December 2018 Chairman’s Message

Dear ABGR Colleagues, As I prepare for my own holidays with family in Alexandria, Virginia, I look back over a full and eventful year of economic and social reform, continuing regional challenges and a range of initiatives both bilaterally between the Saudi and U.S. governments and by our own Riyadh AmCham to expand the bilateral commercial and diplomatic relationship. The Saudi Bankruptcy Law has been issued, just in time to help resolve some major corporate insolvencies.  An Intellectual Property Commission has been formed within the Ministry of Commerce, with a mandate to improve the IP enforcement regime, and support from the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office, in the person of the very capable and effective U.S. Intellectual Property Attaché Peter Mehravari.  Our Embassy has been capably led by Chargé d’Affaires Chris Henzel (recently nominated to serve as Ambassador to Yemen) and Deputy Chief of Mission Martina Strong; an experienced and proven leader, former CENTCOM Commander John Abizaid, has been nominated to serve as our Ambassador. The U.S./Saudi relationship has faced unusual stresses, as U.S. media have struggled to understand the policies, goals and values of a Kingdom committed to maintain stability amidst historical social changes, and advance its own concept of due process and rule of law amidst unusual threats both regional and domestic. Amidst all these challenges the U.S.-Saudi commercial relationship has shown itself to be strong and enduring, based not only on common interests, but also on common values.  Anecdotal evidence to the contrary notwithstanding, these have trended more towards convergence than divergence, and we as an AmCham remain confident that our bilateral commercial relationship, which has in many ways advanced ahead of the political relationship starting with the discovery of oil at the Dammam Dome in 1938, will continue to grow and thrive in the years and decades to come. Since my last report, we have hosted the following events. November 28, Fairmont Hotel.  Our board members were graciously hosted by the recently opened Fairmont Hotel at the Riyadh Business Park for dinner at the 365 Restaurant. November 29, General Membership.  We hosted the Honorable Frederick Bush for a presentation on the initiative of his company, Big Things Group, to build the American Pavilion, and recently participated in Expo 2020 meetings in Dubai.  Dubai has been chosen by the International Bureau of Expositions in Paris to host Expo 2020, with a main theme Connecting Minds, Creating the Future, and sub-themes of Sustainability, Mobility and Opportunity, opening on October 20, 2020 for six months.  Unique among nations represented, the American Pavilion is the responsibility of the private sector; the U.S. Department of State selected Big Things, with the theme of “what moves you.”  Please consider asking your company to participate in and support this exciting and worthy initiative. December 2, Board Meeting.  At our December meeting, graciously hosted by the American International School of Riyadh at its Al-Bustan Compound campus, we welcomed Ed Munter of Marriott Hotels and Gen. Joseph Rank of Lockheed Martin to our board.  We bade a final farewell to Amanda Tafunai as our capable Communications and Outreach Director, comforted by the realization that she will remain in Riyadh as an enthusiastic and valued member of our ABGR family. December 4, Infrastructure Committee Meeting.  Fouad Khoury hosted our Infrastructure Committee at the Parsons office in Tamkeen Tower, featuring a presentation on the King Abdullah Financial District iconic metro station, designed by the late Zaha Hadid. December 9, SAGIA Reception.  Some 70 participants were hosted by the Saudi Arabian General Investment Authority for a presentation on regulatory reforms and promotional initiatives to make Saudi Arabia a more attractive foreign investment destination, in line with goals to empower the Saudi private sector and expand employment by substantially increasing foreign investment in the Kingdom. December 10, Wadi Qortuba Dinner Social.  We enjoyed a successful Mingle Jingle Peppermint and Plaid celebration at the Wadi Qortuba Resort, setting the stage for a convivial and joyful holiday season as many of our members rejoin their families back home. December 11, Riyadh Business Groups Meeting.  We hosted our second meeting of leaders of Riyadh sister business groups and commercial counsellors, to discuss ways of sharing resources and cooperating to our common benefit, including cross-group invitations to events, joint committee initiatives, our Embassy Roundtable initiative and sharing of information.  We were privileged to welcome 20 representatives from our sister organizations from the United Kingdom, Germany, Ireland, Australia, Canada, Japan, Korea and Switzerland. Please look out for the following upcoming events.
  • 40th Anniversary Dinner. The U.S. Embassy will host a 40th Anniversary dinner in mid-January; we are also preparing a commemorative book.
  • January 30, Embassy Roundtable. The New Zealand Embassy will host a roundtable panel of Ambassadors from New Zealand, Singapore, India, Mexico and Brazil to discuss economic transformation successes in their countries, and lessons for Saudi Arabia in implementing Vision 2030.  One of the fruits of our intergroup cooperative initiative (see above), we are planning a series of similar substantive topic-focused events with relevance to our commercial relationship with our host Kingdom.
  • Meet your Embassy. We are also working with our friends at the Embassy to organize roundtable discussions with leaders of its various sections.
We are preparing for our annual Washington Doorknock March 24-29, in cooperation with other AmChams throughout the Gulf, organized by the Middle East Council of American Chambers of Commerce (MECACC), which I also chair.  We have been privileged to work since 2012 with Mick Mulvaney, our champion in the House when he served as a Congressman from South Carolina, and now in the White House where he serves as Director of the Office of Management and Budget, and more recently as Acting Chief of Staff in addition; our Washington Consultant Mike Jones is scheduled to meet with Mick today to discuss our agenda of pro-international business reforms.  We are preparing for a different climate on Capitol Hill, and are adjusting our message to emphasize the long history and continuing relevance of our commercial relationship, and the continuing importance of a strong U.S. role in promoting peace and stability in a still volatile region.  Please let me know if you are interested in helping develop position papers and joining us in Washington for this essential initiative to define and advocate for American business interests in this enduringly important and fast-changing region. Thank you for your loyalty to our organization and interest in our events, and for standing together as an organization committed to promoting American business interests abroad through good times and bad. Sincerely, Christopher H. Johnson

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About the Author

Chris Johnson

Active in the Kingdom since 1978, Chris Johnson is the founding partner of Johnson & Pump/Al-Sharif Law Office, based in Riyadh. +966-11-462-5925