The Worldfolio speaks to H.E. Sheikh Dr. Meshaal Jaber Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah about Kuwait’s Vision 2035 plan and the role of the KDIPA in attracting quality investments. He also draws on Kuwait’s assets as an investment destination and the framework that has been put in place to facilitate business and investment.
The State of Kuwait is blessed with at least two powerful assets: its natural resources and its unique people. Can you please reflect on Kuwait’s unique assets and competitive advantages that can help it become the commercial and financial hub of the GCC?
Kuwait encompasses several unique attributes allowing for its competitive advantages. These unique attributes not only include rich oil and gas resources (amongst the top 30% in gas reserves) but also a strong macroeconomic performance and a strategic location as a link between the Gulf and the neighboring region. The country enjoys a stable legal and regulatory framework with a sound bankingthat compliments Kuwait’s dynamic projects market with a buoyant private sector. However, the predominance of its well educated, technologically savvy and talented Kuwaiti youth exemplify the country’s real wealth.
Kuwait’s Vision 2035, dubbed New Kuwait, aims to transform Kuwait into a world-class financial and commercial center. This led to the implementation of strategic investment opportunities valued at more than US$100 billion in key sectors.The key sectors include: information & communications technology, oil & gas, renewable energy, electricity & water, urban developments & housing, healthcare, education, transport, tourism, and the North zone development.
How does Kuwait's heritage as a trading country – connecting the East and the West – influence KDIPA’s current responsibilities?
The country’s trade heritage – connecting the East and the West -- remains true for Kuwait today. This is depicted in the country’s integration in the global market through a network of memberships in leading international organizations. Kuwait takes an active partner role in various regional trade arrangements and engages in more than 100 bilateral agreements.
Kuwaitis also well renowned for its humanitarian activities around the world, which is deeply ingrained in the country’s DNA. The country enjoys a high rate of official development assistance (ODA) of 1.4% of its GDP, which surpassed the international targets (0.7%). This enables Kuwait to capitalize on such an extensive international, commercial and investment relations to expand its competitive advantage. KDIPA’s promotional plan reinforces these characteristics that are deeply rooted into the country’s culture.
Top initiatives that support KDIPA’s promotional plan in 2018-19 for the Economy Diversification, job creation and quality training for nationals in Kuwait includes the following:
KDIPA recently launched the Kuwait Investment Outreach Roadshow (KIO) in association with Financial Times (FT) Group and in strategic partnership with Kuwaiti companies that kicked off in London in December 2017, and will continue in the Silicon Valley in the United States and Singapore, in alignment with KDIPA’s promotional strategy.
Furthermore, numerous other outreach programs in cooperation with the country’s chamber of commerce such as the Arab-Belgian Chamber of Commerce in Luxembourg in March 2018 and US Chamber of Commerce in September 2017 has been an effective tool to allow foreign investors globally to discover the opportunities currently available.
Direct investment into Kuwait from when KDIPA started operations until today is around US$ 2.5 billion in leading services sectors like ICT, renewable energy, healthcare, and creative industries among others. These investments are expected to create more than 1,000 direct jobs for Kuwaiti nationals, and nurture the local talents through hands-on training opportunities, opening specialized labs, and R&D facilities.
Kuwait’s business climate continues to evolve to attract – not only investors – but also good partners or efficiency-seeking FDI. KDIPA plays an active advocacy role to coordinate national efforts to improve business climate as the head of Permanent Committee for Streamlining Business Environment & Enhancing Competitiveness in the State of Kuwait (PCK), which was established by the Council of Ministers in 2013.PCK current membership includes 14 entities representing government entities, the private, and the civil society.
KDIPA’s key objective is to develop long-term asset augmented direct investments for a sustainable future by gaining maximum economic impact of the global companies licensed under its Law No. 116 of 2013. A few examples of such long-term partnerships include IBM and General Electric, who bring in technology and know-how needed to enhance Kuwait’s capabilities, and successfully integrate local SMEs within their global value chains in production, distribution or R&D.
GE has opened the Kuwait Technology Center (KTC), a unique state-of-the-art facility for engineers that is the first of its kind outside the U.S., featuring tooling, engineering, and training facilities, to launch comprehensive training programs aimed at building Kuwaiti talent. It also expanded its operation recently to include its new Monitoring & Diagnostics Center (M&D Center) at the KTC. The M&D Center will support GE Power’s partners in the country through 24x7 remote monitoring of GE’s gas turbines installed at numerous power plants across the Middle East, Africa and India, with a special focus on Kuwait.
The aim is to continue to actively target key powerhouse industries and leading global companies into new areas that focuses on advanced technology and technical know-how to support economic diversification, digital transformation, and enhancing cluster creation in competitive sectors using Kuwait Vision 2035 ‘New Kuwait’ as a roadmap.
In 2016, the U.S.-Kuwait strategic dialogue (USKSD) was launched, marking the beginning of a new era of stronger diplomatic, political, security, educational and commercial ties. During the second USKSD in 2017, President Donald Trump noted: "Kuwait has been a tremendous partner and the relationship has never been stronger as it has been in the last few months." Can you reflect on the important bilateral relationship between the two nations?
Both countries’ efforts to advance mutual trade plan lead to the launching of the U.S. – Kuwait Strategic Dialogue (USKSD). This strategic dialogue aims to continue to strengthen bilateral relations by drawing a roadmap of the strategic relations for the next 25 years. This will serve the aspirations of the two countries and their people towards a brighter future by enabling stronger alliances between the two countries through investment that liberalizes and diversifies both economies.
In line with this strategic dialogue, KDIPA signed a cooperation agreement with its counterpart Select USA to strengthen direct investment ties and further cooperation between the two countries, by providing appropriate support to U.S. and Kuwaiti investors through the facilitation of inward direct investment. This process so far has been working effectively with the teams strengthening their bonds through active participation in key initiatives such as Kuwait Investment Forum which took place in March 2018 and parallel to this a team from KDIPA will be attending Select USA Investment Summit in June 2018.
KDIPA has also in the past partnered with Kuwait Chamber of Commerce and Industry and The U.S. Chamber of Commerce to Launch the U.S – Kuwait Economic Forum for the first time in September 2017. Since then, our relationship with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce continues to flourish as we continuously work together to highlight the strength of bilateral economic and commercial relations and highlight the pivotal role of the private sector in both countries. This also provides a platform to showcase lucrative investment opportunities available.
In recent years, KDIPA has granted foreign ownership licenses to numerous foreign firms including US companies such as IBM, GE and McKinsey & Company Group and more recently Boeing. Timothy Keating, Executive Vice President of Government Operations for Boeing, announced earlier this year that Boeing would open a permanent office in Kuwait in 2018. This reemphasizes the vast opportunities currently available here in Kuwait.
KDIPA welcomes US companies and provides all needed facilitation to ensure they successfully establish their businesses in Kuwait. Support includes addressing any issues or obstacles that needs mitigation.
It is worth highlighting that the strength of the bilateral relations extends further from the bilateral trade and multi-billion-dollars worth of investments. The track record of American companies operating in Kuwait and the thousands of Kuwaiti graduates from U.S. universities – as well as the tourism and medical care sought in the U.S by Kuwaiti national’s – further emphasize the depth of the bilateral relations between both countries.
What would be your final message about Kuwait for our readers?
I strongly believe that Kuwait has all the necessary drivers for a prosperous future. The country is uniquely blessed with its dynamic youth population who are highly educated, well exposed and extremely talented.
In order to continue to support them with the needed framework for a sustainable future, the government is continuously improving the linkage within its operations to ensure efficient work flow with a shorter document trail to guarantee a more effective and sustainable future.
This comes at a time where the nature of today’s work culture is in the cusp of dramatic changes with the acceleration of technology and the dynamics of society which makes it necessary for the government, private sector and civil services to continue to put into action best practices that ensure the successful implementation of Vision 2035 through hard work, good governance, determination and team work.
The framework has been set to further advance towards a knowledge and innovation economy with numerous investment opportunities readily available in Kuwait. KDIPA, with the support of both the public and private sector, is ready to provide investors with facilitation support needed to successfully enter the market. The time is now.