Former US Secretary of State James Baker welcomes Saudi Aramco IPO plans

James Baker says Aramco IPO could help deal with unemployment, budget deficits

James Baker

Former U.S. Secretary of State James Baker says “semi-revolutionary” ideas like the Aramco IPO could help the kingdom weather weak oil prices. REUTERS/Tami Chappell photo.

HOUSTON, May 10 (Reuters) – Saudi Arabia needs “fundamental change” and a public sale of shares in Saudi Aramco, the national oil company, may be part of the solution, former U.S. Secretary of State James Baker said on Tuesday.

Baker, who served under President George H.W. Bush and joined a U.S. delegation to meet Saudi Arabia’s new king last year, told a gathering of oil industry dealmakers that changes like the Aramco IPO could help the kingdom address unemployment and budget deficits amid weak oilprices.

“These things are semi-revolutionary ideas, but who’s to say they’re not what the doctor ordered?” Baker said at a conference hosted by the Association of International Petroleum Negotiators. “There does need to be some fundamental change with the way things are done in Saudi Arabia.”

Besides the Aramco IPO, Baker, revered among some Gulf Arabs for his role in orchestrating an alliance against Iraq’s Saddam Hussein in the early 1990s, did not specify policies that could bring beneficial change to Saudi Arabia.

Saudi Arabia, the world’s largest crude exporter, replaced its energy minister last weekend as part of a major economic shakeup. But many industry observers expect the kingdom to continue its “survival-of-the-fittest” strategy aimed at keeping output high to drive higher-cost producers out of the market.

The changes come as Saudi leaders seek to reduce their economy’s dependence on oil amid a rout that has caused prices fall around 60 percent since June 2014. A partial Aramco IPO, which could value the world’s largest oil company at more than $2 trillion through the sale of a 5 percent stake, is part of that strategy.

“They’ve got this huge workforce that they can’t employ… and of course they’re running some substantial budget deficits now,” Baker said in a rare public discussion of current Middle East politics.

He added that the kingdom was unlikely to limit production in order to stabilize prices, particularly after members of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, along with Russia, failed to agree to a freeze at a meeting in Doha last month. Saudi tensions with regional rival Iran scuttled the deal.

“The powers that be in Saudi Arabia said ‘That’s not our policy,'” Baker said. “I don’t think they’d be pursuing that policy if they could not survive it.”

(Reporting by Luc Cohen; Editing by Diane Craft and Dan Grebler)

Posted in: News

Post a Comment