‘Oman desires India’s partnership in materialising its Vision-2040’

'Oman desires India's partnership in materialising its Vision-2040' thumbnail

Oman has been a key pillar of India’s West Asia policy and its oldest strategic partner in the region. The defence MoU has been renewed this year as both sides seek to expand Navy to Navy partnership. Today as Oman has launched Vision -2040 to transform its economy it desires strong Indian investments across sectors including port infrastructure and Special Economic Zones, Hamed Saif AL Rawahi, Ambassador of Oman to India told ET’s Dipanjan Roy Chaudhury in a wide-ranging interview.

Oman and India celebrate the 65th Anniversary of diplomatic relations this year. What are future plans to boost strategic partnership?

India and Oman enjoy traditionally warm and friendly relations, rooted in history and sustained people-to-people contact. The year 2021-22 marks the 65th anniversary of renaissance of the well-established diplomatic relations between the two countries.

Both the countries across the Arabian Sea are linked by geography, history and culture, and attribute to historical maritime trade linkages.

While people-to-people contact between India and Oman can be traced back up to 5000 years, diplomatic relations were established in 1955 and the relationship was upgraded to Strategic partnership in 2008. Oman has been a key pillar of India’s West Asia Policy.

Late Sultan Qaboos was a visionary leader whose twin policy of moderation and mediation in addressing international issues won him praise and respect across the globe. He played an important role in supporting peace efforts in various regional disputes and conflicts, and his legacy is well carried on by Haitham bin Tarik, the current Sultan.

Sultan Qaboos was the architect of the special ties between India and Oman. Under his leadership, India and Oman became strategic partners.

Prime Minister Modi had recalled the contribution of Sultan Qaboos to India-Oman ties when he passed away, by saying that he was “a true friend of India and provided strong leadership for developing a strategic partnership between India and Oman”.

Gandhi Peace Prize, conferred in 2021, recognizes the unparalleled vision and leadership of the late Sultan.

It would be interesting to mention that a special India week is planned in the Sultanate of Oman in January 2022, to celebrate Azadi ka Amrit Mahotsav, and this is organized in association with Indian diaspora and friends of India, and there are plans to organize several events to celebrate Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav in a grand way in Oman, which will also invoke participation of Omani Ministerial delegate as Chief Guest.

During a meeting held on 14th January 2021, both sides reviewed the entire spectrum of India-Oman relationship including in political, energy, trade, investment, Defence, security, space, mining, Science & Technology, culture and consular fields.

India and Oman renewed the Memoranda of Understanding (MoU) on military cooperation this year. What does it suggest about the defense cooperation between the two countries?

The Indian Navy and the Royal Navy of Oman signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) this September on the exchange of white shipping information.

The signing of the MoU between the Royal Navy of Oman and the Indian Navy will facilitate information exchange on merchant shipping traffic through the Information Fusion Centre-Indian Ocean Region, the dedicated centre in Gurugram for undertaking collation, fusion, and dissemination of data with partner countries, and the Muscat-headquartered MSC. The MoU on exchange of white shipping information is expected to contribute to enhanced maritime safety and security, mutual collaboration, exchange of information and understanding the concerns and threats which are prevalent in the entire region.

Indian Navy Chief Admiral Karambir Singh had visited key defence installations in Oman like the Muaskar Al Murtafa (MAM) Camp, the Maritime Security Centre, Said Bin Sultan Naval Base, Al Musanna Air Base and the National Defence College.

The Indian Navy cooperates with the Royal Navy of Oman on several fronts, including operational interactions, training cooperation and exchange of subject matter experts in various fields. Since 1993 both the navies have been participating in the biennial maritime exercise “Naseem Al Bahr”. The maritime exercise, which was last conducted off the Goa coast in 2020, is scheduled to take place again in 2022.

What are the major opportunities for Indian investments in Oman?

Sultan Haitham bin Tarik al Said, who came to power in the country in January 2020, has led a whole of government effort to reform Oman’s economy to attract foreign direct investment (FDI). This effort has built on an overhaul of Oman’s business and investment framework that included, most notably, updates in 2019 to Oman’s Commercial Companies Law, Foreign Capital Investment Law, Privatization Law, Public-Private Partnership Law, and Bankruptcy Law. Under Sultan Haitham’s leadership, Oman is now in the process of developing further advantages for foreign investors, including a program of tax and fee incentives, permissions to invest in several new industries in the economy, expanded land use, increased access to capital, and labor and employment incentives for qualifying companies. These reforms seek to improve Oman’s investment climate and are in line with Oman’s Vision 2040 development plan.

Oman has potential in many industries such as tourism, fisheries, logistics, mining, creative and technology services, and manufacturing. The Omani government actively encourages foreign direct investment and has used the proceeds from oil and gas to develop the country’s infrastructure and human resources.

Oman’s location on the Arabian Gulf and the Indian Ocean, at the crossroads of the Arabian Peninsula, East Africa, and South Asia, and in proximity to shipping lanes carrying a significant share of the world’s maritime commercial traffic and access to larger regional markets, which is an attractive feature for potential foreign investors.

Some of Oman’s most promising development projects and investment opportunities involve its ports and free zones, most notably in Duqm, where the government envisions a 2,000 square-kilometer free trade zone and logistics hub. Because of its “friends of all, enemies of none” foreign policy, Oman does not face the external security challenges of its neighbors. Because of its domestic policy of peaceful coexistence, political instability among its diverse population is practically nonexistent.

Oman has taken numerous recent measures to promote investment. In August 2020, it created the Public Authority for Special Economic Zones and Free Zones (OPAZ) to oversee and facilitate investment into the Special Economic Zone at Duqm, Almazuna Free Zone, Salalah Free Zone, Sohar Free Zone. In 2019, it promulgated five laws to promote investment: the Public-Private Partnership Law; the Foreign Capital Investment Law (FCIL); the Privatization Law; the Bankruptcy Law; and the Commercial Companies Law.

How does the current Sultan perceive international relations?

Late Sultan Qaboos bin Said Al Said, the longest-serving ruler in the Arab World, died in January 2020, at the age of 79 after ruling since 1970. HM Sultan Haitham bin Tariq, the former culture minister, was recommended by the Late Sultan and was quickly ratified by the ruling family. Sultan Haitham previously served as Head of Oman’s “Vision 2040” committee, the government’s 20-year roadmap for social and economic reform.

The current Sultan Haitham bin Tariq Al-Said came to power as a name that has been in politics for years and was behind the scenes in the Oman-2040 Vision, one of the most important projects of the country. The most important challenge that Oman would face in the next decade is to be able to diversify its economy to prevent the impact of fluctuations in oil prices. Accordingly, the government is focusing on non-oil sectors like tourism sector, by facilitating the visa requirements for more nationalities, which would increase the number of visitors. The government also focuses on fostering greater employment opportunities for Omanis and specifically train Omani nationals in skillsets in non-oil sectors.

The Oman Vision 2040 sets out an ambition for the transition of Oman from an oil-based economy towards a more diverse knowledge-based one. What are the necessary steps for Oman to accomplish this goal?

Sultan Haitham bin Tarik has endorsed the launch of the future vision “Oman 2040”. The blueprint for the economic and social development of the Sultanate will be applied from the beginning of 2021 until 2040.

The Sultan has said “Vision 2040 is the result of a national consensus reached by discussion and consultation among all parts of society”.

The 2040 vision aims to ensure Oman is among the ranks of the world’s most developed nations assuring sustained prosperity and security for all. It sets out a vision for the transition of Oman from an oil-based economy towards a more diverse knowledge-based one.

Oman’s economy was traditionally based on fisheries, agriculture and trade, before the discovery and development of its oil and gas reserves. While the country’s oil revenues have contributed towards Oman’s rapid economic growth, the government has actively pursued a development plan focused on diversification, industrialization and privatization of the economy with the aim of reducing the dependency on the oil industry’s contribution to GDP.

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