(Bloomberg) — Saudi Arabia is looking to sign more free trade agreements and still considering joining the BRICS club of emerging nations, as it looks to boost non-oil exports, according to the kingdom’s minister of economy and planning.
Authorities are exploring exploring trade deals with an “ambitious” list of countries, Faisal Al Ibrahim said in an interview, declining to name them. The government also wants to renegotiate some existing pacts to “unlock some challenges,” he said.
“Exports are growing, but not as much as we want them in terms of non-oil exports,” Al Ibrahim said. “We want them to grow faster.”
Saudi Arabia is lining up more free trade deals as it pursues a plan to diversify the $1.1 trillion economy to reduce its dependence on oil. It’s plowing billions of dollars into an attempt to become a global supply chain hub and creating new industries like electric vehicles and pharmaceuticals to meet local demand and for export to the Middle East and Africa.
The trade talks, which would be negotiated through the Gulf Cooperation Council bloc of six Middle East countries, aim to give the kingdom “access to export markets more easily, but also give us access to a secure supply of the imports needed for the manufacturing and the value-adding process that will happen in Saudi Arabia,” Al Ibrahim said.
The country’s free-trade agreements, or FTAs, currently “cover only 5%” of the global economy, he said.
Saudi Arabia is part of the Gulf Cooperation Council along with major energy producers including the United Arab Emirates and Qatar. The GCC is negotiating an FTA with the UK, which wants to reach a deal soon. The bloc is also looking to resume talks for an EU trade deal.
“I very much hope we can relatively quickly conclude the GCC free-trade agreement,” City Minister Andrew Griffith, who’s responsible for the British financial-services sector, said in an interview in Dubai on Oct. 26. “The UK sees that as a really important opportunity for both parties.”
Earlier in the week, he attended Saudi Arabia’s flagship investment forum, called the Future Investment Initiative.
The Saudi Arabia was also among six countries to receive invitations in August to join China, Russia, India, Brazil and South Africa in the BRICS bloc as part of its first expansion since 2010.
The invitation is “being assessed, and we are looking at it on a purely economic basis,” Al Ibrahim said.
“Anything that’ll help us move our transformation more steadily and more smoothly forward, but also help us contribute to global economic challenges is something that’s being taken into consideration,” he said.