RIYADH — Britain wants an easy visa system for its businessmen to enter the Kingdom to promote bilateral trade, said Alderman David Lewis, the lord mayor of the City of London.Lewis was speaking at a press briefing at the residence of British Ambassador William Patey during a reception held in his honor on Saturday.
“We want you to have an easy visa system to enable our businessmen to visit your country as and when needed,” the lord mayor said, adding that in principle the Saudi government has approved the issuance of visas for 12 months for British businessmen. He added that, unfortunately, this has not been fully implemented at the Saudi Embassy in London and that visas are only issued for three months.
He noted that the British missions in the Kingdom have adopted a 24-hour visa service for Saudi students, businessmen and tourists. “A two-way service for the issuance of visas to and from Saudi Arabia would help boost bilateral relations,” he said.
The lord mayor, who is currently leading a 20-member delegation comprising representatives from reputable financial institutions in Britain, described the bilateral trade relations as excellent.
“The Kingdom is one of Britain’s closest friends and the biggest trading partner in the Middle East,” he said, adding that he hoped there would be more Saudi investments in Britain in areas such as Islamic financing and Takaful insurance.
He said half of the properties in the City of London are owned by overseas investors, mainly from the Gulf countries.
He also said that the UK is interested in participating in the Kingdom’s infrastructure development. “According to reports, some $630 billion will be spent on infrastructure development during the next 10 years. British expertise could contribute a great deal toward the development of some of the envisaged projects thus becoming partners in Saudi Arabia’s national development,” he said.
Lewis said that he is offering Britain’s services to the development of human resources in Saudi Arabia and stressed that British expertise could be harnessed to develop young talent to become professionals in the field of Islamic financing and banking.
Patey said the British government is to issue sukuk bonds. “We want to make a benchmark for Islamic bonds so that we can have a secondary market,” he said, adding that any bank in the United Kingdom can issue a Shariah compliant mortgage, a service that cannot be found even in a Muslim country.
Today, the mayor is scheduled to address the Jeddah Economic Forum at its closing session on the expansion of the Kingdom’s economy and widening links between the UK and Saudi Arabia.