GCC: An Opportunity for Regional Gas Sector Integration

General view of the Natural Gas Liquids (NGL) facility in Saudi Aramco's Shaybah oilfield at the Empty Quarter in Saudi Arabia May 22, 2018. REUTERS/Ahmed Jadallah/File Photo
General view of the Natural Gas Liquids (NGL) facility in Saudi Aramco's Shaybah oilfield at the Empty Quarter in Saudi Arabia May 22, 2018. REUTERS/Ahmed Jadallah/File Photo
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GCC: An Opportunity for Regional Gas Sector Integration

General view of the Natural Gas Liquids (NGL) facility in Saudi Aramco's Shaybah oilfield at the Empty Quarter in Saudi Arabia May 22, 2018. REUTERS/Ahmed Jadallah/File Photo
General view of the Natural Gas Liquids (NGL) facility in Saudi Aramco's Shaybah oilfield at the Empty Quarter in Saudi Arabia May 22, 2018. REUTERS/Ahmed Jadallah/File Photo

A recent survey has revealed an opportunity for Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states to move to a regionally integrated gas market, which enhances efficiency and supports strategic goals in employment, consumption and investment.

Researchers in Saudi Arabia emphasized that the integration of the gas network within the Gulf countries represented an opportunity to expand the Gulf gas market and increase its efficiency. This means raising the ability of countries that have a surplus of gas to channel their resources as exports within other Gulf States, which in turn, would benefit from the low cost of gas and increase their energy security.

In comments to Asharq Al-Awsat, the King Abdullah Petroleum Studies and Research Center (KAPSARC) said that the countries of the GCC have consumed a combined 296 billion cubic meters of natural gas in 2019, which is equivalent to China’s consumption in the same year. The center noted that the Gulf region had the highest levels of gas consumption per capita in the world.

The opportunity for regional gas sector integration comes as the estimates of the International Energy Agency (IEA) showed that the Covid-19 pandemic would cause investments in the oil and gas sectors in 2020 to drop by 32 percent, compared to 2019.

The analysis prepared by KAPSARC researchers showed that the Gulf countries have 20 percent of the global natural gas reserves, estimated at 1.379 trillion cubic feet. They noted that the region had the right qualifications to move towards a regional integrated gas market.

KAPSARC pointed to three main factors that would contribute to shaping the demand on gas in Saudi Arabia: the continuous reforms of fuel prices, electricity tariffs, and the speed of using renewable energy.

The center noted that natural gas prices in the Gulf countries were the lowest in the world, as governments regulate them to promote industrialization and economic diversification away from oil, generate job opportunities and allow a fair access to prosperity.

“Saudi Arabia intends within its plans to develop unconventional gas, which is expected to contribute to the production of about 30 billion cubic meters annually by 2030,” the center underlined.



China Vows to ‘Transform’ Economy, Sets Ambitious Growth Target 

China's Premier Li Qiang delivers his work report at the opening session of the National People's Congress (NPC) at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on March 5, 2024. (AFP)
China's Premier Li Qiang delivers his work report at the opening session of the National People's Congress (NPC) at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on March 5, 2024. (AFP)
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China Vows to ‘Transform’ Economy, Sets Ambitious Growth Target 

China's Premier Li Qiang delivers his work report at the opening session of the National People's Congress (NPC) at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on March 5, 2024. (AFP)
China's Premier Li Qiang delivers his work report at the opening session of the National People's Congress (NPC) at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on March 5, 2024. (AFP)

Chinese Premier Li Qiang announced an ambitious 2024 economic growth target of around 5% on Tuesday, promising steps to transform the country's development model and defuse risks fueled by bankrupt property developers and indebted cities.

Delivering his maiden work report at the annual meeting of the National People's Congress, China's rubber-stamp parliament, Li also flagged higher defense spending, while hardening the rhetoric on Taiwan.

In setting a growth target similar to last year, which will be harder to reach as a post-COVID recovery is losing steam, Beijing signals it is prioritizing growth over any reforms even as Li pledged bold new policies, analysts said.

"It’s more difficult to achieve 5% this year than last year because the base number has become higher, indicating that the top leaders are committed to supporting economic growth," said Tao Chuan, chief macro analyst at Soochow Securities.

Last year's uneven growth laid bare China's deep structural imbalances, from weak household consumption to increasingly lower returns on investment, prompting calls for a new growth model.

China started the year with a stock market rout and deflation at levels unseen since the global financial crisis of 2008-09. The property crisis and local government debt woes persisted, increasing pressure on China's leaders to come up with new economic policies.

With awe at China's economic miracle fading rapidly, some economists have drawn comparisons with Japan's lost decades since the 1990s, calling for pro-market reforms and measures to boost consumer incomes.

"We should not lose sight of worst-case scenarios," Li said in the Great Hall of the People in Tiananmen Square.

"We must push ahead with transforming the growth model, making structural adjustments, improving quality, and enhancing performance."

There was no timeline or concrete details for the structural changes China intended to implement, however, with Li also emphasizing stability as "the basis for everything we do".

Li acknowledged reaching the target "will not be easy," adding a "proactive" fiscal stance and "prudent" monetary policy was needed. The target considers "the need to boost employment and incomes and prevent and defuse risks," Li said.

The International Monetary Fund projects China's 2024 growth at 4.6%, declining towards 3.5% in 2028.

Chinese stocks and the yuan were largely unchanged.

"Policymakers seem happy with the current trajectory," said Ben Bennett, Asia-Pacific investment strategist at Legal And General Investment Management.

"That’s disappointing for those that hoped for a bigger push... There’s rhetorical support for local government debt and the property sector, but the key is how this is applied in practice."

Moderate stimulus

China plans to run a budget deficit of 3% of economic output, down from a revised 3.8% last year. Crucially, it plans to issue 1 trillion yuan ($139 billion) in special ultra-long term treasury bonds, which are not included in the budget.

The special bond issuance quota for local governments was set at 3.9 trillion yuan, versus 3.8 trillion yuan in 2023. China also set the consumer inflation target at 3% and aims to create over 12 million urban jobs this year, keeping the jobless rate at around 5.5%.

"China is unlikely to do bazooka-style stimulus," said Tommy Xie, head of Greater China research at OCBC Bank. "There are still a lot of constraints at the moment in terms of how China can support the economy via fiscal expenditure."

Budgetary plans included an increase in defense spending by 7.2% this year, similar to 2023 - a figure closely watched by the US and China's neighbors, who are wary about its strategic intentions as tensions rise over Taiwan.

China's defense budget has doubled since President Xi Jinping came to power more than a decade ago. This year marks the 30th in a row of increasing defense expenditure, based on research by the International Institute for Strategic Studies.

Li's report also dropped previous mentions of "peaceful reunification" with Taiwan.

"China is showing that in the coming decade it wants to grow its military to the point where it is prepared to win a war if it has no choice but to fight one," said Li Mingjiang, a defense scholar at the Rajaratnam School of International Studies.

‘New productive forces’

Faced with a demographic crisis that also threatens the switch to a consumer-led growth model, China's state planner vowed to improve policies supporting childbirth, while raising benefits and basic pensions for its growing elderly population.

On the property sector, Li vowed to finance "justified" projects, and provide more social housing as Beijing looks to resolve a glut of unfinished properties that have worried homebuyers.

While Li said China wanted to curb industrial overcapacity, he also flagged more resources for tech innovation and advanced manufacturing, in line with Xi's push for "new productive forces," Li said.

China will also lift all foreign investment restrictions in the manufacturing sector and formulate development plans for quantum computing, big data and artificial intelligence as it strives for technological self-sufficiency.

Some analysts have criticized China's policy focus on manufacturing, saying it exacerbates industrial overcapacity, deepens deflation and heightens trade tensions with the West.

"The pursuit of speed has given way to the change in the model of growth," said Hu Yuexiao, chief economist at Shanghai Securities.


Amazon Web Services to Launch Infrastructure Region in Saudi Arabia 

The new AWS Region will give developers, startups, entrepreneurs, and enterprises, as well as healthcare, education, gaming, and nonprofit organizations, greater choice for running their applications and serving end users from data centers located in the Kingdom. (Asharq Al-Awsat)
The new AWS Region will give developers, startups, entrepreneurs, and enterprises, as well as healthcare, education, gaming, and nonprofit organizations, greater choice for running their applications and serving end users from data centers located in the Kingdom. (Asharq Al-Awsat)
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Amazon Web Services to Launch Infrastructure Region in Saudi Arabia 

The new AWS Region will give developers, startups, entrepreneurs, and enterprises, as well as healthcare, education, gaming, and nonprofit organizations, greater choice for running their applications and serving end users from data centers located in the Kingdom. (Asharq Al-Awsat)
The new AWS Region will give developers, startups, entrepreneurs, and enterprises, as well as healthcare, education, gaming, and nonprofit organizations, greater choice for running their applications and serving end users from data centers located in the Kingdom. (Asharq Al-Awsat)

Amazon Web Services (AWS), an Amazon.com company, announced on Monday that it will launch an AWS infrastructure Region in Saudi Arabia in 2026.

The new AWS Region will give developers, startups, entrepreneurs, and enterprises, as well as healthcare, education, gaming, and nonprofit organizations, greater choice for running their applications and serving end users from data centers located in the Kingdom, ensuring that customers who want to keep their content in-country can do so.

As part of its long-term commitment, AWS is planning to invest more than $5.3 billion (approx. 19.88 billion Saudi riyal) in Saudi Arabia, said a statement by Amazon.

“Today’s announcement supports Saudi Arabia’s digital transformation with the highest levels of security and resilience available on AWS cloud infrastructure, helping serve fast-growing demand for cloud services across the Middle East,” said Prasad Kalyanaraman, vice president of Infrastructure Services at AWS.

“The new AWS Region will enable organizations to unlock the full potential of the cloud and build with AWS technologies like compute, storage, databases, analytics, and artificial intelligence, transforming the way businesses and institutions serve their customers,” he added.

“We look forward to helping Saudi Arabian institutions, startups, and enterprises deliver cloud-powered applications to accelerate growth, productivity, and innovation and spur job creation, skills training, and educational opportunities.”

Saudi Minister of Communications and Information Technology Engineer Abdullah Alswaha said: “The partnership with AWS and their announcement of an AWS Region, backed by a $5.3 billion investment, ignites a new era of technological excellence and innovation for the Kingdom.”

“This cloud Region demonstrates a firm commitment to research, innovation, and empowering entrepreneurs to achieve prosperity for our region and the world,” he stressed.

To support the growth in cloud adoption across Saudi Arabia, AWS will continue to scale its training programs and help accelerate the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 goal of empowering women to increase participation in the workforce.

To help support this goal, AWS is launching a new upskilling program, “AWS Saudi Arabia Women’s Skills Initiative,” in partnership with Skillsoft Global Knowledge.

AWS will train up to 4,000 women on AWS Cloud Practitioner Essentials, at no charge, through classroom trainings with AWS-certified professionals. This initiative is designed to help women jumpstart a career in cloud computing.

In addition, AWS will continue to invest in upskilling students, local developers and technical professionals, nontechnical professionals, and the next generation of IT leaders in Saudi Arabia through offerings such as AWS Academy, AWS Educate, AWS re/Start, and AWS Skill Builder.


Saudi Foreign Ministry Launches ‘Dawli’ Platform to Boost Int’l Representation 

Assistant Minister of Foreign Affairs for Executive Affairs Abdulhadi Al-Mansouri made the announcement at LEAP 2024 in Riyadh on Monday. (Saudi Ministry of Foreign Affairs)
Assistant Minister of Foreign Affairs for Executive Affairs Abdulhadi Al-Mansouri made the announcement at LEAP 2024 in Riyadh on Monday. (Saudi Ministry of Foreign Affairs)
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Saudi Foreign Ministry Launches ‘Dawli’ Platform to Boost Int’l Representation 

Assistant Minister of Foreign Affairs for Executive Affairs Abdulhadi Al-Mansouri made the announcement at LEAP 2024 in Riyadh on Monday. (Saudi Ministry of Foreign Affairs)
Assistant Minister of Foreign Affairs for Executive Affairs Abdulhadi Al-Mansouri made the announcement at LEAP 2024 in Riyadh on Monday. (Saudi Ministry of Foreign Affairs)

The Saudi Ministry of Foreign Affairs launched on Monday “Dawli”, a platform dedicated to recruitment opportunities at international organizations.

The announcement was made during the LEAP 2024 exhibition underway in Riyadh.

Assistant Minister of Foreign Affairs for Executive Affairs Abdulhadi Al-Mansouri said Dawli aims to bolster Saudi representation at international organizations.

The platform also aims to enrich the international experiences of competent Saudi individuals, he said.

Dawli serves as a platform that brings together Saudi talents and available job opportunities at international organizations, he explained.

Moreover, he stressed that the platform is a testament to the support provided by Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud and Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud, Crown Prince and Prime Minister, to the development of the Kingdom’s diplomatic community on various levels.

He further underscored the commitment of Minister of Foreign Affairs Prince Faisal bin Farhan bin Abdullah to all initiatives launched by the ministry in line with the ambitious goals of Saudi Vision 2030.


Suez Canal Head Says Egypt Studying Further Expansion of Waterway

The Suez Canal connecting the Mediterranean Sea to the Red Sea is pictured from the window of a commercial plane flying over Egypt, December 18, 2019. (Reuters)
The Suez Canal connecting the Mediterranean Sea to the Red Sea is pictured from the window of a commercial plane flying over Egypt, December 18, 2019. (Reuters)
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Suez Canal Head Says Egypt Studying Further Expansion of Waterway

The Suez Canal connecting the Mediterranean Sea to the Red Sea is pictured from the window of a commercial plane flying over Egypt, December 18, 2019. (Reuters)
The Suez Canal connecting the Mediterranean Sea to the Red Sea is pictured from the window of a commercial plane flying over Egypt, December 18, 2019. (Reuters)

Egypt is studying further expansions of the Suez Canal to extend and complete a second channel of the waterway, the canal's head said on Monday, a move that could allow for higher volumes of shipping and prevent blockages from halting traffic.

The comments come as the canal is seeing a sharp fall in revenue due to shipping companies diverting away from the waterway, the shortest route between Europe and Asia, because of attacks by Houthi militias in Yemen against ships in the Red Sea.

Any new extension would come on top of current work to extend the second channel by 10 kilometers, and to deepen and widen a section of the canal.

That work was expedited after the Ever Given, a giant container ship, ran aground in a single lane section of the canal in March 2021, stopping traffic for six days.

The canal is a key source of scarce foreign currency for indebted Egypt, which spent an estimated $8.2 billion on an expansion of the canal that opened in 2015 and included the creation of a 35-km (22-mile) parallel waterway.

Canal revenues have increased gradually but by less than officials had forecast, reaching a record $9.4 billion in the financial year ending in June 2023, before dipping by at least 40% at the beginning of this year due to the Houthi attacks.

Initial studies on an additional expansion would take about 16 months, and would include feasibility, environmental and engineering studies, as well as soil and dredging research, Suez Canal Authority (SCA) Chairman Osama Rabie said in a statement.

The project would need governmental approvals and would be funded through the SCA's investment budget, to avoid "placing any additional burdens on the state's general budget", the statement added.

Rabie said it could raise the competitiveness of the canal and allow it to take more and bigger ships.

The 2015 canal expansion is one of a number of mega-projects pursued under President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.


LEAP 24 Investments in New Technologies, Cloud Computing, Data Centers Reach Record $11.9Bln

Saudi Minister of Communications and Information Technology Eng. Abdullah Alswaha speaks at the launch of LEAP 2024 in Riyadh. (SPA)
Saudi Minister of Communications and Information Technology Eng. Abdullah Alswaha speaks at the launch of LEAP 2024 in Riyadh. (SPA)
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LEAP 24 Investments in New Technologies, Cloud Computing, Data Centers Reach Record $11.9Bln

Saudi Minister of Communications and Information Technology Eng. Abdullah Alswaha speaks at the launch of LEAP 2024 in Riyadh. (SPA)
Saudi Minister of Communications and Information Technology Eng. Abdullah Alswaha speaks at the launch of LEAP 2024 in Riyadh. (SPA)

Saudi Minister of Communications and Information Technology Eng. Abdullah Alswaha announced on Monday investments worth $11.9 billion to support deep and emerging technologies, innovation, and cloud computing in Saudi Arabia and the world.

He made the announcement at the launch of the LEAP 24 exhibition in Riyadh. The event runs until March 7.

Alswaha highlighted "the unwavering support" that Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud, Crown Prince and Prime Minister, has shown Saudi and global tech sectors to help the digital economy grow and prosper as part of the Kingdom’s Vision 2030, read a statement from the exhibition organizers.

The investments will help consolidate the Kingdom’s position "as the largest market and digital economy in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA)" for leading technology companies such as Amazon Web Services, IBM, Datavolt and ServiceNow.

The investments will go toward developing Saudi digital skills and supporting tech start-ups.

On the first day of LEAP 24, Amazon Web Services announced a $5.3 billion investment in a new cloud zone in Saudi Arabia. Datavolt also announced a $5 billion investment in Saudi data centers with a capacity of more than 300 megawatts.

IBM plans to invest $250 million in a global software development center in the Kingdom. ServiceNow will invest $500 million to localize its regional services in Saudi Arabia, with training and development programs to upskill and train Saudi talent.

Dell will open a manufacturing and fulfilment center in Saudi Arabia, the first of its kind in the MENAT region.

Aramco announced the establishment of the Saudi Accelerator Innovation Lab (SAIL). Aramco and MCIT co-founded SAIL to strengthen Saudi Arabia's digital capabilities and to launch the "Metbrain" GenAI model; it also announced "Aramco LLM", the world’s first industrial grade GenAI.

Datadog will establish the first cloud application security solutions academy in the Kingdom, and Uipath announced the establishment of its first-in-the-region automation academy to train, upskill, and foster Saudi talent.


Saudi Minister of Commerce Chairs 18th Session of Saudi-Egyptian Joint Committee

The meeting was chaired by Saudi Minister of Commerce and Chairman of the Board of Directors of the General Authority for Foreign Trade, Dr. Majid bin Abdullah Al-Qasabi, and Egyptian Minister of Industry and Trade Ahmed Samir. (SPA)
The meeting was chaired by Saudi Minister of Commerce and Chairman of the Board of Directors of the General Authority for Foreign Trade, Dr. Majid bin Abdullah Al-Qasabi, and Egyptian Minister of Industry and Trade Ahmed Samir. (SPA)
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Saudi Minister of Commerce Chairs 18th Session of Saudi-Egyptian Joint Committee

The meeting was chaired by Saudi Minister of Commerce and Chairman of the Board of Directors of the General Authority for Foreign Trade, Dr. Majid bin Abdullah Al-Qasabi, and Egyptian Minister of Industry and Trade Ahmed Samir. (SPA)
The meeting was chaired by Saudi Minister of Commerce and Chairman of the Board of Directors of the General Authority for Foreign Trade, Dr. Majid bin Abdullah Al-Qasabi, and Egyptian Minister of Industry and Trade Ahmed Samir. (SPA)

The 18th session of the Saudi-Egyptian Joint Committee concluded in Riyadh on Monday.

The meeting was chaired by Saudi Minister of Commerce and Chairman of the Board of Directors of the General Authority for Foreign Trade, Dr. Majid bin Abdullah Al-Qasabi, and Egyptian Minister of Industry and Trade Ahmed Samir.

Al-Qasabi stressed Saudi Arabia's keenness to strengthen trade relations with Egypt through the exchange of visits between the private sectors, holding trade exhibitions to promote opportunities and increase the Kingdom's exports to Egypt.

Trade volume between Riyadh and Cairo reached around $11.8 billion until November 2023, with metal products, plastics, and their derivatives being the most prominent commodities exported to Egypt. Metal products and fruits were recorded as the most notable imported commodities.

The 18th session of the Saudi-Egyptian Joint Committee aligns with the strategic approaches of the two countries that aim to address challenges through periodic meetings with concerned parties. These meetings follow up on the implementation of recommendations and oversee the committee's work.


Saudi Arabia Launches Program to Attract Local, Int’l Investments, Boost Role as Global Tourism Hub

The initiative aims to attract investments in the hospitality sector, with a value of approximately SAR 42 billion, projecting estimated revenues of about SAR 16 billion to the Kingdom's GDP by 2030. (SPA)
The initiative aims to attract investments in the hospitality sector, with a value of approximately SAR 42 billion, projecting estimated revenues of about SAR 16 billion to the Kingdom's GDP by 2030. (SPA)
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Saudi Arabia Launches Program to Attract Local, Int’l Investments, Boost Role as Global Tourism Hub

The initiative aims to attract investments in the hospitality sector, with a value of approximately SAR 42 billion, projecting estimated revenues of about SAR 16 billion to the Kingdom's GDP by 2030. (SPA)
The initiative aims to attract investments in the hospitality sector, with a value of approximately SAR 42 billion, projecting estimated revenues of about SAR 16 billion to the Kingdom's GDP by 2030. (SPA)

Saudi Minister of Tourism Ahmed bin Aqeel Al-Khateeb unveiled on Monday the Tourism Investment Enablers Program, designed to facilitate business practices and enhance investment attractiveness for both local and international investors.

As part of its ambitious program, the Ministry of Tourism, in collaboration with the Ministry of Investment, announced the Hospitality Sector Investment Enablers Initiative. This initiative aims to increase and diversify tourism offerings, bolstering the capacity of hospitality facilities in targeted tourist destinations across the Kingdom.

The initiative aims to attract investments in the hospitality sector, with a value of approximately SAR 42 billion, projecting estimated revenues of about SAR 16 billion to the Kingdom's GDP by 2030.

Al-Khateeb stated: "The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia boasts rich and diverse tourism wealth, making its tourism industry globally attractive. Saudi Vision 2030 outlines our roadmap to becoming a sought-after global destination, recognizing the tourism sector as a key driver of the national economy."

"We witnessed a 390% increase in demand for tourism activity licenses last year, marking the beginning of the Kingdom's significant investment in the tourism sector over the next decade, providing opportunities and a conducive investment environment for both local and international investors," he added.

The initiative encompasses strategically prepared enablers to improve the cost and ease of doing business. These include facilitating access to government lands under favorable conditions, streamlining project development processes, finding solutions to investor challenges, and developing laws to reduce operational costs, fostering tourism industry growth.

The initiative is anticipated to yield numerous social and economic benefits, including an increase in the number of hotel rooms by approximately 42,000, creating around 120,000 job opportunities in targeted destinations by 2030. This will positively impact talent development and support nationalization efforts in the local job market.


Saudi Arabia: ROSHN Group Launches Sales of 4th Phase of Flagship Development 'SEDRA'

The new area will cover over 1.9 million square meters. SPA
The new area will cover over 1.9 million square meters. SPA
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Saudi Arabia: ROSHN Group Launches Sales of 4th Phase of Flagship Development 'SEDRA'

The new area will cover over 1.9 million square meters. SPA
The new area will cover over 1.9 million square meters. SPA

Saudi Arabia’s ROSHN Group announced on Monday the expansion of its popular "SEDRA" project in Riyadh with a new phase that adds 4,860 residential units.

The new area will cover over 1.9 million square meters and will be released in stages, with 1,254 units available for purchase in the first sale tranche, ROSHN Group said in a statement.

"The launch of sales for SEDRA 4 builds on the success of SEDRA’s first three phases and reflects the progress ROSHN has made in such a short period,” said ROSHN Group CEO David Grover.

“Meeting the unprecedented demand for ROSHN’s new way of living, SEDRA 4 blends modern, innovative, and sustainable design with unparalleled amenities, such as schools, a primary care hospital, and a district mall within a five-minute walk, to cultivate a vibrant community atmosphere."

According to the statement, SEDRA 4 has 4,860 new homes in its latest phase, featuring 30% of the phase’s footprint dedicated to public spaces. The latest expansion boasts the "Kingdom's largest Sports Dome" and includes amenities like green spaces, mosques and neighborhood retail centers.

Located north of SEDRA 3 and accessible via Airport Road, SEDRA 4 connects residents to ROSHN Front shopping, education, healthcare, and entertainment options, making it part of the vibrant North Riyadh area, near universities, the airport, and a train station, added the statement.


Bitcoin Bounces Beyond $64,000 as Records Beckon

FILE PHOTO: Physical representations of the bitcoin cryptocurrency are seen in this illustration taken October 24, 2023. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration/File Photo
FILE PHOTO: Physical representations of the bitcoin cryptocurrency are seen in this illustration taken October 24, 2023. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration/File Photo
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Bitcoin Bounces Beyond $64,000 as Records Beckon

FILE PHOTO: Physical representations of the bitcoin cryptocurrency are seen in this illustration taken October 24, 2023. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration/File Photo
FILE PHOTO: Physical representations of the bitcoin cryptocurrency are seen in this illustration taken October 24, 2023. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration/File Photo

Bitcoin scaled a two-year high on Monday, breaking $64,000 as a wave of money carried it within striking distance of record levels.
It touched $64,285 early in the Asian day, its highest since late 2021, and was last 2% firmer for the session at $63,850. Bitcoin's record high is $68,999.99 set in November 2021, Reuters reported.
The largest cryptocurrency by market value has gained 50% this year and most of the rise came in the last few weeks where trading volume has surged for US-listed bitcoin funds.
Spot bitcoin exchange-traded funds were approved in the United States earlier this year. Their launch opened the way for new large investors and has re-ignited enthusiasm and momentum reminiscent of the run up to record levels in 2021.
"The flows are not drying up as investors feel more confident the higher price appears to go," said Markus Thielen, head of research at crypto analytics house 10x Research in Singapore.
Smaller rival ether has hitched a ride on speculation that it too may soon have exchange-traded funds driving inflows. It's up 50% year-to-date though at $3,490 on Monday stayed just shy of two-year highs made last week.
The rally has come in tandem with records tumbling on stock indexes from Japan's Nikkei to the S&P 500 and tech-heavy Nasdaq and with volatility gauges in equities and foreign exchange turning lower.
"In a world where Nasdaq is making new all-time highs, crypto is going to perform well as bitcoin remains a high-volatility tech proxy and liquidity thermometer," said Brent Donnelly, trader and president at analysis firm Spectra Markets.
"We are back to a 2021-style market where everything goes up and everyone is having fun."


NTP CEO: ‘National Transformation’ Makes Big Strides in Legislative Development in Saudi Arabia

CEO of the National Transformation Program (NTP) Thamir Al-Sadoun. (Asharq Al-Awsat)
CEO of the National Transformation Program (NTP) Thamir Al-Sadoun. (Asharq Al-Awsat)
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NTP CEO: ‘National Transformation’ Makes Big Strides in Legislative Development in Saudi Arabia

CEO of the National Transformation Program (NTP) Thamir Al-Sadoun. (Asharq Al-Awsat)
CEO of the National Transformation Program (NTP) Thamir Al-Sadoun. (Asharq Al-Awsat)

CEO of the National Transformation Program (NTP) Thamir Al-Sadoun confirmed that the Kingdom is on track to achieve some of the Program’s goals before the turn of this decade.

“The National Transformation Program has achieved numerous milestones, with figures attesting to its success,” said Al-Sadoun in an interview with Asharq Al-Awsat.

The program is a cornerstone of Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030.

Reviewing figures, Al-Sadoun stressed that foreign investment licenses shot up by over 96% last year compared to 2022.

“More than 200 licenses were issued for international company regional centers,” he revealed.

As for the legal sector, the NTP focused on activating digital transformation in judicial services, and succeeded in raising the percentage of services provided electronically.

He noted that the Kingdom’s “Najiz platform offers over 160 judicial services, saving 65 million visits and conserving 90 million sheets of paper annually.”

Regarding the environment, Al-Sadoun said: “Over 192,000 hectares of vegetation cover have been restored in the Kingdom, increasing protected area coverage to 18.8% of the total area, up from 4.3% in 2016.”

On water systems, the “Saudi Saline Water Conversion Corporation’s desalinated water production capacity reached an unprecedented 11.5 million cubic meters per day, a global record,” according to Al-Sadoun.

Concerning food security, Al-Sadoun said: “The Kingdom now has the largest grain storage capacity in the Middle East, increasing from 2.5 million tons in 2016 to 3.5 million tons.”

With regard to the Kingdom’s digital experience, he revealed that “5G services have been extended to 97 provinces across the Kingdom, with over 6,000 government services now offered electronically.”

Al-Sadoun added that up-to-date achievements and more are detailed in NTP’s annual report, which is available online.

The CEO noted challenges in updating laws but mentioned significant progress with new regulations for business, disability rights, and the environment.

“The Kingdom’s leaders and the NTP’s committee, made up of 12 members including ministers and officials, provide unwavering support to Vision realization programs,” affirmed Al-Sadoun.

“This strong support has kept us moving forward during this ambitious journey, even during the challenging times of the COVID-19 pandemic,” he asserted.

“For instance, one challenge we faced was improving the legal framework to meet our goals and adopt best practices.”

“We've made significant progress by introducing laws like the Disability Rights Law, ensuring the rights of people with disabilities and promoting their inclusion in society.”

“We've also implemented laws like the Occupational Safety and Health Law and the Wage Protection System to improve working conditions for everyone,” added Al-Sadoun.

“Several other regulations and laws are also helping us achieve our targets for 2030,” he revealed.

With the Kingdom making real progress in global indicators, he highlighted how these achievements reflect Saudi Arabia’s future ambitions regarding its global standing and competitiveness.

“The Kingdom has made impressive strides in international indicators, thanks to the dedicated efforts of the NTP,” he reiterated.

“Saudi Arabia’s rise to 17th place globally and 3rd among G20 nations in the Global Competitiveness Report highlights the Kingdom’s major economic reforms aimed at boosting the private sector and attracting investments,” explained Al-Sadoun.

As for what’s next for the NTP, Al-Sadoun said: “We remain committed to achieving our goals and targets, launching initiatives with tangible impact.”

“This impact is realized by the sons and daughters of this nation, and we will continue working with all stakeholders within the framework of the NTP to realize Vision 2030 and beyond,” he added.