On January 10th Italian Minister of Foreign Affairs Luigi Di Maio went on an unannounced visit to Saudi Arabia. There, he met crown prince Mohammed Bin Salman and Minister of Foreign Affairs Prince Faisal Bin Farhan, with whom he co-signed a memorandum of understanding aimed at launching a bilateral strategic dialogue between Italy and Saudi Arabia.

Di Maio with MBS

The meeting, held in the city of AlUla, allowed the two parties to assess their relations, as they are approaching their ninetieth anniversary. Among the matter discussed, great attention was given to the G20. In December, Italy took over the G20 presidency from Saudi Arabia.

Di Maio also expressed satisfaction with the reconciliation between Saudi Arabia and Qatar, announced only a few days earlier at a GCC summit held right in AlUla. “It is a fundamental premise for an increased stability and safety in the region. We appreciate the constructive commitment of the parties to overcome the controversy, an objective that Italy has always supported with conviction” Di Maio said to Saudi newspaper Arab News. 

Finally, talks focused on the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic, as well as the strengthening of economic and trade relations between the two countries. Relations that are already relevant: on the one hand, in 2019 the Saudi Kingdom was Italy’s fifth oil supplier, accounting for 8.1% of imports. On the other hand, in the same year Italy exported to Saudi Arabia goods worth €3,3 billion, representing Riyadh’s seventh supplier, with a rise of 6% compared to 2018. Most of the Italian export to Saudi Arabia is composed by machinery (36% of the total exchange); electrical appliances and equipment (6,8%); furniture (6%); cast iron and steel (5,1%).

The Saudi market, where more than 70 Italian companies already operate, is made even more interesting in the eyes of Italy by the many opportunities created by Vision 2030, Mohammed Bin Salman’s economic plan that aims at diversifying the country’s economy, reducing its dependence on oil. The plan, presented in 2016 when the economic model of the “rentier state” started to show signs of weakness, includes structural reforms and huge investments in infrastructure, the creation of jobs and the development of Small and Medium Enterprises.

salini riyad
Construction site of the third line of the Riyadh Metro, built by Salini Impregilo

Included in Vision 2030 is the futuristic project of NEOM, a hyper-technological city that promises to revolutionize the concept of urban settlement. The city will be built from scratch on the Red Sea shores in the north of the country, in an area that is crucial for international trade, and will play a key part in the transformation of the Kingdom into a global technological and commercial hub. The total investment of $500 billion offers significant opportunities for Italian companies, that are often innovative and known for the quality of their products. Salini Impregilo, a construction company that has been working in Saudi Arabia for years, has already joined the NEOM contractors’ group.