It is the first time ever that Ukraine has offered to import Saudi oil as part of its move to diversify its sources of oil supply, which was mainly from Russia. The new direction in its foreign and economic policy has come in the wake of the recent elections in Ukraine, whose new President Viktor Yushchenko has pledged to follow an independent foreign policy.
In an interview with Arab News, Oleg Todchuk, head of Trade and Economic Mission at the Ukrainian Embassy, said Ukraine's offer to bolster economic and political relations was extended during a landmark meeting that Prime Minister Julia Tymoshenko had in Kiev recently with a Saudi delegation led by Abdulrahman Al-Jeraisy, chairman of the Council of Saudi Chambers of Commerce and Industry.
He said the meeting was significant, since it resulted in the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) for the establishment of Saudi-Ukrainian Business Council. "The Ukrainian chapter of the Joint Business Council (JBC) was set up last year. Very soon there will be a Saudi chapter of the JBC," Todchuk said.
He added that such a step could go a long way in giving a boost to bilateral trade that stood at $ 244.1 million last year. Saudi exports to that country — mainly chemical and petrochemical products — were valued at $2.5 million. Ukraine's exports to the Kingdom, worth $241.6 million, comprised barley, steel and construction material.
According to the diplomat, the main bottleneck in the trade imbalance is the absence of full-fledged diplomatic relations between the two countries. While Ukraine has its own embassy in Riyadh, the Kingdom does not have diplomatic presence in that country, which is served by Saudi embassy in Moscow. The absence of direct diplomatic contacts between them, together with the lack of direct air links between the two capitals, has hamstrung the growth of bilateral trade, besides jacking up the cost of imports and exports in both directions. "Both sides are aware of the problem and recognize the need to remedy the situation. This message was also conveyed to the Saudi business delegation," Todchuk said.
Asked about the measures that Ukraine is willing to adopt to boost Saudi exports to his country, he quoted the Ukrainian prime minister as saying that Saudi Arabia could set up a trade center in Kiev exclusively to promote its trade with her country.
The scope for expanding bilateral relations was enormous. "Very few are aware of the fact that Dnepr launch vehicle was used for propelling Saudi satellites into space. Dnepr LV launch services are provided by the Ukrainian-Russian company Kosmotras."
Todchuk cited the launch by Ukrainian-built rocket-launchers of Saudi satellites as an example of Ukraine's strength in high technology in space, besides aviation (mid-size passenger aircraft) and oil and gas transportation across far-flung areas. "We are also very strong in the foodprocessing sector and could help the Kingdom in import substitution, especially in the manufacture of processed food that is currently being imported."
Another area of interest is higher education, particularly medicine, engineering and space technology, where Saudi students would be most welcome, he added.
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