Interview: Yahya bin Said bin Abdullah Al Jabri,
How will enhancing the infrastructure at ports, airports and industrial facilities help achieve sustainable and comprehensive development in Duqm?
YAHYA BIN SAID ABDULLAH AL JABRI: There is no doubt that enhancing infrastructure across various areas is essential to Duqm’s long-term success. We recognise the value of quality infrastructure and for this reason have invested OR1.8bn ($4.5bn) to improve infrastructure in SEZAD. The proximity of ports, airports and road networks is of high importance. The authority is ambitious and, in cooperation with other companies and investors, aims to make Duqm one of the biggest free economic zones in the Middle East. Projected infrastructure plans include investment in the Oman National Railway, pipelines, and in new roads to connect Oman with Saudi Arabia, the UAE and other GCC countries. Another major development includes investment in refineries and petrochemicals at Duqm. If we stick to our plan and continue to invest in infrastructure, then Duqm will see sustainable and comprehensive development.
What potential exists for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in SEZAD, and how much does this depend on large firms being established first?
AL JABRI: It is obvious that the government is encouraging and promoting entrepreneurship in Oman. It has executed several initiatives to propagate commercially viable SME projects. In order to build a successful SME sector, however, we must first establish a proper ecosystem for smaller companies to grow and develop. At SEZAD, our approach is to work closely with anchor investors, i.e. the larger corporations, and build a strong business foundation. Once these companies are properly established and settled in, we can then create a downstream economy of service providers and SMEs. These in turn can thrive off of industries created by the needs of the larger companies.
One field in particular that is now ripe for SMEs, as well as for more investment from the private sector, is tourism. There is, for example, the Crowne Plaza Duqm, a beachside hotel inspired by Omani architecture that has attracted foreign and domestic tourists. In the near future the oil refinery should also be finished, which will create an SME ecosystem of its own. Clustering – the striking attribute of many special economic zones (SEZs) – allows for small and large companies to exist in close proximity so that each can provide resources and services to the other, as is the case with tourism and the oil refinery. This leads to substantial improvement in manufacturing productivity as well as industrial innovation. To first establish larger companies, in areas like tourism and downstream oil, will allow SMEs to flourish within these segments later on.
How is SEZAD working with the other SEZs in the sultanate, and what economic benefits do you expect the authority to bring to Duqm?
AL JABRI: The free zone concept in Oman is relatively new. To encourage economic activity among the existing free zones, however, is at the centre of our efforts. The free zones in the sultanate are working together to develop an integrated, strategic framework that will enable free zones in Oman to coexist and have mutually beneficial relationships. By working together and playing to each other’s strengths, the free zones will create an environment that can cater to niche markets, thereby encouraging further economic activity across many regions nearby. The Al Duqm Port & Drydock, for instance, is an essential part of Oman’s plan to develop the central-eastern town and capitalise on its proximity to international and regional sea lanes. The aim is to attract all manner of ships and vessels for maintenance, repair and dry docking services.
We expect that SEZAD and the planned overall development of Duqm will create many jobs for Omani nationals, both directly and indirectly. We estimate that the population in this area will grow to 67,000 by 2020. These are just a few of the economic benefits that SEZAD will create. Oman’s other SEZs will likewise cater to their own niche markets and so generate similar benefits.
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