Oil-rich Saudi Arabia unveiled a 26.6-billion-dollar project
to build a state-of-the art residential and industrial city, timed with its new membership
to the World Trade
Organisation. King Abdullah Economic City will be located near the western industrial city of Rabegh on the Red Sea coast, north of the kingdom's second largest city, Jeddah.
An Emaar-led consortium made up of Saudi and Emirati companies, including the Saudi Bin Laden construction company, will be the main investor in the development.
The Saudi Arabian General Investment Authority (SAGIA), which is in charge of attracting foreign investment to the kingdom, will be project
"In what is considered the single
largest private sector investment in Saudi Arabia, the announcement ... is a signal of the dawn of a new era of economic prosperity for the citizens of the kingdom," Emaar said on Tuesday.
The project was announced at SAGIA's headquarters in Riyadh in the presence of Saudi King Abdullah, Crown Prince Sultan bin Abdul Aziz and Dubai's Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, highlighting the significance attached to the project by the Saudi government
Saudi Arabia, the world's top oil
producer, formally joined the WTO on December 11 and is eager to demonstrate its commitment to political and economic reform and its new openness to foreign investment.
"It is no coincidence that the city is being formally launched as Saudi Arabia has now become a part of the World Trade
Organisation," said Amr al-Dabbagh, SAGIA's governor.
"The fact that we were able to move ahead with this project on a fast track basis shows that Saudi Arabia is moving ahead with confidence to transform the economy and build more sustainable prosperity for its citizens."
The project may also be a sign of the change underway in the ultra-conservative kingdom ruled according to sharia (Islamic law).
Saudi Arabia is expected to record
surplus of 57 billion dollars in 2005 on the back of surging crude prices, and its economy will grow by 6.5 percent this year, according to ministry of finance forecasts.
is under increasing pressure to spread the wealth, create new jobs and provide better education for its 17-million citizens, about half of whom are under 18.
The project is expected to create some 500,000 jobs, Emaar said.
The Saudi government has earmarked a 55 million square metre (590 million square foot) greenfield land and a 35-kilometre (22 mile) shoreline for the project which will include a new port, an industrial park, a financial district, a 3,500-unit residential and hotel
complex and even an 18-hole golf course.
There will also be a facility to serve up to half-a-million pilgrims arriving by sea each year on their way to the holy city of Mecca.
The new port will be "similar in size to the world's top 10 ports
, such as Rotterdam, that would allow even the world's largest super vessels to drop anchor
," Emaar said.
Emaar, majority owned by the Dubai government, is one of the world's largest property developers, boasting a 7.7-billion-dollar asset base.
It has more than 15 major projects underway in Dubai, including what is projected to be the world's tallest skyscraper, and has announced over the past four months projects worth about 10 billion dollars in Egypt