Why Kuwait could be a great place for international companies with Hessa Bouresli | Head of Communications Division #13
Think of Kuwait and one thinks of oil. It’s got the world’s sixth largest oil reserves. But there’s a lot more to it than that. It’s one of the oldest countries in the region, at the top of the Arabian Gulf, bordered by Iraq and Saudi Arabia. But it’s not really like either of them.
In this podcast, Oliver Dowson talks with Hessa Rashed Bouresli, the Head of the Communications Division of the Kuwait Direct Investment Authority, about the opportunities the country has to offer to international companies.
Kuwait, with a population of around 4 million, has a high-income economy – and, indeed, according to the World Bank, the Kuwaiti dinar is the highest valued currency in the world and the country has the fourth highest per capita income. It’s a democracy and it’s liberal – women are empowered and make up more than half the workforce.
It’s even arguably the cultural centre of the Middle East, with arts festivals and even the largest opera house in the region.
But back to business. Kuwait is working to seriously reinvent itself, aiming to transform the country into a financial and commercial leader in the region. It’s making institutional reforms, investing in infrastructure and actively supporting growth of the private sector.
In this podcast, Oliver Dowson talks with Hessa Rashed Bouresli, the Head of the Communications Division of the Kuwait Direct Investment Authority, about the opportunities the country has to offer.
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OLIVER: I’m with Hessa Bouresli, the Head of the Communications division at the Kuwait Direct Investment Promotion Authority. Hessa, welcome to the ‘Growing Through International Expansion’ podcast.
HESSA: Thank you for having me.
OLIVER: It’s great to see you here and I’m really interested to know what it is about Kuwait that should attract businesses to come and look at expanding there?
HESSA: Ok, so today we’re here at the business show, we participated all the way from Kuwait. We are the Kuwait Direct Investment Promotion Authority established by the law 116 2013. It’s a authority headed by the government, it’s a government entity and we basically promote the country as a whole as an investment hub for people to invest in from foreign countries and locals as direct investment. So what we do is we facilitate and streamline the business procedure of the investment license for foreigners and locals. So instead of going and having a partner you’d be 100 percent owner of your own business and for us at KDIPA what we do is we basically take you from A to Z, first you apply online, you get the application process done as a primary application. Then you go through a secondary application process which is more in-depth, about all the company’s details, what you have to offer, what’s the exact investment value, do you meet the criteria? We have a set of criteria that you have to meet, based on that criteria there is a measurement that we do, and that measurement gives you the incentives that we offer at KDIPA. The top incentive is that you would be a 100 percent owner, you’ll be totally in control of your own business in a foreign country.
OLIVER: and that’s quite something because most businesses from here who think of going to the Gulf think of going to the UAE and apart from the Free Trade Zones, of course, you can’t be a 100 percent owner there.
HESSA: Definitely. Kuwait is an open economy, there’s no restrictions, you can generally sell anything you want or set up whatever kind of investment or business you’d like to set up. It’s an open economy apart from the negative list that the government has set, which includes the oil and gas production and real estate.
OLIVER: Now of course most people think of Kuwait only in terms of oil and gas production. What else is there in Kuwait and what’s the other sorts of businesses that should be coming there?
HESSA: Oh there’s a really long list, it’s an unending list I must say, but the ones that we’re focusing on right now are the ones central to the development plan of the country, which are healthcare, education and training, infrastructure, renewable energy and so on and so forth. These are the main ones, the development plan of 2035 is focusing on these.
OLIVER: Does Kuwait make a good hub as well for working with other economies in the Middle East?
HESSA: Oh it definitely is. You’d be asking the wrong person, I would fully support Kuwait as being the investment hub of foreign countries and partners to invest in Kuwait because Kuwait is not only the hub of opportunities, but Kuwait is a country for living in, because it has the easy way of living, the lifestyle is very easy. We have malls, restaurants and it’s a very open lifestyle, it’s not really closed.
OLIVER: Oh really?
HESSA: People might see Kuwait as a closed country but actually it’s a very democracy, it has democracy.
HESSA: Men and women are treated equally, we both vote, we have a parliament. We can be part of that parliament, so there is no restriction.
OLIVER: So it’s really different in many ways to other Gulf countries as I call them?
HESSA: Definitely it is.
OLIVER: I think it’s that most people of course won’t actually know anything about Kuwait. So it’s great to actually learn something about it. Is it the sort, so is it the sort of destination that I guess will be very pleasant to visit as well?
HESSA: I’m sure it would be, it’s much different than it is here in London, of course.
HESSA: London is a very crowded city, but it has everything. Kuwait is a small country. The youth built the country. They open up new places, they have the creativity, they have the mindset, they are very “out there”. We have a lot of places that are created by our youth. We are trying to push for the youth to be in charge of the country nowadays. So that’s what we’re trying to support.
OLIVER: And do you have a big population of young well qualified people then?
HESSA: We do. I wouldn’t know the exact percentage but it’s a very high percentage of people that carry a university degree.
HESSA: So, so the youth are very well educated and they’re very well keen on the learning and the training and developing their selves.
OLIVER: And the standard of English is as good as yours?
HESSA: It’s actually our second language, so I would say yes, the standard is as good as mine. We have private schools and we have public schools, but the public schools also have English courses.
OLIVER: Right, I think these are natural questions to you but I mean for our listeners who don’t know very much about it, it’s a great opportunity to learn a little bit more about the country and the opportunities there. This all sounds really interesting, so what you mentioned earlier about incentives, what sort of incentives does the Kuwait government offer?
HESSA: If the foreign investor invests through KDIPA with the process I mentioned earlier, once they meet the criteria, which is employing national labour, the transfer of technology, new technologies, the creation of jobs, and supporting small to medium enterprises, then they measure them to offer you the incentives which KDIPA gives. That is, you’d be totally in control of your business and you’d get up to 10 years’ tax and customs exemptions. We’re currently working on plans for that facilitation for people that are coming from abroad for foreign investment. They’re currently working on the infrastructure and it would be ready soon hopefully.
For certain sectors like healthcare we’re trying to have a Healthcare City for hospitals and centres and plan facilitation for other centres obviously.
OLIVER: Ok, I’m not sure I dare ask you this question, but I’ve been struggling recently with some international expansions to some Gulf countries and our clients get really unhappy because they get swamped in paperwork. The bureaucracy is terrible. How is the bureaucracy in Kuwait?
HESSA: I mean bureaucracy is all over the world, it’s not only in Kuwait. But when an investor invests through KDIPA, the maximum timeframe is 30 days for them to get their investment and trading license.
OLIVER: That’s impressive.
OLIVER: So that’s fast.
HESSA: Yes, the investment licenses are given through us, but the trading licenses are given through the Ministry of Commerce and Industry, but the investment license is given within three days. So that’s even better.
OLIVER: That’s great. So anyone interested in expanding to Kuwait or looking at the opportunities there on offer should be talking to you and your colleagues at the Kuwait Direct Investment Promotion Authority, right?
OLIVER: Or of course to us. Hessa, thank you so very much this afternoon for joining us on the ‘Growing through Global Expansion’ podcast. I wish you every success.
HESSA: Thank you. Thank you for having me.
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