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Mon 21 Jun 2010 04:35 PM

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Boeing outlines Saudi Arabia expansion plans

US firm plans to support defence systems, energy services and training in Kingdom.

Boeing outlines Saudi Arabia expansion plans
HISTORY: Boeing began providing the kingdom with military systems in 1978, when Saudi Arabia bought its first F-15 fighter jets.

Boeing wants to expand in Saudi Arabia by supporting defence systems, energy services and training needed by the world’s largest oil supplier.

“We are here to support the kingdom’s defensive needs in the long run,” Kenneth Combs, the president of Boeing Middle East, said in an interview today. “We are getting involved with other commercial business to expand what Boeing is doing.”

US companies, including Boeing and General Electric, are trying to boost their presence in Saudi Arabia as the Saudi government spends $400bn over five years to build infrastructure, increase energy production and train its citizens. In May, General Electric won a contract worth almost $300n from Saudi Electricity Co.

Boeing began providing the kingdom with military systems in 1978, when Saudi Arabia bought its first F-15 fighter jets. Now, the company employs about 200 people in the country and has “a very good presence on the military side,” Combs said.

Saudi Arabia’s efforts to diversify its economy away from oil and to develop solar power are providing opportunities. The kingdom wants solar power to meet as much as 10 percent of its demand by 2020, Ahmad Al-Khowaiter, Saudi Aramco’s director of new business evaluation, said in May.

“Solar energy is going to be a big deal here,” Combs said. “We build some of the highest efficiency solar panels anywhere in the world.”

Boeing is also working with a local partner on a research project that will develop nano-technologies associated with plastics. These may be used in Boeing planes in the future, Combs said. “We are in at the ground floor, working with Saudi universities,” he said.

King Abdullah opened the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology in September. The university, staffed largely with foreign academics, aims to produce world-class scientists and engineers.

Boeing executives attended in April the US-Saudi Business Opportunities Forum in Chicago, which was aimed at developing business between the two countries. The kingdom sent a delegation of 200 government and business leaders, including Oil Minister Ali al-Naimi and Finance Minister Ibrahim al-Assaf.

Saudi imports from the U.S. were 14.2 percent of the total in 2009, down from 19.7 percent in 2000, according to data from Banque Saudi Fransi. Imports from China represented 11.4 percent of the total, up from 4.1 percent in 2000.

Francisco Sanchez, the under-secretary for international trade at the U.S. Department of Commerce, visited Riyadh this month to promote US investment in the kingdom. Bilateral trade between the two countries was $67.3bn in 2008, according to data provided on the website of the US-Saudi Arabian Business Council. (Bloomberg)

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