Oman: Reeling in foreign investment

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In line with government plans to boost production and draw foreign investment to the aquaculture sector, Oman is encouraging foreign investors to take advantage of opportunities in fisheries and maritime exports.

With some 1700 km of coastline providing a home to more than 150 species of fish and crustaceans, the Sultanate has long been the largest seafood supplier in the Gulf, having produced around 164,000 tonnes in 2010. Revenues from the sector in 2010 totalled around OR118m ($306.5m), Hamed Said Al Oufi, the undersecretary of fisheries at the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries Wealth (MAFW), told OBG last year.

However, it is clear that Oman has yet to come close to reaching its full aquaculture output potential. While around 50% of seafood produced is sent abroad, there are many more opportunities for aquaculture exports. As such, the government is seeking to tap into this wealth and in November 2011 announced plans to increase aquaculture output to 220,000 tonnes by 2030.

This will be achieved through further research and development activities that will aim to enhance fishing and fish farming in the country. Opportunities for such development were discussed at an aquaculture workshop in mid-September, jointly organised by the US Embassy and the MAFW.

According to W Johann Schmonsees, the chargé d’affaires at the US embassy in Muscat, there is great potential for Oman to increase its aquaculture exports, particularly given the free trade agreement (FTA) between the Sultanate and the US. However, Oman has yet to export any seafood to the US, despite high demand – and high prices – there, he said at the workshop.

"This is a challenge for this new generation of investors, now that the MAFW has implemented clear investment guidelines. We are standing ready to facilitate partnerships with US experts, investors, and technology and equipment suppliers,” Schmonsees said.

He added that the US embassy and MAFW officials were already in talks to increase Omani fish exports to the US under the FTA. It is hoped that potential US investors will soon tour Omani marine research and fishery facilities, which could facilitate advantageous partnerships between American and Omani researchers.

Lorenzo M Juarez, a former president and fellow at the World Aquaculture Society and the deputy director of the Office of Aquaculture at the US National Marine Fisheries Service, took part in the workshop and spent a week in Oman to learn about the fisheries industry, including the abalone breeding centre in Salalah.

“In Salalah, the MAFW conducts studies on the local abalone species to better understand their biology and to develop stock enhancement efforts. They have already had some encouraging preliminary results,” Juarez told local press. “This is an area that could be explored for future cooperation and exchange with US governmental and academic institutions, not only on abalone biology and management, but also on the sharing of regulatory and enforcement experiences of abalone fisheries.”

Juarez said the industry in Oman was very promising and could “become a source of safe and sustainable seafood production in Oman, promoting food security and employment, reducing imports, and contributing to the health and wealth of the country.” He also advised that the government’s focus should be on providing incentives for potential investors within the aquaculture sector to invest in support industries, such as hatcheries.

Indeed, the government has already begun promoting its aquaculture sector abroad. At the workshop, Saud Al Habsi, the director-general of fisheries research at the MAFW, pointed out that Oman already offers a number of incentives to investors. These include a five-year exemption from corporate income tax for foreign companies and the ministry’s ability to secure specialised land for aquaculture projects for a minimal fee.

The aquaculture industry in the Sultanate shows great promise, both as a generator of exports and a source of sustainable food supply in the country and the region. Continued promotion of the sector and incentives to foreign investors should help the sector reach its full potential and achieve its goals of major production increases over the next two decades.

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