Leading Arab business men yesterday bluntly warned American multinational companies that unless they share modern technology and know-how with the Arab world. Arab countries will rely on Japan and Europe to help built a new industrial base in the Middle East.
More than 100 private-sector and public-sector business executives from 10 Arab states and about 600 American businessmen attended a conference here sponsored by the U.S. Arab Chamber of Commerce Inc. The Arab leaders said future relationships with the U.S. based merely on an expansion of American exports would not be enough.
And the theme that the United States would have to shift attitudes on other fronts to make a reality of the so-called "special relationship" with Saudi Arabia was laid down by Prince Mohamed Faisal, nephew of King Khaled, and the grandson of Ibn Saud, the founding king of Saudi Arabia.
In a luncheon speech, Faisal complained that there is "an overwhelming misrepresentation of Arabs as a people and as a culture (in the United States). We have been presented as ogress, irresponsible, avaricious, and holding the world at the point of a gun. As an Arab, I resent it."
Faisal also said that "a true partnership" with the U.S. would require elimination of "many other things," a reference to American regulations on how U.S. firms are supposed to respond to the Arab boycott of companies dealing with Israel.
Officials said that they "can live with" whatever reduction in American exports to the Arab world the boycott complication causes. But a Saudi spokesman argued that, if the U.S. really believes it has "A special relationship" with his country, it should eliminate all barriers to trade with the Arab nations.
The businessmen ducked the direct question whether they would seek business here with firms that sell to Israel. The typical response was that they would do business with anyone, within the "framework of the laws" of their own countries.
Like other Arabs, Faisal expressed some concern about the long slide in the value of the dollar last year, which has cut Arab oil revenues by some 20 percent. But in response to a question, he indicated doubt that the Saudis would be interested in denominating oil sales in some other currency.
"We're stuck with the dollar," he said with a smile, estimating that the Saudis own about $40 billion in U.S. dollar investments, of total Arab investments here of about $22 billion. Other spokesmen put the total Arab investment in the U.S. as high as $65 billion, but conceded no precise figures are available.
The "demand" for a sharing of technology erupt near the start of what the sponsors labeled the most prestigious conference of Arab businessmen ever held in the U.S. After initial discussions here, the delegates will be in Washington tomorrow and Friday, then journey to Houston, Chicago, and Los Angeles.
American officials of the conference had been pushing the idea of expanded exports as an offset to huge imports of Arab oil. Ruddick Lawrence, president of the U.S. -Arab Chamber of Commerce, pointed out that the U.S. trade imbalance with the Arab world in 1977 was about $10 billion.
Because U.S. exports account for only 10 percent to 15 percent of Arab imports, the goal ought to be a doubling of American exports over the next five years, Lawrence said. "Our two economies are compatible; think of the jobs that would create," he said.
But Dr. Burhan Dajani, who heads the General Union of Arab Chambers of Commerce, started the discussion on technology by referring to a General Motors Corp. decision to forego construction of anassembly plant in Saudi Arabia.
"It's okay for us to buy good American vehicles," Dajani said. "But we've reached the stage where we want not only the vehicles, but technology." Construction of an assembly plant somewhere in the Arab world "would be a breakthrough, and convincing to us that there is a serious (intention) on the American part of looking for a true partnership with the Arab world," He contended.
But one of the leading figures of the conference, Sheikh Abdul Aziz Al Sager, president of the Kuwaiti Chamber of Commerce, put the question on a basis of future economic survival.
"We in the Arab world all know that our oil will not last forever," Al Sager said. "We cannot forever depend on income from oil. We must obtain other resources, and one way is to industrialize. That is why the transfer of technology is so important to us."