What role does the Oman Chamber of Commerce & Industry (OCCI) play in facilitating and organizing business throughout Oman? How successful has the OCCI been in promoting national products?
AL KHONJI: The Oman Chamber of Commerce & Industry (OCCI) was established in 1973. This year we will be celebrating our 40th anniversary. OCCI plays the role of achieving balance between the government and the private sector. We help communicate the concerns of the private sector to the government. The Chamber acts as a bridge between the government and the private sector. We believe in social dialogue. As a result, the Chamber is a non-profit organization. We have been doing business like this for the past 40 years. We have been trying to promote Oman around the world in order to help facilitate foreign investments. The challenge I see for Oman is that there is a lack of promotion. We must have clear programs put into place in order to further promote Oman. This promotion should not come from just one organization, but from the country as a whole. The entire country has to promote Oman wherever we travel and we have to have the right tools to do so. We have to bring more exposure to Oman because we have a solid foundation in place. Oman has very good laws to attract investments and we are investing heavily in the overall development of the country’s infrastructure. The next 5 years will be very important to attract more businesses and investments.
How significant is the private sector to the overall development and diversification of Oman’s economy? What actions or incentives is the OCCI currently implementing in order to increase private sector participation in the economy?
AL KHONJI: We understand the importance of private sector participation. We have been asking the government to give more space to the private sector so that it can play a bigger role in the development of the economy. I hope this will continue. Privatization in Oman began in the 1970s. This is nothing new for the country and I hope this momentum continues. We have been trying to increase private sector participation by transferring knowledge from our meetings with international delegations. The whole world is heading towards the private sector. Many major cities and villages are now managed by the private sector because it can be more efficient. However, nothing can happen without the consultation and approval from the government. Percentage wise, we have to increase private sector participation. OCCI is taking on this effort.
The government has been investing heavily in the overall development of Oman’s infrastructure. What implications will these infrastructure projects have on the downstream segment of Oman’s industrial sector?
AL KHONJI: The government has invested heavily in the development of Oman’s infrastructure. The government is focusing on the development of the ports in Salalah, Sohar, and Duqm. These projects will create a lot of opportunities for the private sector, especially in the downstream segment. I think they already have proposals for the downstream segment. This will help bring more confidence to the private sector because the government owned companies are ready for partnerships. This will also instil more confidence for any foreign or national investor.
What are the biggest challenges for foreign investors when doing business in Oman? What actions is the OCCI currently taking in order to attract new companies and further FDI into the country?
AL KHONJI: I do not see any big challenges for foreign investors. Oman has always welcomed foreign investment. We are always looking to attract further investment into the country. Oman has been partaking in large infrastructure projects, which are focused on the development of the country’s highways, ports, airports, and railways. Furthermore, the country’s location by itself will attract investment. We are well located and we have a huge market around us. Investors are welcome to invest in Oman and in our free zones. Although we are not a highly populated country, we still have millions of people around us which we can serve.
What role does the OCCI play with regards to arbitration and dispute resolution? How significant will Oman’s new arbitration center be in paving the way for easy and early settlements of commercial disputes and what actions are being taken to encourage companies to prefer Oman’s arbitration center over that of other countries?
AL KHONJI: The arbitration center has always been in Bahrain. Oman has had a long partnership with this arbitration center. Most cases used to go to arbitration centers in Europe instead of being settled locally. We have decided to establish our own arbitration center here at the Chamber. Hopefully, operations will begin in early 2013. We have taken our time to establish the arbitration center but we need the government to put laws into place that make it mandatory to have your arbitration in Oman rather than outside of the country.
We understand the importance of private sector participation. We have been asking the government to give more space to the private sector so that it can play a bigger role in the development of the economy. I hope this will continue.
Which sectors are currently presenting the best opportunities for growth and development?
AL KHONJI: I believe the sectors that can create more job opportunities are the best to invest in. I think Oman is ready to become a tourism center for the entire region. Tourism can create a lot of jobs for nationals provided that we have a clear mind about it. There is a lot of support coming from the community as a whole to develop the sector. We are also well diversified in the tourism area. We would also like to attract more multinational companies to Oman. The advantage of attracting more multinationals into Oman is that they already have proper training programs in place. The other opportunities for growth come from the clusters for the downstream projects. Local communities should benefit from these large infrastructure projects.