AS THE the third largest country in the Arabian peninsula that has consistently ranked high for economic freedom and peace and stability in the Middle East, Oman paints an attractive picture for foreign investment.
Since 2016, the sultanate has moved to diversify its economy away from its reliance on oil with the National Program for Enhancing Economic Diversification, known as tanfeedh, which focuses on developing five high potential sectors of manufacturing, tourism, mining, fisheries and transport and logistics.
Tanfeedh was created and is being implemented within the framework of Oman's ninth five-year development plan from 2016 to 2020, a roadmap for growth by enhancing diversification and private sector engagement.
It aims to increase the contribution of these five sectors to GDP from 4.9 billion Omani Riyals in 2015 to 6.6 billion by end-2020. Another goal is to create at least 30,000 job opportunities.
Oman's real GDP growth has remained steady at an average of 4.7 per cent over the past five years. Non-oil GDP has also been increasing, with over 70 per cent of GDP coming from non-oil sectors since 2016.
WEALTH OF OPPORTUNITIES
The sultanate actively seeks investment in the industries of alternative energy, chemicals, information and communications technology, infrastructure, marine, pharmaceuticals and tourism.
Oman's globally-ranked airports, ports and roads, competitively-priced land and commercial property, a 150 per cent mobile penetration rate, all point to a high quality infrastructure in place.
Ongoing improvements are also being made to rail, road, air and port facilities.
In the area of logistics, the government is keen to attract private sector participation and potential investment areas include improving the quality of services of its ports, leasing three air freighters and boosting Oman as an e-commerce logistics hub.
The manufacturing sector is also poised to grow with opportunities in solar manufacturing, a petroleum refinery plant and petrochemicals.
At the Oman Conference for Economic and Free Zones in April, Minister of Trade, Commerce and Industry Ali bin Masoud Al-Sunaidi, highlighted the three main economic zones in Duqm, Sohar and Salalah that will contribute to investment in the five sectors outlined in tanfeedh.
The Special Economic Zone Authority in Duqm (SEZAD) will be transformed into a maritime and logistics hub, as well as tourism destination given its location by the sea.
The Port of Duqm, which opened on Sept 17, spearheads the execution of other projects, including the Refinery and Petrochemical Industries project, the Chinese City project and the Smart City project agreed to be carried out in cooperation with South Korea since last May.
One of the major projects is the US$7 billion Duqm Refinery project, by Oman Oil Co and Kuwait Petroleum Corp.
Rotary Engineering, a part Omani-owned Singaporean company, has set up a representative office in Muscat and a project branch in Duqm, to support this venture.
"The Oman O&G market has seen encouraging movement in recent times with the commencement of the multi-billion-dollar Duqm Refinery project. We are pursuing multiple projects there and the company aims to have a long-term presence in Oman. Rotary looks forward to more opportunities to contribute to Oman's economic development and we believe that Oman has good prospects and infrastructures for companies to excel," said Roger Chia, chairman and managing director of Rotary Engineering.
He also noted that simpler and clearer business registration processes have allowed companies such as Rotary to enjoy lower set-up costs and compliance requirements.
CHANGING THE SYSTEM
Regulations and laws have evolved to make Oman's business environment more attractive.
Companies situated in FTZs may be wholly-owned by foreigners, and are given various duty and tax exemptions.
Additionally, foreign technology-focused companies may also be situated in the Knowledge Oasis Muscat technology park.
To further facilitate the ease of doing business in Oman, the Ministry of Commerce and Industry launched the Invest Easy online portal in 2015. The portal aims to increase efficiency through a range of e-services that help owners and investors manage their businesses without the need to physically visit the MoCI.
Other government bodies have also begun leveraging on the portal to help further streamline the process of establishing a business in Oman.
It is now possible to apply for an environmental permit to conduct business through the Ministry of Environment and Climate Affairs via Invest Easy.
Plans are underway for all of Oman's government entities to be represented on the platform by 2020.