IMF endorses Saudi Arabia plan to build $500bn business zone

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has endorsed a Saudi Arabian plan to build a $500-billion business and industrial zone extending into Jordan and Egypt. Riyadh will need to balance the huge cost of the zone and other economic projects with its drive to cut a big state budget deficit caused by low oil prices, Jihad Azour, head of the IMF’s Middle East department, told Reuters. However, the plan - known as NEOM - could stimulate trade and allow the Middle East to capitalize on its location as a bridge between Asia and Europe, Azour said. NEOM would develop industries such as energy and water, biotechnology, food, advanced manufacturing, and entertainment in a 26,500-sq-km zone.