World Economy

Saudi Arabia and China just hit the 'next level' for strategic collaboration, Saudi CEO says

Saudi Arabia to open for new investments: SABIC CEO
Saudi Arabia to open for new investments: SABIC CEO

A days-old agreement between a major Saudi company and one of China's largest enterprises represents "the next level" of strategic collaboration between the two countries, according to the Saudi firm's CEO.

Saudi Basic Industries Corporation (SABIC), a manufacturing company involved in chemicals and more, signed an agreement Thursday with Chinese state-owned Sinopec Group for new joint projects and potentially increased investment in an existing joint venture. Speaking with CNBC on Saturday morning at the China Development Forum in Beijing, SABIC CEO Yousef Abdullah Al-Benyan explained that deal.

"I think it does not really represent a shift (in how Saudi businesses approach China), but it brings it to the next level of strategic collaborations between — you know Saudi Arabia and China — and specifically SABIC and Sinopec," he said.

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang (2nd-L) meets with Saudi Arabia's King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud (2nd-R) at Great Hall of the People on March 17, 2017 in Beijing, China.
Lintao Zhang/Getty Images

One of the key components of the deal, he explained, is a desire to expand the two firms' technological and innovative collaborations. Benyan called that dimension "very important" because of Chinese politicians' desire to "move from low product productions to mid- and high-end through technology innovations."

"I think we would like to capture that to be part of this growth in China," he said. "And at the same time, Sinopec has also found SABIC is a very good gateway to go into the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in terms of investment and opportunity."

Benyan said that now is a good time for Chinese companies to be looking at investing in Saudi Arabia because of his government's "Saudi Vision 2030" plan to diversify its economy.

"They have been very clear that they want to improve the business environments in Saudi Arabia. They want to open up for serious business to come, they are changing their regulations, they are bringing more incentive programs, they have been more strong on governance and transparency," he said. "And I think this will attract a lot of people to take an opportunity, to take this really 2030 vision and really grow with it as well."

Saudi oil min: Cuts are learning process for some countries
Saudi oil min: Cuts are learning process for some countries

In fact, Benyan said he "would not be surprised" if Chinese investors became involved in other Saudi businesses. That includes energy firms like oil giant Saudi Aramco, but it could also be seen in the construction or health-care sectors, he explained.

"I think there are so many opportunities that I would not be surprised seeing more Chinese companies coming to the kingdom."

Turning to oil, a major input for SABIC's business, Benyan said price stability is key.

"Of course the higher is better for us, but we need to have a stable crude oil price because — not only for us in terms of input for cost — but also for the output and for our customers," he said.

Benyan said he sees 2017 as "very positive in terms of really stabilizing" crude prices, and that he could see barrel prices roughly between $50 or $60.

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