From 4 to 9 March, the Wallonia Export & Investment Agency in partnership with the Arab-Belgian-Luxembourg Chamber of Commerce (ABLCC) and the Luxembourg Chamber of Commerce (CCLUX), will accompany a large delegation of 120 people to Saudi Arabia for an economic mission in this blooming market. No less than 40 interested Walloon companies will be present. The main sectors represented by the participants are: Health & Life Sciences, Environment & Energy, Sports & Entertainment and Construction & Infrastructure. This mission has high opportunities expectations on both sides in a country experiencing full economic expansion. Zoom on the sectoral opportunities.
As the leading economic power in the Middle East and the richest Arab country, Saudi Arabia is currently experiencing a period of unprecedented socio-economic change and is focusing on diversifying its economy to free itself from its dependence on oil. The will to diversify is being implemented through the strategy presented by the "Vision 2030" roadmap led by young Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and is already well established in the Saudi market, creating a lot of opportunities for commercial collaboration with the Walloon entrepreneurial world. The Saudis have earned their reputation of excellence at implementing gigantic projects with remarkable speed and professionalism. The perfect opportunity to wonder: what are the economic opportunities per growing sector in the Kingdom?
4. Construction / Infrastructure
1. Health / Life Sciences
As part of Vision 2030, health care in Saudi Arabia is undergoing a major transformation to improve the quality of the health services and expand the private sector’s participation. Health care spending is expected to grow at a rate of 4.8 percent to $54.7 billion by 2024. More than two-thirds of the total will be funded by the government, but some of the burden will be shifted to the private sector. For example, 200 hospitals will soon be privatised.
The current population of 36 million is expected to grow to 43.7 million by 2030. 20,000 additional hospital beds will be needed as a result. Saudi Arabia is also the largest pharmaceutical market in the region and is expected to grow by an average of 5.5% per year to $9.3 billion by 2024.
It is easy to understand the opportunities in the sector for the Walloon ecosystem, which are as much in medtechs, pharmaceuticals and biotechs as in patented & generic drugs, not to mention wellness & nutrition, medical equipment, hospital management programmes, research, laboratories and diagnostics and even animal health. It should be noted that imports in the Saudi medical equipment market represent around 98% and that the gradual reform of the national regulatory system further facilitates the entry of multinationals and foreign investments.
One of the noteworthy Walloon stakeholders in the health sector, Mons-based company Ecosteryl, will take advantage of this trip to present its unique medical waste treatment products to the Saudi market. "Ecosteryl is already present in Saudi Arabia with a platform that treats medical waste in an environmentally friendly way, but we want to continue to expand in this market and help promote good practices so that the majority of waste can be recycled. Through this mission, we want to learn more about the country, business environment and regulations so we can bring our product to more customers and help solve the challenges related to medical waste management and recycling", explains Diego Ruiz, International Sales Manager.
Univercells, another member of the Walloon delegation, is a campus of start-ups developing skills ranging from support and production to research and development and establishing a global ecosystem that will make biological medicines accessible to everyone. Unizima, one of Univercells Group’s affiliates, plans to discuss with commercial prospects in Saudi Arabia how they can support planned or ongoing biopharmaceutical projects through project management, operational support services, bioproduction training programmes and facility design. "In line with Saudi Arabia's Vision 2030 plan, Univercells is working to provide the expertise and technology needed to produce biological drugs, so that this region can become self-sufficient," says Paloma Soucanh, Marketing Associate.
2. Environment / Energy
The issues of water, energy and waste management remain central in this arid region where energy production is still based primarily on the combustion of hydrocarbons and where the idea of a circular economy does not yet have a foothold in the collective consciousness. The government's willingness to address them, however, is very real. According to the Crown Prince, "Saudi Arabia will produce 50% of its energy from renewable sources by 2030 and will plant 10 billion trees in the coming decades".
The country is one of the leading markets for the use of renewable energy sources, including for solar and onshore wind power generation. More than 35 renewable energy plants are due to be developed by 2030. The Saudi authorities also want to increase the percentage of natural gas in the electricity mix by that date.
Water is a strategic challenge for the viability and sustainability of the Kingdom, which has developed the largest desalination infrastructure in the world. Saudi Arabia is rethinking its organisational model by giving a greater role to the private sector. The goal is to recycle 100% of urban wastewater by 2025.
Saudi Arabia generates over 15 million tons of solid waste per year. The government wants to minimise the amount of this waste being transferred to landfills. This zero waste strategy also includes the development of waste-to-energy facilities to contribute to the Kingdom's energy mix.
The emerging opportunities for Walloon companies in the sector can be found in renewable energies, green hydrogen, industrial equipment, circular economy, water management and treatment, waste recycling and recovery, the development of smart cities, etc.
ABEE, for example, based in Louvain-la-Neuve, produces cells and battery packs for the automotive sector in order to produce more EV and get rid of the CO2 emissions which contribute to a fast transition. The company also produces batteries for home storage, which motivates governments and citizens to install more PV systems together with batteries, both to avoid high electricity bills and to lower dependency on electricity generated by fossil fuels. "Saudi Arabia fosters enormous ambitions in the renewable energy sector. This is transforming the country from a leader of petroleum and fossil fuels to a leader of renewable energy and cleantech. The government has set a target of generation of 60 GWh renewable energy by 2030. To reach this goal, Saudi Arabia needs battery cell and packs manufacturers, battery material developers and the complete battery supply chain. ABEE showed an interest in joining the economic mission to propose its technology to Saudi companies and officials", according to Omar Asulaiman, COO.
3. Sports / Entertainment
The L&E (Leisure & Entertainment) sector is a pillar of the Vision 2030 plan. 65% of the Saudi population is under the age of 35 and in need of local entertainment. The country is developing the sector so that its population no longer has to travel abroad for entertainment. The market is expected to grow by an ambitious 10.83% per year by 2025 to almost $3.5 billion.
Many entertainment projects have taken place throughout the country in recent years, including Formula 1 Grand Prix, Dakar Rally, international tennis and boxing matches, golf tournaments, hosting of professional competitions and matches, music concerts and festivals, "Seasons" in major Saudi cities, gaming, circus, Olympic Games, etc. The announced giga-projects represent a tremendous opportunity for L&E service and product providers.
Business opportunities in the sector that will be discovered during the economic mission include live shows, new IP, sports, cinema, TV & broadcasting, new technologies (VR, AR, XR, immersive, etc.), museums, theme parks, hotels and restaurants.
Dirty Monitor, a Walloon entertainment nugget, creates digital art performances and 3D mapping projections around the world during prestigious events, e.g. the opening ceremony of the Astana World Expo in Kazakhstan, the visual animations of the Burj Khalifa tower in Dubai and the inauguration of the Beijing Film Festival on the Temple of Heaven. "We have been active in Saudi Arabia for several years and have had the honour of working on prestigious projects. During this mission, we hope to strengthen our position in the Saudi market through ongoing projects and by expanding our network. We want to complete bigger and more ambitious projects and to be involved in opening up the Kingdom to the world through our artistic creations", explains Arnaud Meulemeester, International Business Director.
EVS Broadcast Equipment, based in Seraing, is globally recognised as the leader in live video technology for broadcast and new media productions. Their comprehensive range of solutions enables media companies and content creators to deliver the most gripping live sports images, buzzing entertainment shows and breaking news content to billions of viewers every day - and in real-time. "EVS already has several prestigious clients in Saudi Arabia. EVS' participation in the mission will allow us to strengthen our links with the existing customers, and is also an opportunity to prospect a market experiencing an intense revival after the pandemic. The objective is to meet the strategic stakeholders in the field of live TV production, whether for sports, entertainment or news," says Mohammed Bouita, SVP Sales EMEA.
Established in Belgium and France, Media-Participations is one of the European leaders in cultural leisure activities; its fields include publishing, video games, audiovisual, amusement parks and a large IP catalogue. "As part of its international expansion, participating in the Saudi Arabia mission with the Wallonia Export& Investment Agency represents a large number of opportunities for the group: to understand the issues specific to this territory, promote its expertise and its vast catalogue of European and Japanese IPs (Marsupilami, Lucky Luke, Michel Vaillant, Hunter x Hunter, etc.), meet potential partners... and initiate content & business collaborations in a rapidly expanding country", details Leslie Branche, Financial Director Development and Innovation.
4. Construction / Infrastructure
The construction sector has played an important role in the Saudi economy for more than 30 years, contributing 7% to its GDP. The country has multiple natural resources and an industrial fabric that allows it to produce construction materials. Saudi Arabia will easily become the largest construction site in history, with planned construction projects in the Kingdom including more than 555,000 residential units, 275,000 hotel rooms, 4.3 million m2 of commercial space and 6.1 million m2 of office space. The Saudi population is young and the housing need is high. The Ministry of Housing has estimated that 3.3 million additional housing units are needed by 2025 to keep up with the Kingdom's population growth.
The promotion of energy efficiency is an issue that will become increasingly important in the years to come. The desire to reduce certain subsidies (water, electricity) could also be an opportunity for Walloon companies that have integrated energy efficiency into their approach. It is estimated that 300,000 public buildings are in need of energy renovation.
Also noteworthy are the 15 giga-projects in the Kingdom, many of which are new self-sustaining super-cities such as the new NEOM city (300,000 new homes), the Red Sea, Amaala, and Diriyah Gate tourism projects (20,000 new homes) and AL-ULA’s Journey through time , which the participants of the economic mission will have the opportunity to discover in more depth through site visits and scheduled B2B meetings.
In addition to green building, energy efficiency, sustainable materials, civil engineering, architecture and design, opportunities are also emerging in major infrastructure projects such as the Jeddah and Riyadh metros and the capital's new $147 billion international airport.
AGC Glass Europe, another big Walloon player, produces, processes and distributes flat glass for the building industry, the automotive industry and other sectors (transport, solar power, communication and high-tech). "Our delegation aims to present the different AGC solutions and, together with Saudi institutions and companies, to find concrete solutions to the country's challenges. AGC offers a unique type of glass, specifically dedicated to meet the climatic constraints of horticultural production in Saudi Arabia, while optimising productivity and reducing production costs", according to Eric Martin, Production Manager.
The sector will also be represented by John Cockerill , a major equipment provider in the field of energy, water treatment and environment. The mechanical engineering group, headquartered in Seraing, Belgium, produces machinery for steel plants, industrial heat recovery equipment and boilers, as well as shunting locomotives and military equipment. It is also the world leader in the manufacture of stacked electrolysers to produce green hydrogen and thermo-solar receptors.
In the world of modular structures, Spantech offers innovative solutions for numerous applications of architectural buildings. The company has already completed several iconic projects in the region, including the American Pavilion at Dubai 2020, the Red Sea Festival and F1 grandstand cover in Jeddah, the pop-up mirror museum in AlUla, and the Cirque du Soleil Toruk in Riyadh. "With our custom-built film studios, we are meeting a new and growing need for the film and entertainment industry in Saudi Arabia. Our experience with companies such as Netflix and Amazon Prime gives us the necessary credibility and demonstrates our expertise in a very demanding industry. During this mission, we believe we will have better access to key industry people so we can continue our growth in Saudi Arabia”, hopes Marc Lootens, Commercial Director.
This trade mission is Wallonia Export & Investment Agency’s most attended action of their entire annual Action Programme. No doubt that this enthusiasm will lead to many fruitful exchanges between companies.