Ithraa: Enhancing Oman’s investment appeal globally

MUSCAT, JUNE 23 – The global economy is expected to double in size by 2020 — an expansion that will also unleash new and significant opportunities for Omani companies in terms of employment generation, development of new technologies, transition to a low-carbon circular economy, changes in age group ratios, and the spread of global supply chains. As competition from other countries increases, it will be important to guide our collective action towards increasing productivity, improving efficiencies in the utilisation of resources and focusing on developing competitive advantages. While these factors will distinguish Oman from its competitors, what will truly sustain the future success of the Sultanate is a skilled, trained and talented labour force, as well as a business-friendly environment, and an emphasis on innovation and entrepreneurship.
Leading the drive to transform Oman into an attractive investment destination is Ithraa — the Public Authority for Investment Promotion and Export Development — which has been pursuing a number of initiatives and programmes in support of inward investment and greater exports of Omani goods. These initiatives and programmes are in alignment with the government’s current Vision 2020 and future Vision 2040 developmental strategies.
Taleb bin Saif al Makhmari (pictured), Director-General of Marketing and Media, detailed Ithraa’s investment strategies, programmes and achievements in an interview to the Observer.
The Sultanate, he said, has secured for itself a notable place on the global map as an attractive destination for business and investment, thanks in part to efforts by Ithraa.
“Ithraa provides a range of facilities for investors to start their investment projects in the Sultanate, including facilitating access to approvals and licenses, obtaining commercial registers and finding the right business partners. Our role is not only to bring investments but also to follow up the smooth implementation of the projects, given Oman’s success in attracting export-oriented regional and international investments,” said Al Makhmari.
Notable is the example of Octal, an American company that has invested in the Salalah Free Zone and exports 90 per cent of its production to more than 70 countries globally. Also illustrative is the example of Vale Oman Pelletizing Company, a manufacturer of iron ore pellets. Investments also abound in the food and beverages sector, he noted.
Significantly, these investments are having a positive impact on Omani exports, said the official, pointing out that Ithraa also helps investors address any challenges they face, be they export or policy related.
Vision 2020 roadmap
The Omani economy, Al Makhmari explained, is guided by the Vision 2020 roadmap, which focuses on achieving growth and progress that leads to economic diversification in the Sultanate and creating a competitive and open economic environment, supported by a talented local and international workforce, as well as an efficient business community. The ninth five-year development plan (2016-2020) has its sights on manufacturing, tourism, logistics, agriculture, fisheries and mining as promising sectors.
Ithraa’s pivotal role in wooing inward investment and promoting export development is evident in the high marks it has scored in supporting the economic and policy initiatives of Tanfeedh — The National Program for Enhancing Economic Diversification.
“We also focus on local investments in promising economic sectors and also identify potential export markets. Often we work jointly with The Public Authority for SME Development (Riyada), Public Establishment for Industrial Estates (PEIE), and the Ministry of Commerce and Industry,” he said.
The Director-General of Marketing and Media noted in this regard the importance of the industrial and manufacturing sector to the national economy.
Taking off in 1975, the sector currently employs more than 71,000 people and exports a variety of products to around 140 countries around the world. In 2015, Oman’s non-oil exports soared to a value of around $8 billion, up from $680 million in 2002, with 9.7 per cent contribution to the Sultanate’s GDP.
Forging partnerships
As the preeminent agency for promoting the Sultanate as investment destination globally, Ithraa also works in partnership with reputable organisations to support inward investment and export promotion. It supports marketing and promotional activities overseas as well.
“For example, we have signed a partnership agreement with Oman Global Logistics Group (ASYAD); we have joint initiatives with the Special Economic Zone Authority in Duqm (SEZAD); we also have a partnership with Muscat National Development and Investment Company (ASAAS), and various other stakeholders involved in promoting the Sultanate as an investment destination. We are all working in a complementary manner.”
Significantly, Ithraa is also playing a lead role in developing Oman’s brand identity with the aim of enhancing the nation’s investment appeal internationally. “A key characteristic of the Sultanate’s appeal is its political stability. Omanis are also known as a friendly people, while His Majesty the Sultan’s persona and his wise positions on the many conflicts in our region have been applauded as well. All these elements contribute to the formation of a positive image of the Sultanate to visitors — whether tourists or investors.”
As for Ithraa’s mission in general, they can be summarised in two aspects: promotion of investment, and development of exports. “The Authority is responsible for receiving delegations and organising visits for investors. In 2017, it received 47 delegations from 25 countries.
It provided information about the Sultanate and its characteristics, and briefed them about commercial registration processes through the electronic link with the Ministry of Commerce and Industry for projects worth more than RO 1 million. In addition, Ithraa holds “Invest in Oman” campaigns, which are targeted at certain countries. This campaign targeted Germany, Switzerland and India last year, while this year it will focus on Qatar, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia. India is being targeted for the second time as well, as it is considered a semi-continent in itself, coupled with the abundant possibilities for investment in several areas,” Al Makhmari stated, adding that an expansion in
targeted markets is envisioned this year as well.
Export development
In the field of export development, Al Makhmari said that Ithraa had supported bilateral meetings in Egypt with the participation of 15 Omani companies, which yielded promising results. Several deals were transacted in sectors like food and beverages, petrochemicals, and fisheries. A trade delegation to Qatar was also hosted during this period.
Moreover, the Authority works in line with a roadmap for export development and promotion, through participation in bilateral exhibitions and meetings as they give more space to promote products between the exporter and the investor. Such platforms provide clarity with regard to the quality of products, prices, innovative elements and other product characteristics, he said.
“We are also focused on capacity-building of exporters; so we have designed a programme for upgrading business practices — an initiative that began four years ago. We aim to build the exportability features of products through enhancements in design and packaging and design, raising awareness about potential challenges in target countries such as non-tariff barriers pertaining mainly to environmental conditions, and how to overcome them,” he added.

Zainab al Nassri