Amidst persistent political unrest across the Middle East and a decline in oil prices, Kuwait - among other Gulf countries - is exploring ways to diversify its economy with major aim of pushing growth forward.
The Council of Foreign Affairs in New York held a one-day conference titled "The Gulf Economic Update: Featuring Kuwait," bringing together experts from the public and private sectors who discussed strategies toward maintaining sustainable growth.
During the conference, the participants gave an overview of current political and economic environment in the Gulf region, including a look at the challenges as well as opportunities for growth.
The main feature of Kuwait's multi-faceted development plan is its regulatory and legal framework, included establishing a public authority, namely the Kuwait Direct Investment Promotion Authority (KDIPA).
The authority is mandated with the tasks of attracting both local and foreign investors, promoting Kuwait as a lucrative investment location, and streamlining the business environment to enhance the country's competitiveness.
The Director General of KDIPA Sheikh Dr. Meshaal Jaber Al-Sabah told Kuwait News Agency (KUNA) that Kuwait is steadily progressing in launching several positive measures towards liberalizing sectors of its economy.
During his presentation at the conference, Sheikh Meshaal said KDIPA's economic and social goals are: Economic diversification, transfer of technology and know-how, job creation for nationals, training and capacity building for citizens, supporting local suppliers and producers, and encouraging leading role of private sector with focus on small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs).
With Kuwait's unique proposition, he underlined the benefits of investing in the country starting with the "growth remaining favorable at 2.6 percent, inflation contained at three percent, high capital expenditure in social and physical infrastructure projects," in addition to efforts carried out to mitigate potential financial stability risks.
He told the foreign investors who took part in the conference that the incentives are maintained through tax exemption up to 10 years, up to 100 percent foreign ownership, full or partial custom duty exemptions of equipment or raw materials, as well as benefits of bilateral and regional treaties.
As for the guarantees, he noted that investors are guaranteed a free transfer of foreign capital and earnings, protection from expropriation, transfer of ownership and project information protection. Sheikh Meshaal, in his separate statement to KUNA, said Kuwait is passing economic laws, improving transparency, and adopting best practices to optimally position itself as a preferred investment destination.
"The goal of our participation today is to shed light on the latest economic developments in Kuwait, as well as the latest economic laws passed that call for income diversity, and reduce the dependence on oil," he added.
On his part, Amiri Diwan Economic Advisor Dr. Yousef Al-Ibrahim expressed to KUNA that today's event "was an excellent opportunity to showcase Kuwait."
He lauded participants from both the private sector and governmental agencies for presenting a "fair and very knowledgeable" view about the Kuwaiti economy, and highlighting the latest development plans.
As the conference held different discussion panels, and side events throughout the day, Al-Ibrahim said the Kuwaiti representatives had the chance to clear so many misconceptions about investment opportunities in the country, as well as the investment environment.
However, he said, Kuwait has its own challenges and "we were very frank in mentioning these challenges and how the government is going to tackle them and solve these problems." He told KUNA that such international forums are very important for Kuwait because they act as a bridge to link Kuwait's future vision and the international economy.
Al-Ibrahim participated in a panel titled Silicon Desert: "Can Innovation and Entrepreneurship Thrive in Kuwait?" This panel focused on the financial impact of disruptive information and communications technology (ICT) innovations that are transforming leading businesses.
Representing the independent public corporation, with a total capital of KD two billion, Dr. Mohammad Al-Zuhair, Executive Chairman of the National Fund for Small and Medium Enterprise Development, said to KUNA that the main goal of their participation is to develop and facilitate business opportunities for foreign investors.
With an aim of creating a developed economic environment, Al-Zuhair said they aim to build inclusive, collaborative and innovative ecosystems not only for locals but also foreign investors to lay foundation for economic opportunities in the country. Kuwait has recently seen several favorable developments in its regulatory and legal framework that enhance its status as an investment destination.
Among the Kuwaiti speakers was Sara Akbar, Chief Executive Officer of Kuwait Energy, who talked about challenges facing oil sector vis-a -vis the low oil prices.
Akbar called for the diversification of economy in a way that would benefit the development and maintain growth. The conference had a political perspective with Abdullah Bishara, in his capacity as board member of Kuwait Projects Company (KIPCO), shed light on relations between Kuwait and the US, describing them as rock-solid. He said Kuwait was facing many challenges in the region, which was plagued by conflicts like in Syria and Yemen, as well as the war against terrorism where Kuwait was at the frontline.
The conference included many experts representing different sectors such as Kuwait Foundation for the Advancement of Sciences, Kuwait Energy, Kuwait Foreign Petroleum Exploration Company (KUFPEC), World Bank and KIPCO.