‘Oman fully geared to face any fallouts from joining WTO’


In reply to a question, Maqbool said that the Sultanate joined the WTO in 2000 and that Oman focuses on the positive advantages of the WTO membership. “No doubt, joining the organisation also has its negative sides which affect sectors of the national economy, not only in Oman, but all other members (150 countries so far)”, Maqbool said, noting that the impact will vary from one country to another depending on the ability to adapt with the developments accrued by the WTO. Outlining some of the sectors affected by Oman’s joining the WTO, Maqbool cited the example of the textiles and readymade wear, saying that the number of local factories serving this sector dropped from 33 to three. This, he said, prompted the government to develop employment programmes, such as Sanad Costumes, to provide employment to people who worked in those factories.


Joining the WTO will pose a challenge to national companies through the entry of foreign entities in the country. Maqbool said that the government worked hard to limit the negative impact of membership to the international organisation in a variety of ways, including the imposing of customs duty to protect national products and the restriction of certain sectors reserved for Omanis only in line with the Omanisation policy which ranks high in the government programmes. Other means of alleviating the negative impact is the drafting of special legislations to combat instances of dumping of goods, said Maqbool. He explained that the negative sides of joining the WTO can be overweighed by the advantages of Oman’s products getting access to WTO member states, better chances of attracting foreign investment to Oman (due to the Sultanate’s encouraging legal setup and healthy economy) and the emergence of new employment opportunities for Omanis.


Asked to comment on the extent to which Oman has benefited from the FTA with the United States, Maqbool said that the Sultanate cannot at this stage make any assessment because the FTA is yet to begin to be enforced by the end of this year. The FTA with the US is nothing new and that it conforms with the Sultanate’s policy to merge with the international economy and to attract foreign investment. “No doubt, the FTA will serve the Omani economy through the improvement of trade exchange, mutual exemption of goods from customs tariffs, liberalisation of investments (particularly in the services sectors financial and telecommunication services), and the granting of preferential treatment to companies wishing to invest in the Sultanate, thereby offering many jobs to Omanis, besides providing high-quality and competitive services.


Speaking about the extent to which major investment projects (in energy, petrochemical, fertilizers, aluminium and tourism sectors) can contribute to the development of the Omani economy, Maqbool said that the projects will raise the added value of the Gross Domestic Product, reinforce the balance of payments and promote economic diversification, thereby diminishing dependence on oil as the sole source of the national economy. Citing examples, the minister said that projects coming up at Sohar alone amount to $ 12 billion investments. The major investments will also provide a large base for secondary production projects, thus activating business, social and service sectors, besides developing local communities and providing jobs to people in their areas of inhabitance, Maqbool said.


Asked for his views about the private sector’s role and its contribution to the GDP, Maqbool said, thanks to strong support by the government, the Omani Centre for Investment Promotion and Export Development and the Oman Chamber of Commerce and Industry, “the private sector has gained a good share of maturity, expertise and confidence and its is now playing a vital role in supporting and developing the national economy.” He added that the private sector is making tangible contribution in various production and services fields. The private sector is now entering new investment spheres and it is still having many opportunities to offer more to the country, both by being more independent and less relied on government support and by working to keep pace with international economic development, Maqbool said.


In other comments, the minister stressed the importance of small and medium enterprises (SMEs), saying that the government has provided full support to such establishments by building infrastructure and offering incentives, such as soft loans, to investors and drafting legislations to maintain the growth of SMEs. He pointed out that SMEs are considered the artery of economic activities due to the fact that the services these establishments provide have direct relevance to the daily life of citizens, besides offering a large number of job opportunities. In his statement, Maqbool said that foreign investment in the trade sector is on the rise, noting that foreign investment in the converting industries rose from RO 144 million in 2002 to RO 202.3 million in 2005, an increase of 12 per cent.


Maqbool also lauded the vigorous growth of industrial estates which, he said, added many gains to the national achievements, used local raw materials, provided job opportunities to Omani citizens and enhanced the infrastructure of governorates and regions. Speaking about the role of Omani ports’ readiness to maximise benefits from Indian Ocean Rim Association for Regional Cooperation (IORARC) through export and re-export, Maqbool stressed that all major Omani ports (the Port Sultan Qaboos in Muscat, the Port of Salalah and the Port of Sohar) are fully prepared to export Omani products and re-export goods coming from other ports, particularly those heading to IORARC member states. He noted that the ports of Salalah and Sohar are run by specialised international companies.


Oman attaches significance to its relationship with IORARC member states. One of the most important projects in this context, said Maqbool, is the Preferential Treatment Agreement between the Sultanate and Iran, Mauritius, Sri Lanka, Yemen and Kenya. Other major IORARC project that benefit the Sultanate include the Fisheries Support Unit, the System of Payment Clearing (CPS) and other projects in the fields of tourism and contracting, the minister said.

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