The International Monetary Fund has endorsed an ambitious Saudi Arabian plan to build a $500-billion business and industrial zone extending into Jordan and Egypt, saying the project could benefit the whole region.
The plan to develop the zone, known as NEOM, could stimulate trade and allow the Middle East to capitalize on its location as a bridge between Asia and Europe.
The NEOM scheme, unveiled by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman at an international conference in Riyadh last week, would develop industries such as energy and water, biotechnology, food, advanced manufacturing and entertainment in a 26,500-sq-km (10,230-sq-mile) zone with its own laws and judicial system.
Riyadh has indicated that much of the huge cost of the zone will be borne by the Saudi government, but a large, though undisclosed, portion would come from domestic and international private investors.
Governments in the region are starting to look outwards again after having spent the past five or six years focused on coping with political instability and a plunge in oil prices.
An IMF (International Monetary Fund) study published on Tuesday suggested the Middle East and North African region could add 1 percentage point to its average economic growth over five years by participating more actively in international trade and removing barriers to cross-border commerce.