Trade issues were also high on the agenda for Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud`s visit to India in February 2019. The trip to Asia continued with a trip to China, where discussions turned on China`s contribution to the 2030 vision and the investment opportunities offered by the Belt and Road initiative, which will cross the Red Sea on its way to Europe. In March 2019, a delegation from the Bangladesh Ministry of Trade and Investment signed several investment contracts and agreed to establish a joint working group to set up the Saudi Bangladesh Business Council. The UK`s exit from the EU could provide Saudi Arabia with another opportunity to improve relations with the eu. At a conference organized by the Arab-British Chambers of Commerce in September 2018, participants were informed that the UK was ready to discuss a free trade agreement either multilaterally with the GCC as a trade bloc or bilaterally with Saudi Arabia or other Middle Eastern countries. The Kingdom`s trade policy also requires a reduction in its dependence on imports. Import activity increased in 2017 to $123 billion at a time of falling oil prices. The national appetite for sophisticated equipment means that in 2017, machinery, mechanical appliances and electrical appliances constituted the largest category of imported goods and, according to GaStat, accounted for 23.9% of the total value of imports. The demand for passenger transport and the Kingdom`s efforts to improve its transport infrastructure have contributed to making transport equipment and parts the second largest import category, accounting for 15.7% of the total value.
Chemicals followed (9.9%) and non-metallic metals (8.6%). Geographically, China was the largest import partner in 2017 with 24.3%, followed by the United States (21.5%), the United Arab Emirates (10.4%), Germany (9.3%), France (6.9%), Japan (6.5%). India (6.4%). The Kingdom`s trade efforts are aimed at building on an already well-developed structure of bilateral and multilateral agreements. Saudi Arabia has been a member of the World Trade Organization since 2005 and its position in the Arab Wholesale Area gives it privileged market access in 17 MENA economies. As a member of the GCC, Saudi Arabia benefits from the customs union agreed by the bloc in 2003 and from the free trade agreements signed by the GCC with countries such as Syria and Singapore. The government`s determination to attract investment has led to a change in mentality in its long-standing policy of preventing special economic zones (SEZ). Free trade zones and zenics are a growing trend in the region and, according to the OECD, have added a global trade value of $500 billion and created employment opportunities for 66 million people in 2018. The United Arab Emirates has 45 free zones and another 10 are under construction in 2018.