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Interview

Aramco IPO to spur model economic reform: Saudi foreign minister

Prince Faisal sees upsides to less than $2 trillion valuation

Formally known as the Saudi Arabian Oil Co., Saudi Aramco is one of the world's largest oil and gas company.   © Reuters

TOKYO -- Saudi Arabia's campaign to curb its dependence on oil and diversify its economy "can be an example" for other oil-rich neighbors, the kingdom's foreign minister said Friday. 

The country is moving forward with what could be a record-breaking initial public offering of state-run oil giant Saudi Aramco to raise funds for new economic measures under Vision 2030, Saudi Arabia's economic reform initiative spearheaded by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Saudi Arabian Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan discussed the IPO plans and Saudi Arabia's diplomatic priorities in an exclusive interview with Nikkei in Tokyo.

Stock prices under the IPO proposal will place Aramco's market valuation under the $2 trillion target set by the crown prince. But "we are still convinced that the company is worth $2 trillion," Prince Faisal said.

"A decision was made that it would be listed in the Saudi market and primarily for Saudi investors, and that therefore a discounted valuation was acceptable," he said, adding that the proposed prices will provide a potential upside for the Saudi public.

He said the IPO will make Aramco more transparent for Saudi citizens and overseas players alike. "We believed that increasing the international standard of governance will also help us drive our economic diversification forward as well."

Prince Faisal bin Farhan, Saudi Arabia's foreign minister, stressed that international investors remain extremely interested in the kingdom. (Photo by Hiroshi Endo)

When asked about a potential secondary listing in Tokyo, "everything is possible," he said.

The kingdom suffered a blow to its global image after Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi was killed at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul last year. But Prince Faisal pointed to the Future Investment Initiative conference hosted in Riyadh in October, which he said was attended by 6,500 influential investors from around the world, as a sign the country was not being isolated from the international community.

"I think that shows very clearly that global business is interested in the kingdom and wants to do business with the kingdom, and we are of course happy to do business with the world."

Prince Faisal is attending a meeting of Group of 20 foreign ministers in Nagoya on Friday and Saturday. Saudi Arabia will chair the G-20 next year, continuing discussions on digital taxes and other topics.

The prince also identified three other topics Saudi Arabia plans to focus on. First is "empowering all elements of society," including women, young people and entrepreneurs, he said.

"The other key we will be focusing on is environmental challenges, whether that is dealing with global warming, whether it's dealing with the effects of water scarcity, whether it's deforestation," he said. The third will be free trade.

Meanwhile, Prince Faisal criticized a recent decision by the U.S. to no longer consider Israeli settlements on Palestinian lands to be illegal. "It's not helpful. It's not productive," he said. "It only increases the likelihood that we will not find a resolution to the conflict."

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