Poland and Saudi Arabia do not plan to become strategic partners in the near future, but there are many promising areas for cooperation that could bring the two countries closer and yield mutual benefits. This was one of the conclusions of the Second Saudi–Polish Workshop, held in Riyadh on 11–12 December 2013.
Even though the countries are not a top priority for each other in their respective regions and bilateral trade remains low (in 2012, $622.71 million in total), both countries recognize the need to improve relations. In 2013, there were about 12 bilateral events, including a visit by Polish President Bronisław Komorowski to Saudi Arabia in December, and about 100 Polish companies representing such sectors as food, construction, defence, IT, chemicals, transport, medical and the production of renewable energy and luxury products met with Saudi counterparts.
Apart from the two main areas of cooperation—agriculture and energy—that were identified during the Inaugural Polish–Saudi Workshop
in Warsaw last year, the participants agreed that both countries should also pay special attention to several other aspects. With regards to the defence and security partnership, the recent signing of a Polish–Saudi agreement on defence cooperation opens up new possibilities, for example, by exchanging lessons learnt on military modernisation and operations, conducting joint training, or initiating contacts between the defence industries. Cultural cooperation is another promising area. Ideas for launching an inter-religious and intercultural dialogue in Poland, structured in the image of King Abdullah’s interfaith dialogue, as well as youth exchange programs were also discussed.
The coming year will also offer an opportunity for Polish construction companies to establish a presence in Saudi Arabia, especially in the country’s housing construction programme, which was announced in 2011 by King Abdullah— an SAR 250 billion scheme to build 500,000 housing units over several years to address a shortage among lower-income Saudis. Additionally, Polish architects, management consultants, construction firms, and railway technology firms may look to take part in the $22.5 billion Riyadh metro project, which, when construction starts in January or February 2014, will be the biggest transport infrastructure project in the world, employing 15,000 workers. Finally, the Polish health sector, ranging from services at Polish spas to medicine and medical equipment, could entice the interest of the Saudis if properly promoted.
The participants identified some obstacles that restrain bilateral relations. These include the lack of information about each other, no fruitful follow-up to study or business visits, the low turnout of national companies at international trade fairs organised by both countries (although there has been some improvement on the Polish side), a lack of bilateral trade fairs, the lack of offices of Polish companies in Saudi Arabia and vice versa, no Polish permanent trade mission in the Gulf countries, and no direct flights between Poland and Saudi Arabia, although flight connections between Poland and the region have improved significantly in the last year.
The seminar was also an opportunity to present Polish and Saudi perspectives on the situation in the Middle East and the Gulf region.