Interview: Azzan Al Busaidi

How would you assess the growth of non-oil exports in the country, and to what extent will special economic zones play a role?

AZZAN AL BUSAIDI: As of 2019 Oman exported OR3.7bn ($9.6bn) of non-oil exports annually, compared to OR175m ($454.5m) in 1997. Omani products that are exported find their way easily to markets in the US, UK, GCC and even Australia. Oman exports to more than 130 countries around the world. Many of these goods are manufactured in industrial estates across Oman.

In regard to free zones, those in Sohar, Salalah and Al Mazunah play a major role in the export of non-oil goods. The Sohar Freezone is known for exporting heavy-industry-related goods for the downstream processing of metal and plastic, and today you can find different products besides those deriving from these two materials. Salalah Free Zone is important because it is a base for large companies that export primarily to the US. Its location is on an international maritime trade route that is close to Salalah Port.

Meanwhile, the Duqm Special Economic Zone covers an area of almost 2000 sq km. The Port of Duqm is almost complete and is set to commence operations very soon. A dry dock is already in operation and a number of industries are placing themselves in the special economic zone, including the Duqm refinery, which is set to stimulate the heavy industry, downstream energy and petrochemicals sectors tremendously.

What strategic partners and agreements is Oman associating with inside and outside of the GCC?

AL BUSAIDI: According to foreign direct investment (FDI) stock in Oman, our largest partner is the UK, which contributes more than 50% of FDI. Regionally, Saudi Arabia is picking up as one of our largest trading partners due to its proximity and ongoing infrastructure projects that are easing connectivity between the two countries. This is followed by partners that include the US, Kuwait, Qatar, the UAE and India, many of whom Oman has a solid trade history with. China is also an important investment partner, especially within Duqm. Ithraa participated in the China-Arab States Expo 2017 in Yinchuan, where we promoted Duqm’s attractive investment offering, namely projects that have drawn sizeable investment from the UK, the US, India and Kuwait, particularly in the refinery.

We are members of several organisations, such as the World Trade Organisation, and have many agreements, including a free trade agreement (FTA) with the US; the Greater Arab Free Trade Area, which allows access to most Omani-made products to around 20 Arab states; the European Free Trade Association-GCC FTA; and an FTA with Singapore. There are also several other FTA agreements in the making with the EU, China and India, for example. We also have some bilateral trade protection and attraction agreements, as well as double taxation avoidance agreements with many countries.

In what ways are government initiatives supporting the development of the local workforce?

AL BUSAIDI: Manufacturing companies are currently working to sustain an adequate local workforce in line with the government’s Omanisation targets. Although this may be challenging for local companies, Omanisation is certainly placing our local human resources in a better position. In line with Vision 2040, we are continuing to ensure that our human resources and capital are upscaling in line with international standards in order to meet the requirements of both domestic and international businesses. Local human capital is part of our unique selling point, as our population is young, dynamic, multicultural and multilingual. Furthermore, they have access to free health care, education and vocational training. In addition, the establishment of the National Training Fund is helping to bridge the gap between the skills the population acquires from our current education system and the skills companies in the private sector frequently require them to have.