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Is Saudi Arabia preparing for a post-oil economy?

Post-oil economy

The Middle East is a region that has been built on an economy synonymous with oil, but things could soon be about to change, with the prospect of a post-oil economy becoming an increasingly heavy weight on the minds of many financial leaders across the region.

While those backing greener energy and more environmentally-friendly approaches to generating profits have always advocated a greater emphasis on creating a post-oil economy, the hands of some of the world's most prominent oil producers have arguably been forced by a slump in the global market.

Saudi Arabia thinking of the future

One such nation to look ahead to the potential of a post-oil economy is Saudi Arabia, which has already reportedly put plans in place to create a $2 trillion mega-fund aimed at preserving the prosperity of the kingdom once the age of oil has passed.

According to figures cited by the New York Times, Saudi Arabia is still the world's largest oil producer, with an output of around 10 million barrels a day.

That number makes up for around ten per cent of the world's total oil production.

Although reports suggest there is little danger of the country suffering a shortage any time soon - reports suggest Saudi Arabia has reserves of around 160 billion barrels, the value of that stock has slumped by 60 per cent since June 2014.

The fall has caused the country to think more about what will happen in the post-oil age, with this new fund aimed at helping Saudi Arabia remain profitable in the face of increasing market pressure.

Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman told Bloomberg that the Public Investment Fund will be put in charge of the extensive assets, partly by selling off shares in state-oiled oil giant Aramco, while also diversifying its investments in other sectors.

"Undoubtedly, it will be the largest fund on Earth," Salman told the news provider. "This will happen as soon as Aramco goes public."

The move may well have paid off more if it had been made before the fall in oil prices, but its very creation shows there is at least some sort of vision for securing financial stability in an age when the future of fossil fuels is beginning to look increasingly uncertain.

Falling prices

As well as the setting up of the fund, Saudi Arabia has also said it is to freeze production should other major producers do the same.

A recent monthly survey by Reuters found that oil output from the 13 Opec members rose in March due to higher production from Iran and near-record of over four million barrels a day in exports from southern Iraq - Opec's biggest supply growth last year and placing only second behind Iran.

According to the BBC, the move is largely seen as a challenge to Iran, which has vowed to increase oil production after seeing Western sanctions lifted.

"If all countries agree to freeze production, we will be among them," the Salman told Bloomberg, adding that Iran needed to follow suit.

Those comments saw oil prices fall, having previously edged into positive territory.

Oil prices as a whole have plunged from a recent peak of $116 in June 2014 because of oversupply and sluggish demand.
Saudi Arabia not alone.

The state of the market has not just caused Saudi Arabia to take action, with the United Arab Emirates also casting its mind to the potential of a post-oil economy.

Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum reportedly told the local media recently that a number of new measures would be funded to help the country make the transition away from oil.

“With every lesson we learn comes a decision that will shape our future. But we also know that we can learn by looking to the future, not just the past or present,” he wrote.

“Simply put, we must think of what life will be like in a post-oil economy. That is why we have invested heavily – more than Dhs 300 billion (£56.59 billion) – in establishing a focus for the UAE’s path ahead, with the aim of preparing for a diverse economy that frees future generations from dependence on the ever-fluctuating oil market.”

He added: “Achieving that goal requires reconsidering our legislative, administrative, and economic system fully to move away from dependence on oil.

“We need a strong and appropriate regulatory infrastructure to build a sustainable and diverse national economy for our children and their children.”