Interview: Ali bin Masoud Al Sunaidy

How does OPAZ contribute to wider efforts to reform the economy, and where do you see the most promising opportunities for investment?

ALI BIN MASOUD AL SUNAIDY: OPAZ is working to attract industrial projects to its affiliated special economic zones, free zones and industrial zones. There are 14 existing zones with projects exceeding OR15.2bn ($39.5bn) that provide fully serviced lands with multi-layer service corridors.

Similarly, OPAZ is continuously working towards clustering related industrial activities. One such example is the pharmaceutical and medical supplies cluster within Salalah Free Zone and Raysut Industrial City. The latest addition is Philex Pharmaceuticals, whose facility is expected to produce 1bn tablets and 1bn capsules per year when full production commences.

Other strategic projects in the pipeline include a Jindal Shadeed Iron and Steel project and the recently signed deal with Mitsui and Kobe Steel to produce low-CO₂ iron metallics in Duqm. Both projects will initially operate with natural gas and then transition to hydrogen, as well as renewable solar and wind energy. Consequently, other zones will become home to green steel and alloys to export to international markets, thus developing an ecosystem with the capacity to host major industrial steel and aluminium players.

Meanwhile, OPAZ is in the design stage of Al Dhahira Special Economic Zone, located some 20 km from the Omani-Saudi border. Furthermore, a new economic zone is under study in the wilaya (province) of Muhadha, situated in the Al Buraimi Governorate.

Which specific reforms do you expect to lead to greater volumes of international investment in special economic zones and free zones?

AL SUNAIDY: OPAZ is continuously upgrading its onestop-shop related activities for investors within all zones. We have engaged with International Development Ireland to carry out a three-year consultancy and knowledge transfer with the aim of upgrading OPAZ’s capabilities to become more customer oriented and to provide investor-focused solutions to attract more foreign direct investment. Using this approach will allow OPAZ and its affiliated zones to provide faster responses to investor requirements. This is where the digitalisation of internal procedures comes into play. Up to 80 services are provided digitally in the Special Economic Zone at Duqm (SEZAD), and the zone is being used as a test case to raise the standard of digital services in the affiliated zones.

Where do you see opportunities in hydrogen, and how can knowledge transfer be ensured?

AL SUNAIDY: The development of green hydrogen and the subsequent conversion to green ammonia for export requires access to land, renewable energy – within or close to economic zones – and seawater. Incentive packages and utility corridors, as well as access to an international port for exports, are also necessary. Duqm meets these criteria, which makes it the preferred choice for making green hydrogen.

In the coming years, Sohar Free Zone will also have access to green energy from the power stations located in and around Ibri, while Salalah will have access to renewables from the designated areas in Thamreet. Meanwhile, both free zones can produce blue hydrogen from their gas network interconnections.

There are several projects in the pipeline, such as HYPORT Duqm, a strategic facility that will produce green hydrogen and green ammonia. Approximately 1.3 GW of combined wind turbine and solar panel installed capacity will be sourced from SEZAD’s dedicated renewable energy area. Additionally, the Green Hydrogen and Chemicals joint venture between UK-based ACME Group and Norway’s Scatec will be developed in SEZAD. In the broader renewable energy segment, OPAZ is redesigning the masterplans for Duqm and Sohar to ensure that existing infrastructure is ready to accommodate forthcoming downstream products.