Tags: Wilbur Ross | Saudi Arabia | Women | Business

Ross: Saudis 'Liberalizing Their Society" With More Women in Business

(AP/Mark Lennihan)

By    |   Monday, 22 May 2017 08:30 AM

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said he sees a “big sea change” in Saudi Arabia regarding women in business.

Ross was back in Washington Monday after joining President Trump in Saudi Arabia where a number of business deals were sealed, including a Saudi arms agreement that could end up being worth $350 billion over 10 years.

Ross told CNBC that he saw signs that Saudi Arabia continues "liberalizing their society" and relaxing some of the restrictions on women under the strict interpretation of Islamic law that rules the kingdom.

"At one of the sessions where a lot of contracts were awarded, there was also some panel discussions," said Ross, a billionaire who made his fortune investing in distressed assets.

"One of the panelists was the woman who is the head of the Saudi Arabian stock exchange," he said. "That's a very unusual event and to my knowledge the first time a woman has been the head of an exchange in that region and for sure the first time in Saudi."

Ross was referring to Sarah Al-Suhaimi, who was appointed in February as board chair of the Saudi Stock Exchange, also called the Tadawul. She is the chief executive officer of NCB Capital, the investment arm of Saudi banking giant National Commercial Bank.

The Commerce secretary took Al-Suhaimi's role in the business community there as a sign that Saudi Arabia was continuing to value women more than in the past. "Clearly there's a big sea change underway. There's no question that they're liberalizing their society," he argued.

An investor and businessman who made his billions advising bankruptcies and restructuring flailing companies, Ross was No. 20 in Newsmax's 100 Most Influential Business Leaders in America.

Meanwhile, the $110 billion Saudi arms deal, plus other investments that U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said could total up to $350 billion, was the central achievement of Trump's first day in Riyadh, first stop on a nine-day journey through the Middle East and Europe.

Speaking to journalists after a Saturday ceremony to exchange agreements, Trump said it was a "tremendous day" and spoke of "hundreds of billions of dollars of investments into the United States and jobs, jobs, jobs. So I would like to thank all of the people of Saudi Arabia."

The arms package includes a pledge by the kingdom to assemble 150 Lockheed Martin Blackhawk helicopters in Saudi Arabia, in a $6 billion deal expected to result in about 450 jobs in the kingdom, Reuters reported.

National oil giant Saudi Aramco was also expected to sign $50 billion of deals with U.S. companies on Saturday, part of a drive to diversify the kingdom's economy beyond oil exports, Aramco's chief executive Amin Nasser said.

U.S. technology and engineering conglomerate GE said it had signed $15 billion of agreements with Saudi organizations.

(Newsmax wire services contributed to this report).

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Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said he sees a “big sea change” in Saudi Arabia regarding women in business.
Wilbur Ross, Saudi Arabia, Women, Business
Monday, 22 May 2017 08:30 AM
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