Opportunities in the Sultanate of Oman

The centuries old friendship of the UK and Oman was extolled by high-level speakers from both countries at the business event, Opportunities in the Sultanate of Oman, held at the Chamber on 5th March 2020.

The event attracted upwards of a hundred potential investors, exporters and business executives with an interest in doing business with Oman.

Mr Abdeslam El-Idrissi, Deputy CEO & Secretary General, ABCC, chairing the event, first introduced Mr Bandar Reda, ABCC CEO & Secretary General, who formally welcomed the panel of distinguished speakers and audience.

Mr Reda stressed that the UK and Oman had enjoyed a friendship going back centuries and extolled the new and emerging opportunities.

Dignitaries in attendance included H E Mr Ibrahim Mohieldeen, Ambassador for the League of Arab States in London.

Mrs Rita Massoud, Senior Manager, ABCC, introduced ABES 2020, the Chamber’s flagship summit and expo to be held on 1st July.

She stated that the Chamber was looking to replicate the success of ABES 2019 and remarked on the large delegation from Oman at last year’s event. Urging people to sign up for the event, she explained the attractive options available for delegates and sponsors.

Conducting a straw poll of the audience, Mr El-Idrissi established that a large proportion of the attendees had made visits to Oman. He stressed the growing importance of Oman to the UK in the post-Brexit period.

H E Mr Qais Mohammed Al Yousef, Chairman, Oman Chamber of Commerce & Industry, said that the present moment was a unique one with the passing of the late Sultan, H M Qaboos bin Said, opening up a new era.

He stressed that the historic UK-Oman relationship was about more than business but was based on friendship, as shown by the huge number of condolences that the UK had sent to Oman during the mourning for the Sultan. A large official delegation from the UK had also visited Oman during this period, which was highly appreciated by Omanis.

The strength of the UK presence in Oman was evident from the 50% contribution made by UK investors to Oman’s total FDI.

While welcoming the high-level of investment, the OCCI Chairman pointed out that there was much room for it to increase given that the majority of FDI was channelled into the oil and gas sector. As the Oman economy took steps to diversify, new opportunities for investors were emerging in the growing non-oil sectors.

Oman was taking many initiatives to make the market more attractive to investors such as new laws to promote investment which allowed 100% foreign ownership in many sectors and adoption of Public-Private partnership (PPP) which was a better model for risk sharing.

H E Mr Al Yousef highlighted the key sectors that Oman was seeking to develop through partnership with investors: these were, logistics, tourism, manufacturing, mining and food & fisheries.

In addition, other established sectors such as financial services could offer significant opportunities to the investor and in this regard, he said, there was great potential for the UK in the growth of fin-tech in Oman.

The Omani Chamber chairman pointed out that Oman’s new roadmap focused on developing the private sector and improving the ease of doing business which would make the country more attractive to investors in future.

He felt that the MoU signed between the OCCI and the ABCC last year laid the basis for closer working together and he looked forward to a possible delegation of British businesses to explore the potential in Oman, which was a hub for trade to Africa.

Lord Astor of Hever, the PM’s Trade Envoy for Oman, paid tribute to the late Sultan of Oman as an inspirational leader who had transformed his country.

Looking to the future, Lord Astor, declared that Oman was assured of the full support of the UK as it implemented its Vision 2040 agenda.

He extolled the strong collaboration between Oman and the UK in different economic activities beyond oil & gas such as financial services, healthcare, education, construction and retail.

The PM’s Trade Envoy mentioned some of the major UK corporations active in the market such as HSBC, Atkins, Petrofac and BAE Systems.

He believed that the new Duqm port and free zone, a flagship mega-project of Oman, presented enormous opportunities for investors and exporters.

The mutual trust between the UK and Oman meant that there was significant potential for deepening cooperation to support the long-term development of Oman.

He foresaw particular opportunities for SMEs in future and emphasised the support available from DIT.

Mr Azzan bin Qassim Al Busaidi, CEO, ITHRAA, described the Omani population as young and entrepreneurial. This was one of the country’s greatest assets as it sought to widen the role of the private sector in the economy.

Other key assets of Oman were its world-class infrastructure, which was the result of major expenditure over many decades, and its strategic location as a transit point for trade with the Asian and African markets where there was huge demand for consumer goods.

Mr Al Busaidi explained how Oman’s Vision 2040 had set clear targets for boosting exports and attracting FDI.

He emphasised the many incentives available to investors in Oman which was a stable, open and innovative market. The country was extremely competitive in terms of costs of labour and rates and English was the language of business.

The ITHRAA CEO concluded by describing the main features of the key sectors where Oman was seeking to attract partners and their potential for growth.

Mr Gareth Stevens, Director, Trade and Investment, Department for International Trade, British Embassy, Muscat, explained the benefits of Oman to potential UK investors and exporters by describing the country as “the Switzerland of the Middle East”.

Oman’s attractiveness was founded on numerous factors including its stable and business friendly environment and historically strong links with the UK.

The strong commitment to strengthening trade with the UK meant that major opportunities were available, Mr Stevens said, urging UK companies to look more closely at the market potential.

The DIT official was encouraged by the country’s determination to implement its 2040 Vision and the adoption of a new foreign capital investment law, which led him to believe that there had never been a better time to do business in Oman.

The final speaker, Mr Jonathan Dowell, Export Finance Manager, UK Export Finance, offered some practical advice and support to companies thinking of entering the Omani market. He explained the range of loans and insurance cover available to UK firms seeking to win export contracts in Oman.

Mr Dowell pointed out that UKEF operated similar to a bank but filled a gap in the market when private banks were not able to take a risk on a project.

Support was available to large corporations and SMEs as long as there was a UK element in any project.

He concluded by citing some of the recent successful projects that UKEF had supported in Oman that involved Liwa Plastics, Duqm oil refinery and a hospitals project.

The contributions of all the speakers were received positively by the audience who were keen to ask questions to obtain elaboration on numerous matters such as where 100% ownership was applicable, opportunities in vocational training, digitalisation and technology and access to healthcare for people working in the country.