Czech top diplomat aims to boost business with diversifying oil-rich Saudi kingdom

Jakub Kulhánek in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

Minister of Foreign Affairs Jakub Kulhánek was in the Middle East this week with a Czech business delegation, looking to boost bilateral trade with two regional powerhouses: the United Arab Emirates and, more crucially, Saudi Arabia.

Last year, the Czech Republic exported goods and services worth more than 14 billion crowns to the United Arab Emirates, some seven times more than it imported.

And Czech exports to Saudi Arabia stood at 9.7 billion crowns in 2020, just shy of five times the value of imports from the oil-rich kingdom.

While those sound like solid results, they fall short of the positive trade balances that the Czech Republic achieved in previous year. The ongoing coronavirus pandemic and major fluctuations on the global oil market partly to blame.

Prince Faisal bin Farhan al-Saud | Photo: Czech Television

Czech diplomats see an opportunity on the immediate horizon to boost bilateral trade especially with Saudi Arabia. Inspired by the economic boom in the United Arab Emirates, the kingdom has laid out a plan, called Vision 2030, to liberalise its economy, Prince Faisal bin Farhan al-Saud told Czech Television.

“We are extremely gratified by the progress that has been made – significant progress across all sectors – and really are working towards diversifying the economy, diversifying opportunities.”

Since taking up the post, Minister of Foreign Affairs Jakub Kulhánek has placed great emphasis on economic diplomacy, of which trade missions are a key element.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs co-organised a business forum in Riyadh with the Confederation of Industry and Transport, the Riyadh Chamber of Commerce, and economic diplomacy unit.

Following a meeting with Prince Faisal bin Farhan, the top Czech diplomat said he sees great potential for Czech inroads in renewable energy, food and especially the defence industry.

The new Saudi initiative should significantly boost bilateral trade, Minister Kulhánek said.

“This ambitious plan, Vision 2030 – which truly is not only about an economic transformation of the kingdom but of the society – presents a great many opportunities for Czech firms.”

In recent years, several Czech companies have taken hold in the financially demanding Saudi market, for example the truckmaker Tatra, which started trial operation there in its new plant this year.

Other Czech businesses, including those in the 20-strong delegation that accompanied Minister Kulhánek on the trip, will have a golden opportunity to showcase their goods and services at the world trade fair Expo 2020, which begins in Dubai on October 1 and runs through March 31 2022.

The Czech pavilion itself is already creating a buzz – especially in arid countries of the Middle East. The building itself consists of solar-powered technology that can transform hot, dry land into fertile soil. It does so through a canopy of intertwined pipes, which extract water from the desert air, and treats it with subsurface cultures to cultivate arid soil.