Head of U.S.-Saudi Business Council: Trump Has 'Heralded a New Era' in Economic Growth

U.S.-Saudi Business environment like 'night and day' compared to 10 years ago

President Donald Trump makes his way to board Air Force One in Riyadh
President Donald Trump makes his way to board Air Force One in Riyadh / Getty Images
September 3, 2017

President Donald Trump's visit to Saudi Arabia in May "heralded a new era" in economic growth between the United States and its longtime ally, according to the head of the U.S.-Saudi Arabian Business Council.

Edward Burton, the president and chief executive of USSABC, which promotes bilateral investment between the United States and Saudi Arabia, said Trump's visit "hit the reset button" between the two countries after more than a decade of strained relations.

"Certainly from a business perspective, it's loud and clear the present administration respects the potency of Saudi capital invested in the U.S. and vice versa," Burton told the Washington Free Beacon. "The Trump administration made clear it does not look at the Saudi market through its corporate community strictly through the lens of oil and weapons. It wants, and is encouraging, a broad-based engagement between American companies and Saudi companies."

Burton, who served as commercial attaché at the U.S. embassy in Riyadh between 2003 and 2006, said the U.S.-Saudi business environment today is like "night and day" compared to ten years ago, when Americans were reeling from a series of Saudi-borne terrorist incidents, including the 2004 attack on the U.S. Consulate General in Jeddah.

Burton described a "pronounced retrenchment" at the time on the part of large U.S. companies due to terrorism concerns. Bilateral business relations worsened again last year after Congress unanimously passed a bill allowing the families of September 11 victims to sue the Saudi government over its alleged links to terrorism.

In response, the Saudi government, which has long denied involvement in the 9/11 attacks, threatened to sell off hundreds of billions of dollars of American assets.

The tide turned in May when United States and Saudi companies signed more than $55 billion in deals during a visit by Trump. The House of Saud sought to use the visit in part to promote its Vision 2030 plan to modernize the country's economy and move away from its overreliance on oil.

"There's a direct relationship between the president's visit and at least some of the renewed optimism and interest," Burton said. "Many times international business takes their cues from senior government leadership, and in this instance that's surely the case."

Three months after Trump's trip, the U.S. company Dow Chemical announced plans to increase by 15 percent its stake in Saudi-based Sadara, the largest petrochemical project in the world. Dow said in a statement it signed a non-binding agreement with Saudi Aramco to boost equity in Sadara to 50 percent.

Burton said the move reflects conversations he's had with both U.S. and Saudi business leaders, who have said the public should continue to expect a progression of such deals.