Doing Business in Saudi Arabia: Public Bidding on Lucrative Government Contracts

Saudi Arabia Wassem Amin Business

By Wassem M. Amin, Esq., MBA

The record FY2013 and FY2014 budgets announced by the government of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia have received much media attention. The FY2014 budget of Saudi Arabia, for example, sets a record U.S. $228 Billion (SAR 855 Billion) in government expenditures. Foreign companies and businesses who do business with the Saudi Government quickly discover a very rewarding and lucrative market.

Overview

Key expenditures, as announced in a press release by the Saudi Government, will focus on “infrastructure, education, health, social services, security services, municipal services, water and water treatment services, and roads and highways. Moreover, the budget gives particular emphasis to science and technology projects and e-government.”

Specifically, key expenditures have been allocated in the budget for the following major sectors:

  • Education: US $56 Billion – approximately 25% of the budget. This will be used to finance the construction of 539 new schools and 1,900 existing school-construction projects as well the refurbishment of thousands of present educational facilities.
  • Health and Social Affairs: US $28.8 Billion.       This will be used to finance the construction of dozens of new hospitals throughout the Kingdom.
  • Infrastructure and Transportation: US $17.8 Billion – Key planned projects in this sector include finishing work on existing projects, completing construction on highly publicized economic cities, and construction of new sea ports and a cross-country railway service.

U.S. and foreign based companies who are unfamiliar with doing business in Saudi Arabia generally are advised to seek the assistance of a legal advisor who is familiar with the region’s unique laws and culture. Moreover, companies wishing to do business with the Saudi Government should be aware that, as with any national government, it may be a complicated and time-consuming process.   However, with the right guidance, those willing to invest the time and effort will find that there are no shortage of very financially rewarding opportunities – in both the public and private sector.

Rules and Regulations Governing Saudi Public Contracts

Generally speaking, public or government contracts in Saudi Arabia are governed by the Government Tenders and Procurement Law and its implementing regulations (the “Law”). With few exceptions, the Law requires Saudi government entities to procure products and services through a public bidding process. A government agency is required to prepare and advertise a Request for Tenders (“RFT”) and advertise it in the Saudi Official Gazette and in at least two local newspapers for a minimum period of either 30 or 60 days–depending on the value of the project.

The exceptions to the public requirement are relatively few. Exempt from the public bidding requirement, direct procurement applies to the following sectors: military and defense equipment; consultancy services; unique products or services; and urgent medical supplies in a response to an epidemic.

To be eligible to enter the public bidding process, the bidder must post a bank guarantee equal to 1% of the project’s value. Within ten days of being awarded the project, the winning contractor must provide the respective government agency with an unconditional performance bond equal to 5% of the contract’s value. Usually, the performance is issued by a Saudi bank and must be valid for the duration of the project.

Who is Eligible to Submit Bids?

The Law indicates that any bidder licensed to do business in Saudi Arabia is eligible to participate in the process. At first glance, it may appear that a foreign company that has undergone the licensing process in Saudi Arabia (discussed in previous posts) is technically eligible to bid on public projects. However, a thorough reading of the Law and its implementing regulations proves otherwise. The Law and its implementing regulations require the bidder to hold a variety of certificates that can only be held by a Saudi business – such as, but not limited to, a commercial registration certificate, a classification certificate, a tax certificate, a Saudization certificate, and a foreign investment license if the bidder has any foreign capital. Many of those required licenses and certificates can only be obtained if the bidder is at least partially-owned by a Saudi national.

Selecting a Local Agent or Partner

Therefore, the most common, and effective, way for a foreign company to bid on public projects is by establishing a partnership or agency agreement with a local business. A key issue for foreign companies then becomes how to identify a local business partner that, not only adds value, but meets the various requirements of the Government Tenders and Procurement Law. In our experience, identifying the right partner is oftentimes detrimental to a foreign company’s success or failure in Saudi Arabia. Substantial due diligence and vetting is a critical component of this process. Generally speaking, a local partner should have prior experience and a successful track record working with the government agency that is awarding the contract.

The challenge is that public information on private businesses in Saudi Arabia is rare, if not impossible, to find. Therefore, utilizing a legal or advisory firm that has first-hand experience in the region is oftentimes critical. An experienced advisor would be able to identify, and vet, potential partners in the region and assist the foreign company with negotiations and legal registration requirements.

Saudi Arabia has pursued an open and liberal investment policy by welcoming and encouraging both domestic and foreign investment. The objective of Saudi Arabia’s policy is to achieve diversification by gradually reducing dependence on one source of income. The massive infrastructure and expenditure projects announced by the Saudi government present opportunities for foreign companies in virtually every major sector. However, the cultural, political, and legal landscape is complex and varies dramatically from that of countries such as the USA or in Europe. Unaccustomed foreign companies or investors should seek out advisory or legal firms who are proficient and have expertise in Saudi Arabia.

______________________________________________________________________

Disclaimer: These materials have been prepared by Wassem M. Amin, Esq. for informational purposes only and are not legal advice. The material posted on this web site is not intended to create, and receipt of it does not constitute, a lawyer-client relationship, and readers should not act upon it without seeking professional counsel.

Wassem M. Amin, Esq., MBA is an Associate Attorney at Dhar Law LLP in Boston, MA and is the Vice Chairman of the Middle East Committee as well as the Islamic Finance Committee of the American Bar Association’s International Law Section. Wassem has extensive experience in the Middle East region, having worked as a consultant in the area for over 10 years. Wassem currently focuses his practice on International Business Transactions and Business Immigration (EB-5 Regional Center and Investor Representation). For more information, please visit the About Us page or http://www.dharlawllp.com.

Doing Business in Saudi Arabia: Public Bidding on Lucrative Government Contracts

wassem.amin.saudi.arabia.business

By Wassem M. Amin, Esq., MBA

The record FY2013 and FY2014 budgets announced by the government of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia have received much media attention. The FY2014 budget of Saudi Arabia, for example, sets a record U.S. $228 Billion (SAR 855 Billion) in government expenditures. Foreign companies and businesses who do business with the Saudi Government quickly discover a very rewarding and lucrative market.

Overview

Key expenditures, as announced in a press release by the Saudi Government, will focus on “infrastructure, education, health, social services, security services, municipal services, water and water treatment services, and roads and highways. Moreover, the budget gives particular emphasis to science and technology projects and e-government.”

Specifically, key expenditures have been allocated in the budget for the following major sectors:

  • Education: US $56 Billion – approximately 25% of the budget. This will be used to finance the construction of 539 new schools and 1,900 existing school-construction projects as well the refurbishment of thousands of present educational facilities.
  • Health and Social Affairs: US $28.8 Billion.       This will be used to finance the construction of dozens of new hospitals throughout the Kingdom.
  • Infrastructure and Transportation: US $17.8 Billion – Key planned projects in this sector include finishing work on existing projects, completing construction on highly publicized economic cities, and construction of new sea ports and a cross-country railway service.

U.S. and foreign based companies who are unfamiliar with doing business in Saudi Arabia generally are advised to seek the assistance of a legal advisor who is familiar with the region’s unique laws and culture. Moreover, companies wishing to do business with the Saudi Government should be aware that, as with any national government, it may be a complicated and time-consuming process.   However, with the right guidance, those willing to invest the time and effort will find that there are no shortage of very financially rewarding opportunities – in both the public and private sector.

Rules and Regulations Governing Saudi Public Contracts

Generally speaking, public or government contracts in Saudi Arabia are governed by the Government Tenders and Procurement Law and its implementing regulations (the “Law”). With few exceptions, the Law requires Saudi government entities to procure products and services through a public bidding process. A government agency is required to prepare and advertise a Request for Tenders (“RFT”) and advertise it in the Saudi Official Gazette and in at least two local newspapers for a minimum period of either 30 or 60 days–depending on the value of the project.

The exceptions to the public requirement are relatively few. Exempt from the public bidding requirement, direct procurement applies to the following sectors: military and defense equipment; consultancy services; unique products or services; and urgent medical supplies in a response to an epidemic.

To be eligible to enter the public bidding process, the bidder must post a bank guarantee equal to 1% of the project’s value. Within ten days of being awarded the project, the winning contractor must provide the respective government agency with an unconditional performance bond equal to 5% of the contract’s value. Usually, the performance is issued by a Saudi bank and must be valid for the duration of the project.

Who is Eligible to Submit Bids?

The Law indicates that any bidder licensed to do business in Saudi Arabia is eligible to participate in the process. At first glance, it may appear that a foreign company that has undergone the licensing process in Saudi Arabia (discussed in previous posts) is technically eligible to bid on public projects. However, a thorough reading of the Law and its implementing regulations proves otherwise. The Law and its implementing regulations require the bidder to hold a variety of certificates that can only be held by a Saudi business – such as, but not limited to, a commercial registration certificate, a classification certificate, a tax certificate, a Saudization certificate, and a foreign investment license if the bidder has any foreign capital. Many of those required licenses and certificates can only be obtained if the bidder is at least partially-owned by a Saudi national.

Selecting a Local Agent or Partner

Therefore, the most common, and effective, way for a foreign company to bid on public projects is by establishing a partnership or agency agreement with a local business. A key issue for foreign companies then becomes how to identify a local business partner that, not only adds value, but meets the various requirements of the Government Tenders and Procurement Law. In our experience, identifying the right partner is oftentimes detrimental to a foreign company’s success or failure in Saudi Arabia. Substantial due diligence and vetting is a critical component of this process. Generally speaking, a local partner should have prior experience and a successful track record working with the government agency that is awarding the contract.

The challenge is that public information on private businesses in Saudi Arabia is rare, if not impossible, to find. Therefore, utilizing a legal or advisory firm that has first-hand experience in the region is oftentimes critical. An experienced advisor would be able to identify, and vet, potential partners in the region and assist the foreign company with negotiations and legal registration requirements.

Saudi Arabia has pursued an open and liberal investment policy by welcoming and encouraging both domestic and foreign investment. The objective of Saudi Arabia’s policy is to achieve diversification by gradually reducing dependence on one source of income. The massive infrastructure and expenditure projects announced by the Saudi government present opportunities for foreign companies in virtually every major sector. However, the cultural, political, and legal landscape is complex and varies dramatically from that of countries such as the USA or in Europe. Unaccustomed foreign companies or investors should seek out advisory or legal firms who are proficient and have expertise in Saudi Arabia.

______________________________________________________________________

Disclaimer: These materials have been prepared by Wassem M. Amin, Esq. for informational purposes only and are not legal advice. The material posted on this web site is not intended to create, and receipt of it does not constitute, a lawyer-client relationship, and readers should not act upon it without seeking professional counsel.

Wassem M. Amin, Esq., MBA is an Associate Attorney at Dhar Law LLP in Boston, MA and is the Vice Chairman of the Middle East Committee as well as the Islamic Finance Committee of the American Bar Association’s International Law Section. Wassem has extensive experience in the Middle East region, having worked as a consultant in the area for over 10 years. Wassem currently focuses his practice on International Business Transactions and Business Immigration (EB-5 Regional Center and Investor Representation). For more information, please visit the About Us page or http://www.dharlawllp.com.

Doing Business in Saudi Arabia: Establishing Commercial Agency and Distribution Agreements

Amin - Doing Business in Saudi ArabiaBy Wassem M. Amin, Esq., MBA

Saudi Arabia is one of the largest importer of goods in the Middle East region and is, in fact, one of the largest per capita importers of goods in the world.  Saudi Arabia imports virtually all consumer and industrial goods that it uses.  It imports roughly triple the amount of goods that it exports.  For example, according to the Kingdom’s Central Department of Statistics and Information (Link in Arabic), in 2012, total imports were approximately 584 Billion Saudi Riyals (US $156 Billion) compared to non-petroleum related exports of 190 Billion Saudi Riyals (US $50 Billion).

With the recently-announced record 2014 national budget, demand for imported goods is expected to exponentially rise.  Most foreign companies seeking to establish a long-term presence in Saudi Arabia choose to do so via a commercial agency agreement with a local partner.  Commercial agency agreements in the Kingdom are governed by the Commercial Agency Act and associated regulations (the “Act”).  The law does not differentiate between a distributor or an agent and, therefore, the Act is applicable to both types of contractual relationships.  These two terms are used interchangeably in this Article.

The Act defines a commercial agency relationship as a contractual relationship between a Saudi company or individual and a foreign producer or their representative for the purpose of undertaking trading and commercial activities in the Kingdom.

Who Can Act as Agent/Distributor in Saudi Arabia?

The Act requires that the local agent or distributor be either a Saudi national (or 100% Saudi-owned company) or a citizen of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC).  The GCC’s members include the countries of: Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, Oman, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates.  In addition, the entity or individual must register with the Ministry of Commerce and the chamber of commerce in the region where the majority of trading activities will be undertaken.

Legal Obligations of Agents & Distributors

The Act imposes stringent legal obligations that function as a “warranty” for any goods distributed by the local agent .  Among the most significant are the requirements that an agent provide spare parts at ‘reasonable prices’ as well provide maintenance and repair services.  This requirement is imposed for a period of one year even after the termination of the agency agreement with the producer or until the appointment of a new agent.  The agent is also required to maintain extensive documentation disclosing all customs/duties information and the country of origin of the product.

The Commercial Agency Agreement

In order to impose uniform rights and obligations on all local agents and their foreign principals, the Ministry of Commerce has a standardized model contract which serves as a guide for both parties.   Although the agent and principal are not required to use the model contract, the use of a contract with terms that substantially differ from the model will prevent that agency relationship from being registered with the Ministry of Commerce–essentially invalidating the contract.

The mandatory terms in a commercial agency agreement, as set out by the Ministry of Commerce, are the following:

  • Parties to the Agreement;
  • Territory covered by Agency;
  • Exclusivity, if any;
  • Duration of Agency;
  • Conditions for termination and renewal;
  • Rights and responsibilities of each party towards each other and the consumer–specifically who is responsible for the cost of maintenance and provision of spare parts;
  • The products and services that are covered by the Agreement;
  • Capacity of the local agent, i.e., whether the agent is a direct representative of the principal or is an independent distributor; and
  • The terms of payment or formula for remuneration.

Saudi Arabia is a lucrative market for foreign companies and investors. At a time when the market in the United Arab Emirates is beginning to get stagnant and saturated, Saudi Arabia remains ripe with opportunities. However, the cultural, political, and legal landscape is complex and varies dramatically from that of countries such as the USA or in Europe. Unaccustomed foreign companies or investors should seek out advisory or legal firms who are proficient and have expertise in Saudi Arabia.

_________________________________________________________________________________________________

Disclaimer: These materials have been prepared by Wassem M. Amin, Esq. for informational purposes only and are not legal advice. The material posted on this web site is not intended to create, and receipt of it does not constitute, a lawyer-client relationship, and readers should not act upon it without seeking professional counsel.

Wassem M. Amin, Esq., MBA is an Associate Attorney at Dhar Law LLP in Boston, MA and is the Vice Chairman of the Middle East Committee as well as the Islamic Finance Committee of the American Bar Association’s International Law Section. Wassem has extensive experience in the Middle East region, having worked as a consultant in the area for over 9 years. Wassem currently focuses his practice on Business Immigration (EB-5 Regional Center and Investor Representation) and International Business Transactions. For more information, please visit the About Us page or http://www.dharlawllp.com.

Doing Business in Saudi Arabia: Options and Overview for Foreign Investors and Companies

Wassem Amin SAUDI

(Note: This Article was originally published the American Bar Association, Section of International Law Quarterly Newsletter in March 2014.  For a downloadable copy of the newsletter, click here.)

By: Wassem M. Amin, Esq. MBA*

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is one of the fastest growing economies in the Middle East. In 2013, the government increased its budget by more than 20% than the previous year, to approximately 820 Billion Saudi Riyals ($219 Billion). Additionally, Saudi’s King Abdullah pledged more than $500 billion on social welfare and infrastructure projects over the next few years. Saudi Arabia’s increased spending is part of its policy to create economic diversification and reform, in turn decreasing their dependence on oil revenue and creating new jobs for the local population.

A large proportion of the Government’s spending, approximately 300 billion Riyals, has been allocated to capital expenditures on investment projects and social infrastructure. Ambitious plans include building 539 new schools and universities, as well as the development of several new cities in the sprawling desert kingdom.
The biggest beneficiary of this expansionary policy is the construction industry. Demand in the construction and associated sectors, such as residential and commercial real estate development, will increase exponentially, representing an excellent market opportunity for foreign investors and international corporations seeking to enter the Saudi market.

Applicability of Islamic Finance

Construction projects in Saudi Arabia are typically either public or private. The governing law which applies to all contracts, including construction, is Shari’a, or Islamic, law. General principles of Islamic Finance are applicable, such as the duty to act reasonably, in good faith, and to mitigate losses.

In the private sector, within the construction sector specifically, the Islamic Finance principle that applies is the “istisna’a” contract, which is a contract for the sale of an asset that is yet to be constructed or manufactured. Using this structure, the party providing capital, the financier, enters into a contract with the purchaser of the building to be constructed. Usually the financier, whether a bank or investor, will then enter into a back-to-back construction contract with a general contractor for the project. The financier realizes a profit from the spread between the cost of the construction contract and the price of the purchase contract.

Public Works Contracts

However, in the public sector, specific regulations and a complex legal framework govern bidding for public works, as well the interpretation and enforcement of underlying contracts. While still generally subject to Islamic Law principles, public works contracts are considered administrative contracts and are subject to the Government Bids and Procurement Law, implemented with associated regulations.

Establishing a Foreign Presence in Saudi Arabia

Recent amendments in the law and a shift in policy by the government to attract foreign direct investment have made it easier than ever for a foreign company or investor to establish business operations in Saudi Arabia. Although there are a variety of business organizations in Saudi Arabia, the most commonly used by foreign companies in undertaking construction projects are Limited Liability Companies (LLCs). That is due to the relative ease of incorporating an LLC (as opposed to, for example, a Joint Stock Company), minimal capitalization requirements, and the requirement of less corporate governance formalities.

The actual procedure of establishing an LLC in Saudi Arabia is typically a two-step process: (1) First, the foreign partner applies to the Saudi Arabian General Investment Authority (SAGIA) for a foreign investment license; (2) Second, once SAGIA issues the license, the partners in the proposed LLC apply to the Ministry of Commerce and Industry in order to incorporate the company. Once approved, the Ministry will certify the formation documents of the LLC and issue a commercial registration certificate–which permits the LLC to begin operating in the Kingdom legally.

Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Investment Regulations give foreign investors a variety of options in determining how to conduct business operations in the Kingdom. However, regardless of the option chosen, if a physical commercial presence is established, foreign investors must first obtain a foreign capital investment license from the Saudi Arabian General Investment Authority (SAGIA). The following section gives an overview of the other options that may be feasible

Overview of Saudi Arabian Business Entities and Markets

Investments in Saudi Arabia may be through the formation of a new business entity or through the acquisition of assets or equity in an existing company. Commercial enterprises by foreign companies may be structured as any of the following: (1) joint ventures, (2) wholly owned subsidiaries, (3) local branches of a foreign company; or (4) representative or agent offices.

The principal body of law governing commercial enterprises in Saudi Arabia is the Companies Regulation, which is enforced and regulated by the Ministry of Commerce and Industry. In some circumstances, an enterprise may be subject to the rules and regulations of additional regulatory bodies such as the Saudi Arabian Stock Exchange (Tadawul), the Saudi Arabian Monetary Agency (SAMA), or the Capital Market Authority (CMA).

In terms of the legal type of entity established, foreign investors have several options to consider–depending largely on the scope and type of the proposed enterprise as well as the investor’s exit strategy. The types of entities are: (1) Joint Stock Company; (2) Limited Liability Company; (3) Joint Venture; (4) Branches of foreign companies; and (5) Technical and Scientific offices of foreign companies.

Joint Stock Company (JSC): JSCs are the most analogous entity to a C-Corporation in the United States. They may be wholly foreign owned and are typically established with the intent towards a future public offering and listing on the Saudi Stock Exchange (Tadawul). A minimum of 5 shareholders and 3 directors on the board of directors is required. The minimum initial capitalization required is 2 Million Saudi Riyals (SR), which rises up to SR10 Million if the JSC will issue publicly traded shares.

Limited Liability Company (LLC): As with JSCs, Saudi law permits an LLC to be wholly foreign owned and managed. LLCs must have at least 2, but not more than 50, member-investors. Each member owns a pro-rata equity share equal to the uniform nominal value. Liability of individual members, under most circumstances, is limited to the member’s paid-in capital. Minimum initial capitalization for an LLC with any foreign members is typically SR500,000. However, for certain industries, such as agricultural or industrial projects, the minimum capital may be much higher. Unlike JSCs, LLCs do not issue shares and cannot be publicly traded on the Saudi Arabian Stock Exchange.

Joint Ventures – LLCs and JSCs may both be wholly owned or established with a Saudi business partner. The decision to establish a Saudi partner may be mandatory in some fields, such as establishing a branch of international law firm. However, in other cases, a foreign investor may benefit from a Saudi partner’s expertise and familiarity of the local market, customs, and traditions. The risks and benefits of doing so must be carefully analyzed after thorough due diligence is conducted.

Branches of Foreign Companies – Branch offices are set up to represent foreign companies in Saudi Arabia. Similarly to JSCs or LLCs, branch offices are allowed to engage in direct business activities. However, their scope of business is limited to that of the parent company.

Technical and Scientific Offices (TSOs) – TSOs are easily set up in Saudi Arabia and are usually established when a foreign company enters into long-term distribution or agency arrangements with local companies. However, their scope of allowed commercial activity is limited to providing technical support and assistance to local distributors, agents, and consumers. TSOs are prohibited from engaging in any direct business activities.

Other Commercial Arrangements – Distribution arrangements may be done through a joint venture with a Saudi partner or by appointing a local distributor or agent on your behalf. Other options, such as franchising or a direct international sale, may also be available, depending on the type of service or product the foreign company offers.

Saudi Arabia is a lucrative market for foreign companies and investors. At a time when the market in the United Arab Emirates is beginning to get stagnant and saturated, Saudi Arabia remains ripe with opportunities. However, the cultural, political, and legal landscape is complex and varies dramatically from that of countries such as the USA or in Europe. Unaccustomed foreign companies or investors should seek out advisory or legal firms who are proficient and have expertise in Saudi Arabia.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________

Disclaimer: These materials have been prepared by Wassem M. Amin, Esq. for informational purposes only and are not legal advice. The material posted on this web site is not intended to create, and receipt of it does not constitute, a lawyer-client relationship, and readers should not act upon it without seeking professional counsel.

Wassem M. Amin, Esq., MBA is an Associate Attorney at Dhar Law LLP in Boston, MA and is the Vice Chairman of the Middle East Committee as well as the Islamic Finance Committee of the American Bar Association’s International Law Section. Wassem has extensive experience in the Middle East region, having worked as a consultant in the area for over 9 years. Wassem currently focuses his practice on Business Immigration (EB-5 Regional Center and Investor Representation) and International Business Transactions. For more information, please visit the About Us page or http://www.dharlawllp.com.

USCIS to Reopen Unlawful Presence Waiver Applications Denied Due to Criminal Offenses

Provisional Unlawful Presence Waivers

In March of 2013 the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (“USCIS”) implemented a program where relatives of U.S. citizens could apply for unlawful presence waivers if they met certain requirements. While the USCIS created these waivers, they also limited the applicants by listing circumstances that would render an individual ineligible for a provisional unlawful presence waiver. The USCIS can deny a waiver application if the USCIS has reason to believe that the individual is subject to another ground of inadmissibility, in addition to the unlawful presence ground that is the subject of the I-601A waiver application.

Prior to the USCIS release, waiver applications were being denied if an applicant had any criminal history. The sentence imposed was irrelevant and it was not controlling whether or not the offense was a crime involving moral turpitude. On January 24, the USCIS issued guidance relating to applicants who had a criminal record. The USCIS field guidance provided that if the applicant’s criminal offense fell within the petty offense or youthful offender exception then USCIS officers should not find a reason to believe that the individual may be subject to inadmissibility at the time of the immigrant visa interview solely on account of that criminal offense.

Reopening of previous applications

Starting on March 18, 2014, the USCIS began the process of reopening all I-601A waiver applications that were denied prior to January 24, 2014, solely because of a prior criminal offense, in order to determine whether there is reason to believe the prior criminal offense might render the applicant inadmissible. For more information, you can view the USCIS website here.