Lee Kok Leong, our special correspondent, interviews His Excellency, Dr Ahmed Mohammed Salem Al-Futaisi, Minister of Transport and Communications, of the Sultanate of Oman.
Recently, Singapore and Oman reaffirmed their warm relations during Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean’s trip to the Arab country in October 2018. The Singapore government acknowledged there is potential for further cooperation between the two sides and agreed that the two countries can do more together.
Oman is strategically located along major shipping lanes in the Indian Ocean and at the entrance of the Strait of Hormuz. It is the second largest country in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) after Saudi Arabia, and enjoys considerable political stability.
To diversify its economy and reduce reliance on oil and gas, Oman is developing its infrastructure on various fronts to support the growth of other industries. Infrastructure development include the building of a pan-GCC railway, extensive upgrading of road, rail, air and seaport facilities, and various water treatment and power generation projects.
A notable mention is three recently-developed industrial zones and ports. The SOHAR Port and Free Zone have attracted US$25 billion in investments, with three main clusters in logistics, metals and petrochemicals. The Special Economic Zone at Duqm is Oman’s current cornerstone development, which aims to transform Duqm into a petrochemical hub.
Apart from oil and gas, the zone also plans to attract light manufacturing industries and develop tourism. Oman’s economy is driven by oil and gas, metals and mining, tourism, transport and logistics industries. Oil revenue accounts for 46% of the country’s GDP, but Oman is aiming to reduce this to 9% by 2020.
In line with its Vision 2020, Oman is keen to reduce its reliance on crude oil exports via investments in other industries and services.
Muscat is the capital of Oman, housing government ministries, major trading companies and the headquarters of Omani-based businesses.
How do you see the relationship between Oman and Singapore?
I think Oman has one of the best relationships with Singapore. We do share common objectives in maritime and in developing logistics sectors within our countries.
We are developing our logistics sector as one of our diversification strategies to reduce reliance on oil and gas.
For examples, we’re enhancing our infrastructure like airports, seaports, and roads to a high standard to support our logistics sector.
And for that, I think Singapore is a good model to learn from as it has already achieved major milestones for the sector.
As a result, we are closely coordinating with the government of Singapore for knowledge transfer, investment opportunities, exploring partnerships to operate some of the facilities in Oman and other ways that we can benefit from the experience of Singapore.
Moreover, both countries have a similar vision on promoting awareness of the importance of the maritime sector to the general public.
Both countries are sea nations actually, and therefore we have planned together certain joint activities that promoted maritime history, one of which was the Jewel of Muscat project.
This is a replica of an old ship, built using old materials and methods, that sailed from Oman to Singapore in more than 138 days.
(Editor’s note: The Jewel of Muscat is the name for a sailing vessel that made its way from the shores of Muscat in Oman to Singapore. It is now housed in the Maritime Experiential Museum. The Jewel of Muscat is a gift from the Sultanate of Oman to the Government and People of the Republic of Singapore. One interesting fact is that on their journey here, the crew used 9th century navigation tools and the stars to navigate the ship across the vast Indian Ocean.)
Finally, we have a bilateral committee between the two countries and through it we are discussing and initiating many of the business and commercial projects between the two countries.
Your opinion on what role Oman is playing in the Middle East?
So, as I said, Oman is a sea nation, therefore, we have a very strategic geographical location. We have built one of the best, state-of-the-art, infrastructure in the world. We have deep sea ports, modern airports and extensive road networks.
Moreover, we have stability and we play a major role to spread peace in the region. Importantly, we are known to have excellent relationships with most of the countries in the world.
Therefore, Oman can play the important role as a regional hub and distribution center and connect businesses, through our infrastructure, to the 2.5 billion population around us in the region.
We can take the goods from Oman to East Africa, countries in the Indian Ocean, GCC countries and all other surrounding countries.
Therefore, we are proposing to the world to consider Oman as their business and distribution center. They can locate their companies in the free zones and ports in Oman and from there, they can reach many destinations globally.
How do you see the maritime industry moving forward?
Of course, the maritime industry is growing but it is linked to the global economy and is subjected to tensions and fluctuations, and some decisions made at the international level will affect the industry. But overall, the industry is still experiencing growth.
Secondly, ships are getting bigger which require bigger ports to accommodate them.
Thirdly, the upcoming International Maritime Organization’s emission requirement for lower fuel sulphur content will have huge impact on the industry.