Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross told CNBC on Monday that he saw signs that Saudi Arabia continues "liberalizing their society" and relaxing some of the restrictions on women under the strict interpretation of Islamic law that rules the kingdom.
Ross, a billionaire who made his fortune investing in distressed assets, was back in Washington after joining President Donald Trump over the weekend in Saudi Arabia where a number of business deals were sealed, including a Saudi arms agreement that could end up being worth $350 billion over 10 years.
"At one of the sessions where a lot of contracts were awarded, there was also some panel discussions," Ross said on "Squawk Box."
"One of the panelists was the woman who is the head of the Saudi Arabian stock exchange," he said. "That's a very unusual event and to my knowledge the first time a woman has been the head of an exchange in that region and for sure the first time in Saudi."
Ross was referring to Sarah Al-Suhaimi, who was appointed in February as board chair of the Saudi Stock Exchange, also called the Tadawul. She is the chief executive officer of NCB Capital, the investment arm of Saudi banking giant National Commercial Bank.
The Commerce secretary took Al-Suhaimi's role in the business community there as a sign that Saudi Arabia was continuing to value women more than in the past. "Clearly there's a big sea change underway. There's no question that they're liberalizing their society," he argued.