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DAMMAM: Saudi-Sino business ties are poised to grow stronger as more than 200 Chinese companies and manufacturers have arrived in the Kingdom to participate in the inaugural China Trade Week in Dammam, seeking to seize new business opportunities.

Hosted by MIE Events in collaboration with Dhahran Expo, CTW Saudi Arabia 2023 is expected to be a platform where Chinese manufacturers showcase innovative products in key sectors.

The focus is on crucial sectors such as construction, building materials, and interior design during the four-day event, concluding on Nov. 29. A set of adjacent booths, each representing various Chinese companies aiming to enter the Saudi market, is showcasing a wide range of products including machinery and air conditioning.

This event is seen as a catalyst for more mutually beneficial economic collaboration between Saudi Arabia and China, serving as the initial step in strengthening economic ties.

David Wang, managing director at MIE, said that the participation of Chinese companies in this event is a response to the call made by Chinese President Xi Jinping during his official three-day visit to Saudi Arabia in December 2022.

Saudi-Sino ties

Saudi Arabia hosted the inaugural Riyadh Gulf Cooperation Council-China Summit for Cooperation and Development. During the event, Xi said that China and the GCC were natural partners due to shared values and interests. He emphasized that the two sides had, for more than 40 years, written impressive chapters of solidarity, support, and cooperation.

Wang highlighted that tangible measures have been taken by the leaders of Saudi Arabia and China to enhance economic collaboration.

“I believe both countries’ leaders have taken significant initiatives for the benefit of China and the Arab countries, particularly the GCC states. Therefore, we are committed to assisting our small and medium enterprises in expanding their presence in this region,” he explained.

Wang reflected on his involvement in organizing the first Chinese event in Riyadh back in 2003, noting significant transformations in the country at various levels.

“This year, we are here in Dammam after 20 years. We are happy to see that Saudi Arabia, with its growing market, the country, and the policy, really welcomes foreign investors to come here. So, we’re thrilled to see the big change compared to many years back,” he said.

Discussing how Chinese companies perceive the Saudi market as an attractive business and investment environment, he noted that the Saudi leadership, in recent years, has actively sought to open the country. “I think they made a lot of efforts, and they want to welcome international investors.”

As an example of these efforts, he pointed to the simplified visa issuance procedures.

“Some two decades back, it would take me a month to get a visa. I also had to have an invitation and get it attested by the chamber. Moreover, this invitation letter had to go through many procedures in the Saudi Embassy in China,” Wang said, noting that he also used to spend around five hours at the airport to cross the passport checkpoint.

“The situation has now completely changed,” he said, to the extent that he can get an entry visa to Saudi Arabia in five or 10 minutes.

“Online visa takes no more than 10 minutes, and when I arrive at the airport, it takes me some 10 minutes,” Wang said.

He mentioned that some of the immigration officers welcomed them saying “Ni hao,” which means welcome in Chinese. “They can speak a little Chinese. This is a big change. We can say Saudi Arabia is already open for foreigners to visit.”

Business opportunities

As for the opportunities that Chinese businesspeople see in the Saudi market, Wang said that his country produces a lot of goods, especially consumer, industrial, and high-tech items.

“We export globally, and Saudi Arabia is a key market, especially in the GCC region because of its huge population, and there are big opportunities for Chinese manufacturers who want to establish an accessible line of manufacturing in this region.

Wang added that Chinese companies not only want to export their products to this region but also aim to stay here and establish partnerships. “They want to localize their products, and this might help them export more in the coming future,” he said.

Zhiliang Zhang, general manager of the Beijing International Exhibition Center, traveled from China to attend the event and expressed satisfaction with the significant interest from Chinese companies.

With over 200 companies participating in the exhibition, he said their enthusiasm and presence indicate the positive and growing relationship between the two countries.

“Post 2013, the possibilities of working between both countries became much easier. It is more convenient now, with more Chinese companies wanting to go to Saudi Arabia,” he said.

Scope for collaborations   

One such exhibitor is Rachel Cao, vice president of Made-in-China.com, who discussed with Arab News some of the challenges they are encountering while entering the Saudi market and their strategies for overcoming them.

Established in 1998, Made-in-China.com has been facilitating connections between buyers and Chinese suppliers, offering one-stop services for both sides.

With over 6 million Chinese suppliers and more than 20 million global buyers to date, the company, led by Cao for the past 25 years, envisions significant potential for collaborations between the two countries.

“Saudi Arabia has a large and rapidly expanding market with a population of over 34 million people. This presents huge opportunities for Chinese companies to tap into new customer segments and expand their market share,” she told Arab News.

She credits the Kingdom’s heavy investment in “infrastructure development, including transportation, energy, and smart cities” and believes that “Chinese companies with professional skills can benefit from the many project opportunities available in the country.”

However, she is mindful that some roadblocks might hinder the process but is adamant that her company is up for the challenge.

“Saudi Arabia has a unique cultural and business environment that may be unfamiliar to Chinese companies. Understanding local customs, and business practices, and building strong relationships with local partners can be challenging,” she said.

Cao believes that communication is still a barrier between Saudi and Chinese people. She urged companies in her country to confront this challenge.

“Arabic is the official language in Saudi Arabia and while English is widely spoken in global trade, there may still be communication challenges. Chinese companies should consider investing in language capabilities or partnering with local firms to overcome this barrier,” she concluded.

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