to Open Up?

    During King Salman's recent visit to Washington, DC, members of the Saudi delegation issued several announcements concerning planned commercial reforms and other developments that could prove significant to Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in Saudi Arabia (KSA) as the Kingdom looks to broaden its economy at a time when low oil prices are projected to be the norm for the medium term.  We will highlight some of the more significant announcements in this and subsequent notes.

    While Saudi Arabia remains committed to continuing its current record-setting output of light sweet crude (one of the major factors contributing to low oil prices), the KSA is now facing projections of massive budget deficits and rapidly depleting cash reserves.  Increased FDI, particularly from the United States, appears to be critical to the KSA's strategy for coping with the downsides of consistently low oil prices. 

    Reforms in the Arab world often begin with teasers that function as "trial balloons".  This note will reference such a trial balloon floated by a Saudi official associated with the Deputy Crown Prince.  In a closed door meeting with business leaders in DC, this official announced that the Kingdom is considering opening the Saudi banking market to permit entry of additional foreign banks - especially American ones - wishing to do business in the Kingdom.  In additional to financing major projects, it is hoped that such banks would also cater to small businesses and individual depositors.

    Even with the recent entry of a branch of a bank based in fellow Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) Member State Qatar, Saudi Arabia is still seen as, perhaps, the most "under-banked" market in the world.  To attract additional FDI, which has been in slight decline in recent years, some see the entry of additional Foreign banks and the capital they bring as critical.  Entry by foreign banks based elsewhere in the GCC has been helpful, but it will take the power of additional American and other western banks to take a more broad-based growth to the next level.

    Not stated, but understood, in this announcement is Saudi Arabia's desire that western powers continue to see that they have a stake in the stability of the Kindgom vis-a-vis its continuing conflict with Iran and, increasingly, Russia.

    Of course, the devil is in the details: What will be required to gain entry? And, once in the market, how secure is a bank's investment in the Kingom and how will such a bank be regulated and taxed?  How might such a venture impact an investing bank's legal and regulatory position at home?

    JHI will continue to track the flight path of this trial balloon and let you know where it lands...
  • Judicial Reform in Saudi Arabia

    The government of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) recently announced its intention to establish training centers for judges.  Such training centers will be administered by the KSA Ministry of Justice.  This comes on the heels of King Abdullah's creation of 5,000 new judgeships in the KSA, and is accompanied by vocal opposition from the Kingdom's more traditional, conservative quarters.

    For years, the commercial community in the KSA (both local and foreign) has expressed a need for greater transparency in Saudi courts.  Procedurally and substantively, a perceived lack of predictability has resulted in a chilling effect on commerce in the KSA.

    Arbitration clauses in contracts are of uncertain enforceability in the KSA, as senior judicial officials have, in the past, deemed such clauses to be "contrary to Shari'ah".  Accordingly, irrespective of any arbitration clause in any business arrangement entered into, in the event of an irresolvable conflict between the parties one could reasonably expect such a dispute to be adjudicated before a Saudi court.


    The uncertain enforceability of arbitration clauses and perceived unpredictability of the courts have combined to generate something of a chilling effect on investment in the KSA.  Meanwhile, Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) provisions that call for entities native to any GCC Member State to be treated as a local company by the governments of each of the other Member States
    have added to the investment boom in smaller Gulf countries such as Qatar and the United Arab Emirates: some companies enter those jurisdictions in the hope that, at some point, they might be able to access the much larger Saudi market without completely exposing their investment (or, their employees) to the Saudi legal system.

    It is hoped by many in the commercial community that the addition of 5,000 new judges, uniformly trained in the enforcement of commercial and corporate law, will improve the overall business environment in the KSA by generating a greater sense of transparency and predictability in the courts.

    The details are as yet unknown; and, conservative elements who view laws and their interpretation as coming from God, not precedent, statute or human beings generally, still have opportunities to oppose the establishment and effective administration of such training centers.
      JHI will continue to track such developments as they arise.