Saudi Arabia, UN member states urge global plan of action to ensure sustainable growth

Time: 01 September 2020

JEDDAH:  Saudi Arabia and other UN member states have called for joint global action to ensure sustainable growth for a better and secure future for generations to come.

To mark its 75th anniversary, the UN launched a global dialogue initiative UN75 earlier this year. It aims to increase international cooperation through dialogue and to come up with innovative ideas for sustainable development.

As part of the initiative, the Saudi Green Building Forum (SGBF) organized a discussion under the auspices of the King Abdulaziz Center for National Dialogue (KACND) and the UN.

Speakers at the forum called for global efforts to fight the ongoing coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic and to take measures to boost the global economy.

They were of the view that fighting these challenges is not possible for a single entity; it needs concerted efforts of all stakeholders.

Honorary guests included Dr. Mohammed Al-Issa, secretary-general of the Muslim World League.
Highlighting the Saudi efforts against COVID-19, he said: “Calamities and disasters impact everyone but societies that are more vulnerable must be at the center of global attention and care.”

He stressed the need for local, regional, and international cooperation to ensure a secure future and growth.

Al-Issa said the Kingdom not only took effective measures to fight COVID-19 at the local level but it also generously contributed to the World Health Organization’s global efforts to check the spread of the virus and help people in need around the world.

Faisal Al-Fadl, the SGBF founder, said this global dialogue hopes to motivate decision-makers and young entrepreneurs to localize recommendations and propositions presented by experts.

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Saudi economy to grow at faster rate next year

Time: 22 July 2020

Low public debt and a strong credit rating have given the Kingdom a cushion against external shocks. (Shutterstock)
  • Moody’s expects growth to be at double the 2015-2019 rate

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s low debt and robust balance sheet are among its key credit strengths according to a report from Moody’s, the credit ratings agency.

A large stock of proved hydrocarbon reserves with low extraction costs and prudent financial system regulation also support the sovereign credit profile, it said.

But significant challenges remain for the country that has been hit by the double blow of the pandemic at a time of weak oil prices.

“The Saudi government has made some initial progress in its ambitious and comprehensive reform plans to diversify fiscal revenue streams and the economy away from hydrocarbons,” said Alexander Perjessy, a Moody’s vice president. “However, their full implementation will be challenging and their positive impact will only be felt over the longer term.”

Still, the economy is expected to grow at an average rate of around 3 percent during 2021-24, which is nearly double the average during 2015-19 (1.6 percent) but lower than the 4.1 percent growth rate recorded during 2005-14.

Moody’s expects real GDP to decline by 4.5 percent in 2020 and higher fiscal deficits in the coming years that will increase government debt above 35 percent of GDP from 22.8 percent at the end of 2019.

The swift introduction of stimulus measures have helped the Saudi financial sector respond to the coronavirus pandemic, Oxford Business Group (OBG) and Riyad Bank said in a separate report published on Tuesday.

Long-term investments in health infrastructure in the Kingdom, combined with favorable demographics and firm economic foundations, have also positioned Saudi Arabia well to tackle the challenges presented by the pandemic according to the report.

“Low public debt, a strong credit rating and high foreign exchange reserves provided the Kingdom with a cushion against external shocks, including the decline in global demand for oil and other commodities,” said OBG CEO Andrew Jeffreys.

“While the authorities have had to accommodate these temporary internal shortfalls in revenue, the country’s outlook for recovery is bright, supported by the competitive cost of oil production and an abundance of reserves.”

Riyad Bank’s CEO Tareq Alsadhan, said that banks in the Kingdom had faced the pandemic from an advantageous position, pushed by consecutive years of solid performances.

“Looking ahead, industry is expected to play its part by adopting a prudent approach that balances risk with the need to support the economy,” he said.

Sandeep Srivastava, a partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), said that the Saudi economy in 2020 is expected to contract less than other major G20 economies.

While a full economic recovery is still faltering in many countries a recent survey PwC survey found that 72 percent of chief financial officers in the Middle East expect it will take three months or more for businesses to return to “business as usual.”

“As organizations have increasingly realized the effects of COVID-19, we have seen a consistent lengthening in expected recovery timelines,” he said.

“While the contraction (this year) is likely short term in nature, it is important to recognize there has been a significant impact on the economy, businesses, and people.”

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Saudi Arabia spends more than $57 billion on coronavirus stimulus

09/07/20

People working for affected businesses also benefited from the initiatives. (AFP)

  • SAMA announced a SR50 billion package to support the private sector on March 14.

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia spent more than SR214 billion ($57 billion) on 142 initiatives to tackle the impact of the coronavirus in the Kingdom, the Saudi Press Agency reported.

Initial measures undertaken by the government to provide a buffer were followed up by a royal decree this month to extend the support to the public and private sectors and to investors.

They included the suspension of some labor-related fines, wage protection measures and the postponement of the collection of customs duties on imports.

More than 650,000 people directly benefited from the package of measures aimed at individuals, according to the Ministry of Finance’s Communications and Financial Knowledge Center.

Businesses also received help in the form of extra time to file tax and zakat returns, while families on low incomes were given support in sectors that were hard hit such as ride-hailing transport services. About SR9 billion was allocated to more than 1.2 million citizens working for businesses affected by the pandemic.

In its Policy Responses to COVID-19 Tracker, the International Monetary Fund notes that Saudi Arabia has been hit by two shocks — “the spread of COVID-19 and the sharp decline in oil prices. Government policy is responding to both these developments.”

The Kingdom also implemented a number of fiscal measures with the Saudi Arabian Monetary Authority (SAMA) reducing its policy rates twice in March. SAMA announced a SR50 billion package to support the private sector on March 14, aimed particularly at SME’s by boosting banking sector liquidity.

The regulator instructed banks to delay repayment of loans for all Saudi employees by three months without extra fees and to provide finance to customers who lost their jobs.

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Saudi Arabia’s non-oil economy grows at fastest pace in six years

02/03/20

Gulf oil exporting economies have started 2020 with an uncertain outlook. (File/AFP)
  • Most of the increase in output was driven by the retail, hotel and financial sectors
  • GDP growth to 0.3 percent according to data released on Sunday by Saudi Arabia’s General Authority for Statistics

LONDON: Saudi Arabia’s non-oil economy grew by 3.3 percent last year, its fastest rate since 2014, even as the energy sector contracted and slowed overall growth.

Most of the increase in output was driven by the retail, hotel and financial sectors, which are attracting increased investment as the Kingdom moves away from dependence on oil revenues. The oil sector declined by 3.6 percent in 2019 dragging overall GDP growth to 0.3 percent according to data released on Sunday by Saudi Arabia’s General Authority for Statistics.

“The weakness in the real headline GDP growth was due to the construction in the oil sector,” Monica Malik, chief economist at Abu Dhabi Commercial Bank, told Arab News.

“Positively, non-oil activity expanded at the fastest pace since 2014 thanks to a strengthening in non-oil growth. We believe that higher investment growth will remain a key support factor for non-oil activity in 2020 with greater progress with key projects.”

FASTFACT

SR2.97

Saudi GDP at current prices amounted to SR2.974 trillion in 2019.

Saudi GDP at current prices amounted to SR2.974 trillion in 2019 – up by about 0.8 percent from a year earlier.

Crude petroleum and natural gas accounted for some 27.4 percent of the Kingdom’s economic output, followed by government services at 19.4 percent. Wholesale and retail trade, restaurants and hotels made up the third largest contributor to GDP, accounting for a 10 percent share.

Weaker oil demand globally hit the Kingdom’s exports in 2019 which were down by about 10.4 percent in value over the year to about SR1.05 trillion.

Gulf oil exporting economies have started 2020 with an uncertain outlook as oil markets again come under pressure from the spread of the coronavirus beyond China – hitting demand for crude oil and aviation fuel as people stay at home and factories reduce production.

Still, Saudi Arabia is hoping its plans to boost gas production in the Kingdom could help offset the impact from lower oil prices.

The country expects the recently disclosed Jafurah field to be a major contributor to GDP growth over the coming decades.

Holding an estimated 200 trillion cubic feet of wet gas, it could generate $8.6 billion a year in income and contribute $20 billion a year to the Kingdom’s GDP.

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Saudi Aramco announces regulatory approval of Al-Jafurah gas field

Time: 22 February, 2020

Saudi Aramco on Saturday announced the regulatory approval of the development of the Al-Jafurah unconventional gas field in the Eastern Province. (Saudi Aramco)
  • Aramco expects field’s production to commence early 2024
  • Also expect field to produce 550,000 barrels per day

RIYADH: Saudi Aramco on Saturday announced the regulatory approval of the development of the Al-Jafurah unconventional gas field in the Eastern Province, the largest non-associated gas field in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to date.

A statement from the company said the field development plan was subject to usual governance process.

On the occasion, the chairman of Saudi Aramco’s board of directors, Yasser bin Othman Al-Rumayyan, expressed his thanks to Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman.

Al-Rumayyan said the development of Al-Jafurah is expected to enhance the company’s position in the global energy sector, and help achieve its goal of being the world’s pre-eminent integrated energy and chemicals company.

Saudi Aramco president and CEO, Amin H. Nasser, also expressed his gratitude and thanks to the crown prince and to Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman bin Abdulaziz, Minister of Energy for their support.

Al-Jafurah has a length of 170km and a width of 100km, and the volume of gas resources in the field is estimated at 200 trillion cubic feet of rich raw gas, which will provide the petrochemical and metallic industries.

Aramco expects the field’s production, which will commence early 2024, to reach approximately 2.2 billion standard cubic feet per day of sales gas by 2036, with an associated approximately 425 million standard cubic feet per day of ethane, representing about 40 percent of current production. Aramco also expects the field to produce approximately 550 thousand barrels per day of gas, both liquid and condensate.

The company also plans to develop Al-Jafurah in accordance with the highest environmental standards and expects it will have a positive financial impact in the long term, which will start to show on the company’s financial results in phases concurrent to the field’s development.

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Saudi Arabia reaps $53bn dividend from emerging market status

21/02/20

Saudi Arabia and the broader GCC region are tapping into emerging markets in more ways than one. (Shutterstock)

The country finalized its entry into the JP Morgan suite of emerging market (EM) indices
In September 2019, Saudi Arabia reached an important milestone in its Saudi Vision 2030 reform plan, which aims to diversify the Kingdom’s economy away from its petrochemical revenue base.
The country finalized its entry into the JP Morgan suite of emerging market (EM) indices. It was the finale in a series of announcements by the major indexes, including MSCI, S&P and FTSE, confirming that Saudi Arabia met their inclusion criteria.
This is a testimony to the work of The Capital Markets Authority and Saudi Arabia’s stock exchange, Tadawul, which have driven the effort to modernize the Kingdom’s capital markets infrastructure and make it more investor friendly.
Saudi’s inclusion as an EM allows its entry to ETF’s, opening the country to billions of dollars-worth of outside investment, which would be otherwise closed to it.
An example, $1.9 trillion tracks the MSCI EM Index alone of which 80 percent is active and 20 percent passive. Given this, Saudi Arabia’s 2.8 percent country weighting represents an additional $53 billion in foreign capital flows to the country.
Looking into 2020, there are several considerations investors should bear in mind. Foremost among these are oil prices and a concurrent slowdown in growth, regional geopolitical tensions and — a potential boon for investors — the rise of fintech in the region.
Oil prices have swung between $55 and $75 a barrel this year against a backdrop of slowing global growth, trade tensions and geopolitical risks. Steep oil production cuts — undertaken in a bid to push up prices — have acted as a further drag on growth, in addition to weak external demand.
As a result, Saudi gross domestic product (GDP) growth is forecast to slow from 2.4% percent in 2018 to 0.2 percent this year. Across the GCC as a whole, GDP is expected to decelerate to 0.7 percent from 2 percent in 2018.
The region’s volatile geopolitics was highlighted in September when drone attacks targeted Saudi Arabia’s oil industry. Indeed, a recent “Future of Wealth” report by UBS, which canvassed investor opinion from around the world found that 83 percent of investors in the UAE), one of the GCC’s six members, think geopolitics is driving markets more than business fundamentals.
Despite the challenging geopolitical backdrop, globally, investors in the UAE are most optimistic about returns in the next decade: 85 percent versus 69 percent in the US, 65 percent in Asia and 72 percent in EMEA.
A potential bright spot for GCC investors heading into 2020 is the rise of the technology sector. Global groups, including Amazon, which chose Bahrain to launch its first data hub in the region, are flocking to service the region’s youthful, tech-savvy populations.
The development of a financial technology ecosystem is also a significant component of Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 economic diversification strategy. It is seen as essential for broadening the country’s investment base and a transition toward a cashless digital economy. To this end, the Saudi Arabian Monetary Authority launched Fintech Saudi in April 2018 to catalyze the development of the industry.
The GCC is also at the forefront of innovation in the digital assets space. Earlier this year, the Abu Dhabi Securities Exchange approved a digital currency trading platform, and the country’s sovereign wealth fund has invested in the venture.
Saudi Arabia and the broader GCC region are tapping into emerging markets in more ways than one. The Kingdom has a very ancient past — the prehistory of the country shows some of the earliest traces of human activity in the world — but its society and business infrastructure are undergoing rapid transformation. From welcoming in outside capital to being an eager adopter in the digital assets and fintech space, whatever lies beyond 2020 for the Kingdom and the region, it promises to be innovative, fast-moving and creative. However, it is vital for the long-term
health of the profession that the innovation and transformative energy in such obvious evidence are underpinned by sound professional standards.
We have a vital role to play in the development of the region’s capital markets via the provision of such standards, and crucially, education. The Kingdom is one of the fastest growing markets in MENA and we welcome its commitment to greater transparency and putting the interests of investors first. We also encourage more countries in the region to promote fairness, transparency and ethics in the investment profession.

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Saudi Arabia now employing 2m people in booming retail sector, says labor minister

Time: 12 February, 2020

Minister of Labor and Social Development Ahmad Al-Rajhi speaks at Retail Leaders Circle MENA Summit in Riyadh. (Photo/ Invest Saudi Twitter page)
  • The Saudi government had given the retail sector considerable attention through numerous economic reforms aimed at supporting the sector

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia was gearing up to meet the future challenges of the booming retail sector which currently employs more than 2 million people in the Kingdom, the country’s labor minister revealed on Tuesday.

Speaking at a major international conference of top retailers, being held in Riyadh, Saudi Minister of Labor and Social Development Ahmad Al-Rajhi said the number of people working in the sector represented a quarter of the total workforce in the country’s private sector.

In his opening keynote speech on the second day of the Retail Leaders Circle (RLC) MENA Summit, the minister said: “The Kingdom currently employs more than 2 million males and females in the retail sector, and they constitute more than 25 percent of the total workforce in the private sector in Saudi Arabia.

“This number of workers has been increasing due to the country’s strong purchasing power and growing consumption rate.”

He added that the Saudi government had given the retail sector considerable attention through numerous economic reforms aimed at supporting the sector and creating an environment that appealed to investors.

Al-Rajhi told delegates that the retail sector faced many challenges in the form of rapid technological advances, digital transformation, and the trend to optimize consumption and provide convenience to customers through e-commerce and smartphone apps.

However, the challenges also presented opportunities for the creation of new jobs, he said, and it was important that the workforce was reskilled or upskilled accordingly to take advantage.

“The ministry is working to develop the necessary legislation for new business patterns and to empower employers and employees to keep pace with technological changes which will be reflected in enabling the retail sector to keep pace with its future requirements to become more effective in achieving the aspirations of the Saudi Vision 2030,” Al-Rajhi added.

He noted that the ministry had established a new state-owned firm, the Future Work Co., to support the developments and make the Kingdom a pioneer in the manufacturing of innovative, unconventional, yet sustainable future business patterns.

“We are working on enabling and developing human capital with the skills and technological advances related to the retail sector to ease their participation in the labor market and have launched apprenticeship programs to bridge the gap between business owners and job seekers.”

The ministry supported the retail sector through a range of initiatives, he said. One example was Qiwa, which had involved the automation and simplification of ministry services provided to the private sector through a unified platform, allowing Qiwa enterprises to issue instant work visas.

Addressing the summit, the minister pointed out that one of the main principles of Vision 2030 was to increase the participation of women in the labor market and qualify them for leadership positions.

The share of women in the labor market had risen to 25 percent in the third quarter of 2019, which was higher than the target of 24 percent expected to be achieved by 2020, he added.

Speaking on the disruptive role of financial technology (fintech) in today’s instant, digital world, Ahmad Alanazi, chief executive officer of STC Pay, said: “In the past, we were innovation takers and adapters, but today we are becoming innovation creators and distributors.”

Praising Vision 2030, Renuka Jagtiani, chairperson of multinational consumer conglomerate Landmark Group, said: “I think 2030 as a vision is amazing and to be a part of it is very exciting.

“As a footprint, we are really proud that we have over 7,000 Saudi co-workers in our business, and 70 percent of them are women.”

Saudi Arabian General Investment Authority (SAGIA) Gov. Ibrahim Al-Omar, in his closing remarks to the summit, said: “Hosting RLC MENA 2020 comes at a time of great change for Saudi Arabia. Our growing economy is unlocking remarkable potential across many sectors and creating jobs within the Kingdom.”

The sixth edition of the summit, which unites powerful industry leaders, innovators and decision-makers to share global insights and best practice, was hosted for the first time in Saudi Arabia and concluded on Tuesday.

Previously held in Dubai, this year’s conference included more than 50 speakers who highlighted ways to shape the future of the retail industry. Day two of the summit took an in-depth look at consumer behavior and explored how retailers could meet customer expectations.

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Saudi crown prince meets WEF president in Riyadh

Time: 12 February, 2020

The Saudi crown prince and the WEF president discussed a number of issues about global and regional developments that are relevant to economic aspects. (SPA)
  • During the meeting, they discussed global and regional developments
  • They also discussed partnership opportunities between the Kingdom and the WEF in Davos

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman met the World Economic Forum (WEF) president Borge Brende in Riyadh Wednesday.

During the meeting, they discussed global and regional developments.

They also discussed partnership opportunities between the Kingdom and the WEF in Davos, Switzerland, in line with Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030.

The meeting was attended by the Saudi Trade and Investment Minister Majid Al-Qasabi, and Finance Minister Mohammed Al-Jadaan, Minister of Industry and Mineral Resources Bandar Al-Khorayef, and Bader Al-Asaker, secretary-general of Misk Foundation.

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Minister: ‘Mind-blowing’ prospects for Saudi mining

25/01/20

  • Bandar Alkhorayef, the Kingdom’s minister for industry, says multibillion riyal program underway

DAVOS: The opportunities presented by Saudi Arabia’s mining industry are “mind-blowing,” the country’s minister for industry and mineral resources told Arab News.

Speaking on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Bandar Alkhorayef — who was appointed to the newly created post last summer — said many of the Kingdom’s mineral resources were “untapped,” and that a multibillion-riyal investment program was now underway to find and exploit new sources of natural wealth.

Saudi Arabia has launched a five-year geological survey of its natural resources, hoping to identify and quantify new wealth in the form of gold, phosphates and other valuable minerals.

Some experts believe that the Kingdom could be a source of precious earth metals valued in hi-tech production processes.

If these are found in significant quantities, it could help stimulate domestic high-tech manufacturing processes in Saudi Arabia.

“The government has linked mining with industry. We’ll export raw materials of course, but we’re more interested in the wider value chain,” Alkhorayef said.

A new mining law will soon be enacted, allowing for a revamped regulatory regime in the mining industry, and new investment in mining infrastructure that could reach tens of billions of riyals, he said, adding: “It shows you how serious we are about the mining industry.”

He joined the government after 26 years at the top of private sector business, with the Alkhorayef Group industrial conglomerate.

“The core of the Vision 2030 strategy is to diversify the economy, and industry and mining are key parts of that. My view as a minister is to be an enabler for the transformation of those sectors,” he said.

A key agency is the Saudi Industrial Development Fund, which aims to distribute funds to the private sector to encourage expansion.

Its available capital has been increased from SR65 billion ($17.3 billion) to $100 billion, and its mandate has changed to cover new industrial and technological sectors, Alkhorayef said.

“Both industry and mining are capital intensive and need long-term stability and visibility. Our aim is to be profitable in order to compensate investors for the risk they take,” he added.

DECODER

Saudi Arabia’s National Industrial Development and Logistics Program

The National Industrial Development and Logistics Program aims to transform the Saudi economy by encouraging investment in economic growth via the creation of special economic zones across the Kingdom.

“Investors always look at risk and return, and they make decisions based on that. Our vision is to open up opportunities for local and foreign investors.”

His ministry is also closely involved in the rollout of the National Industrial Development and Logistics Program, the big strategy to transform the Saudi economy launched a year ago by encouraging investment in economic growth via the creation of special economic zones across the Kingdom.

“It’s going great,” Alkhorayef said. Two zones have already been opened in Riyadh and Jeddah, and there are further projects under review.

He met with investors in the logistics sector while in Davos, and further investment is expected.

He said in Saudi Arabia’s case, the advantages presented to investors by the Kingdom’s natural resources, demographics and geographical location outweigh any geopolitical risk.

Alkhorayef added that it is relatively risk-free in terms of currency fluctuations because of the dollar peg and freedom of capital. “I worked in a global company, so I understand those kinds of risks,” he said.

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Responsible Lending: A risk mitigant of consumer lending

20/01/20

Since 1999, commercial banks operating in Saudi Arabia have expanded their consumer loans to individuals, and as consequence personals loans have risen from SR38.4 billion ($10.2 billion) in 2001 to SR324.7 billion at the end of Q3, 2019 (excluding credit cards loans extended to individuals, totaling SR18.3 billion for the same period).
The main reason for this significant rise in personal loans is the high demand on such loans from retail customers, supported by the service of the Saudi Arabian Riyal Interbank Express (SARIE) which provides direct transfer of salaries to customers’ accounts at banks, guaranteeing these loans to enable them to deduct installments from customers’ accounts on due dates electronically.
The Saudi Arabian Monetary Authority (SAMA) has chosen to control the huge expansion in personal loans by issuing “principles of responsible lending” to encourage lending that meets actual needs of consumers.
The principles aim to enhance financial inclusion by providing adequate financing for all borrowers, while taking into account a reasonable deductible percentage ratio that the consumer can afford.
In addition, the principles focus on ensuring fairness and competitiveness among creditors, making sure credit evaluation procedures and mechanisms are effective and applied to all creditors fairly.
Moreover, the principles dictate that creditors must adopt a clear method for evaluating the creditworthiness of the consumer, to ensure his/her ability to repay. These criteria and procedures must be applied to all borrowers before granting them any type of loan, and must be documented in the customer’s file held by the lending institutions.
Based on a credit study and assessment of a consumer’s financial state, the lending institutions must also identify and classify the regular basic expenses of various borrowers, such as food expenses, and housing and services expenses, which depend on whether the consumer is a homeowner or tenant. They must take into account the health, transportation, communications and insurance expenses of the consumer, which are all affected by their number of dependents.
In my opinion, SAMA has succeeded in encouraging responsible lending by issuing such principles, evidenced by the noticeable shift to asset-based financing, as mortgage lending has grown by 21 percent in the third quarter of 2019 compared to the same period of the previous year, while the personal loans offered by financial institutions to its customers have shown a drop of 1.2 percent for the same period.
I totally agree with Jonathan Westley, a financial analyst, in saying: “Responsible lending is to act in a customer’s best interests, ensuring affordability, transparency of terms and conditions and supporting a borrower if they experience repayment difficulties.”

Talat Zaki Hafiz is an economist and financial analyst.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect Arab News’ point-of-view

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