Dealmaker Trump will be busy in Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia looks toward a post oil dependent future
Saudi Arabia looks toward a post oil dependent future

The first stop on President Trump's first overseas trip is Saudi Arabia. It may also be the busiest.

He's due to attend three summits in two days and witness the signing of several deals worth billions of dollars.

"There's an economic depth to his visit," said Ahmed Alibrahim, an expert in Saudi-U.S. relations based in Riyadh. Trump would be looking to sign "major deals" with Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states, he added.

The deals will cut both ways, providing business for American firms but also investment Saudi Arabia urgently needs as part of its ambitious plan to break its addiction to oil by 2030.

"There will be significant investment from Saudi [Arabia] in the U.S. but also there will be significant benefits to Saudi Arabia," the kingdom's finance minister, Mohammed Al-Jadaan, said in an interview with CNNMoney.

"There will be employment in both, there will be investments on both sides and you will see it when the deals are announced... that there are significant investments on both sides," Al-Jadaan said.

Here are some of the big issues that could dominate Trump's talks.

Defense contracts

Saudi Arabia is the largest trading partner for the U.S. in the Middle East, exchanging goods worth about $35 billion in 2016, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Much of that is oil. Saudi Arabia is the second biggest exporter of crude oil to the U.S. after Canada.

Related: Saudi Arabia: We could live with $40 oil in 2020

But military equipment accounts for another big chunk of trade between the two, and that's likely to grow.

The kingdom is the fifth biggest spender on defense in the world. It has allocated 191 billion riyals ($51 billion), or 21% of its 2017 budget, to military spending.

The U.S. is the world's biggest arms exporter. Nearly half of those exports go to the Middle East, with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates among the leading buyers.

"The visit to Saudi Arabia will very likely witness the signing of several defense agreements, mostly related to missile defense as well as bolstering air and naval capabilities," said Riad Kahwaji, CEO of INEGMA, a security consultancy.

Running parallel to Trump's summit with Saudi King Salman on Saturday is a business forum that will include senior executives from about 45 U.S. companies. Defense contractors Lockheed Martin (LMT) and Raytheon (RTN) are due to attend. Also on the list: Boeing (BA), ExxonMobil (XOM), Dow Chemical (DOW), GE (GEK), Citigroup (C), Morgan Stanley (MS), oil services firms and investment groups.

Mutual investment

Attracting more foreign investment is essential if Saudi Arabia is to realize its vision of breaking free of oil. It wants to grow its private sector to 65% of GDP by 2030 from around 40% at present.

"We want to enable it by encouraging investment locally, encouraging foreign direct investment and the visit of the CEOs is obviously one way to showcase the opportunities in Saudi Arabia and we have a lot of opportunities that U.S. companies can tap," said Al-Jaadan.

The kingdom has just announced the launch of a new military manufacturing company which it says will contribute 14 billion riyals ($3.7 billion) to GDP by 2030. It plans to achieve that by working with local and international partners.

Related: Saudi Arabia is giving women more freedom as it looks beyond oil

Also due to attend the CEO forum are executives from SoftBank. (SFTBF)

The Japanese tech firm has launched a $100 billion investment fund with Saudi Arabia. The kingdom has committed $45 billion.

SoftBank founder and CEO Masayoshi Son promised Trump in December that he would invest $50 billion into the U.S., telling the Wall Street Journal later that the money would come from the new SoftBank-Saudi fund.

Mega oil deal

While Trump looks for more detail on that huge cash injection, another mammoth deal may also come up in talks: Saudi Arabia's plans to list its giant oil company Aramco on the stock market.

Officials are planning to sell about 5% of Aramco next year in what is likely to be the world's biggest initial public offering ever.

The New York Stock Exchange is reported to be in serious discussions with Saudi Arabia over the deal. But it faces tough competition: the London Stock Exchange is also lobbying hard for a piece of the action.

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