Oman has been always one of the key pillars of India’s West Asia Policy in the region. The MoU defense renewed this year as both sides want to expand the Navy to Navy partnership. As of today, Oman has launched Vision- 2040 to change its economy which wants strong Indian investments across areas like 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.
India and Oman celebrate the 65th Anniversary of diplomatic relations this year. Both the nations enjoy warm and friendly relations which is rooted in history and also sustained people-to-people contact. 2021-2022 presents the 65th anniversary of the renaissance of the nicely-established diplomatic relations between both nations.
Both the nations across the Arabian Sea are connected by history, geography as well as culture and attribute to historical maritime linkages.
While such a good contact between the nations can be nicely traced back up to 5000 years, diplomatic relations were made up in 1955 and the relation was upgraded in 2008 to Strategic partnership, Oman has been one of the key pillars in India’s West Asia policy.
Late Sultan Qaboos who was a visionary leader whose twin policy of mediation and moderation in mentioning global issues won him much praise and respect across the world. He played a crucial role in supporting peace initiatives in various different disputes and his legacy is nicely carried on by Haitham bin Tarik, the current Sultan.
Sultan Qaboos was the reason for the special ties between India and Oman. Under his leadership, both nations became strategic partners.
“A true friend of India and provided strong leadership for developing a strategic partnership between India and Oman”, as stated by the Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi who recalled the contribution of Sultan Qaboos to the relation of both the countries after he passed away.
It would be interesting to state that a special India week is planned in January 2022 in the Sultanate of Oman to celebrate Azadi ka Amrit Mahotsav and this is planned in association with the Indian diaspora and also friends of India and even there are plans made to organize many events to celebrate the occasion in a grand way in Oman which would also invoke the participation of Omani Ministerial delegate as Chief Guest.
During a meeting that was held on 14th January 2021 where both the nations reviewed the entire spectrum of the relationship of India-Oman which includes political, energy, investment, trade, Defence, security, space, mining, Science & Technology, culture, and consular fields.
Defense cooperation between both the nations
A memorandum of understanding (MoU) was signed between The Indian Navy and the Royal Navy of Oman this September on the exchange of white shipping information.
The signing will grow opportunities to exchange information on merchant shipping traffic through 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.
Indian Navy Chief Admiral Karambir Singh went on to visit 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.
Both The Indian Navy and the Royal Navy of Oman cooperates with each other on different fronts which includes operational interactions, training cooperation and exchange of subject matter experts in various fields. Since 1993, both navies have been taking part in the biennial maritime exercise “Naseem Al Bahr”. It last took place off the Goa coast in 2020 which will again take place in 2022.
The major opportunities for Indian investments in Oman
Sultan Haitham bin Tarik al Said who came in power in the nation in January 2020 has led the government effort to transform Oman’s economy to attract more foreign investments (FDI). This effort was made on an overhaul of the business in Oman and framework of investment that includes most updates in 2019 to Oman’s Commercial Law , Foreign Capital Investment Law, Privatization Law, Public-Private Partnership Law, and Bankruptcy Law. Under his leadership, the nation is now on the process of developing more advantages for foreign investors which includes 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 were made to improve Oman’s investment and are in line with the Vision 2040 development plan of Oman.
Oman has now potential in several industries such as tourism, fisheries, logistics, mining, creative and technology services, and manufacturing. The government of Oman actively also encourages foreign direct investment and has made use of the proceeds from oil and gas to bring some development in the country’s human resources and infrastructure.
Oman’s location on the Arabian Gulf and the Indian Ocean which is 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.
Several Oman’s most promising development projects and opportunities of investment involve its free zones and ports, mostly in Duqum where the envisions of the government is a 2,000 square-kilometer free trade zone and hub for logistics. Due to its “friends of all, enemies of none” foreign policy, Oman certainly do not face any external security issues of its neighbours.
Oman has taken up several measures recently to promote investment. It made the Public Authority for Special Economic Zones and Free Zones (OPAZ) in August 2020 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.
International relations perceived by the current sultan
Late Sultan Qaboos bin Said Al Said who was the longest-serving ruler in the Arab World had died in January 2020 after ruling since 1970. HM Sultan Haitham bin Tariq who is the former culture minister was recommended by the Late Sultan and was ratified by the ruling family. Sultan Haitham, who previously served as Head of Oman’s “Vision 2040” committee which is the government’s 20-year roadmap for social and economic reform.
The latest Sultan Haitham bin Tariq Al-Said came to power as one of the names that has been in the politics since few years and was also behind the scenes in the Oman-2040-Vision which is one of the most crucial projects of the nation. The most crucial challenge that Oman is likely to face in the coming decade is to be able to diversify the economy to make sure of the effect of fluctuations in the prices of oil. In same regard, the government is also focusing on other sectors except for oil such as tourism sector, by facilitating the visa requirements for more nationalities, which would increase the number of visitors. The government also gives importance on fostering greater employment opportunities for the Omanis and specifically train Omani citizens in skillsets in sectors other than oil.
Necessary steps for Oman to accomplish the goal
Sultan Haitham bin Tarik has endorsed the launch of the future vision “Oman 2040”. For the economic and social development of the Sultanate will be imposed from the starting of 2021 until 2040.
The Sultan also stated, Vision 2040 is the result of a national consensus reached by discussion and consultation among all parts of society”.
The 2040 vision aims to make sure Oman is among one of the world’s most developed countries to assure sustained prosperity and also security for everyone. It presents a vision for the change of Oman from an oil-based economy to a more diverse knowledge-based one.
Oman’s economy was traditionally mainly based on fisheries, agriculture, and trade even before the discovery and upliftment of its gas and oil reserves. While the nation’s oil revenues have contributed nation’s rapid growth in economy, the government has pursued a development plan which is mainly focused on diversification, privatization and industrialization of the economy with the main aim of reducing the dependency on the industries of oil’s contribution to the total GDP.