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Apple Inc. logo. Image Credit: AP

Saudi Arabia has opened its first integrated special-economic zone in Riyadh and is citing iPhone maker Apple Inc. as among the first high-profile tenants.

The area, built on 3 million square meters near the capital's airport, is seeking to lure the world's largest international firms to the kingdom with exemptions from certain taxes and labor regulations, according to Transport and Logistics Minister Saleh Al-Jasser.

Apple will base a regional distribution centre there and may undertake activities ranging from assembly line and repair work to light manufacturing in the future, the minister said.

"We are already engaged with 20 other multinationals, some of which we're at a very advanced stage of negotiations," Al-Jasser said in an interview. The focus will be on industries such as technology, telecommunications, aviation and pharmaceutical, he said.

New industries

The world's biggest oil exporter is looking to attract foreign talent and convince companies to move regional headquarters to Riyadh to help build new industries that would employ its largely young population.

The kingdom has emerged from the coronavirus pandemic with a fast-improving balance sheet thanks to a rebound in crude prices, and is now stepping up efforts to diversify away from oil.

The special economic zone, which will be connected to the rest of the kingdom by rail, is intended to boost air-freight fivefold and help meet the objectives of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's agenda  — called Vision 2030 — which seeks to open up the economy.