Britain Offers to Help to Wean Saudi Economy Off Oil Dependency

  • U.K. Prime Minister May to meet Saudi King Salman on Wednesday
  • U.K.’s second female premier to show ‘what women can achieve’

Theresa May, U.K. prime minister, center, looks on while Majid Al Qasabi, Saudi Arabia's commerce minister, center left, speaks following her arrival at King Khalid International Airport in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, on April 4, 2017.

Photographer: Simon Dawson/Bloomberg

U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May plans to help Saudi Arabia lower its dependency on oil exports and increase the participation of women in the workforce as the Gulf kingdom seeks to modernize its economy.

Britain will help reform the Saudi Ministry of Defense, and foreign and trade ministers from both nations will hold six-monthly meetings under an agreement to be sealed in Riyadh on Wednesday when the premier is due to meet King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud.

U.K. tax and privatization experts will also advise Saudi officials on how to diversify the country’s economy away from oil, according to a statement from May’s office.

A week after triggering two years of talks to pull Britain out of the European Union, May is on a diplomatic drive to strengthen ties with Saudi Arabia, a major commercial partner that buys 40 percent of U.K. arms exports, as well as an ally in the fight against terrorism.

Saudi Arabia is seeking a sixfold increase in non-oil government revenue by 2030, and it also aims to increase the participation of women in its workforce to 30 percent from 22 percent.

On Monday, May refrained from criticizing Saudi Arabia’s record on human rights and the rights of women as she began a three-day trip to the Middle East, choosing instead to focus on “historical’’ ties. 

The premier also said her presence in Saudi Arabia would show “what women can achieve.’’ She disembarked from her plane in Riyadh on Tuesday to greet Saudi officials without wearing a headscarf, in contravention to the U.K. government’s own advice on women’s attire in the country.

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