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INVEST OMAN

OMAN - Economy

Ammar Al-Kharusi

CEO, Invest OMAN

Bio

Engineer Ammar Al Kharousi stands at the forefront of Oman’s investment landscape as the Chief Executive Officer of InvestOMAN and the Director General of the Investment Services Center at the Ministry of Commerce, Industry, and Investment Promotion. His journey through Oman’s urban and tourism development sectors, including pivotal roles such as Deputy Chairman at Muscat Bay, Head of Development at OMRAN, and Development Director at Yiti Tourism Development Company, underscores a deep-seated commitment to sustainable growth. With a rich background spanning various development positions within OMRAN, Engineer Al Kharousi’s expertise now fuels his leadership in enhancing Oman’s investment environment, driving the nation’s economic diversification and sustainable development efforts.

"Since its establishment a year ago, Invest OMAN has rapidly positioned itself at the forefront of Oman's investment promotion efforts, embodying the nation's commitment to fostering a business-friendly environment that appeals to global investors."
TBY talks to Ammar Al-Kharusi, CEO of Invest OMAN, about FDI, encouraging trading relationships, and Oman’s workforce.
Invest OMAN is a year old. What strides have been made since setting up the initiative? And as for you personally, a brand-new addition to Invest OMAN’s top management, what does your private sector experience bring to the organisation and what are your focus areas?

Since its establishment a year ago, Invest OMAN has rapidly positioned itself at the forefront of Oman’s investment promotion efforts, embodying the nation’s commitment to fostering a business-friendly environment that appeals to global investors. Our role as the official gateway to major investments in strategic sectors cannot be overstated; we streamline the investor journey, offering comprehensive services that transform visionary ideas into viable projects. Our mission is central to the country’s strategy to diversify its economy, attracting investments in promising sectors through a suite of enticing benefits. These include up to 100% foreign ownership, investor residence for up to ten years, tax exemptions for up to thirty years, competitive land and service prices, and customs duty exemptions. In the brief period since its inception, Invest OMAN has made noteworthy progress, notably enhancing the efficiency of the investment facilitation process. This improvement is designed to not only attract but also retain foreign direct investment (FDI), marking our first year as a tangible success. We’ve seen several promising projects commence, laying the groundwork for future growth within Oman’s dynamic business landscape. Joining the top management team of Invest OMAN, my background in the private sector equips me with a unique perspective and set of skills that complement our strategic objectives. My experience has honed my abilities in institutionalizing internal processes and ensuring stakeholder alignment, both critical for enhancing efficiency and providing seamless experiences for investors. Oman’s rich infrastructure and its readiness to participate in globally rising sectors present an unparalleled opportunity. My focus is on leveraging these assets, curating opportunities, and identifying strategic partners committed to our mutual growth and success. In essence, my role is to bridge the potential of Oman’s economic landscape with the vision and resources of investors, fostering a symbiotic relationship that propels the nation toward its ambitious economic goals.

Does Invest OMAN have a mandate to promote investments in any areas in particular, for example through incentives? What are some of the most promising and highest return-yielding investment opportunities in Oman?

Invest OMAN plays a pivotal role in the national strategy to foster investment within specific high-growth sectors, as identified in the country’s far-reaching Vision 2040. This strategic roadmap pinpoints logistics, food security, tourism, mining, renewable clean energy, emerging technologies, and manufacturing as sectors with significant growth potential and where Oman possesses a distinct competitive advantage. These priority areas are further bolstered by supportive sectors such as education, healthcare, and the principles of a circular economy, all integral to ensuring a holistic and sustainable economic expansion. Invest OMAN is tasked with promoting these sectors through a series of appealing incentives, underpinned by a framework of accommodating laws and regulations. These incentives are designed to attract and nurture investments, facilitating an environment where businesses can thrive. Among the most promising opportunities that have emerged from this strategic focus is the pioneering venture in polysilicon technology—a sector not previously explored at a big scale in the Middle East. Over the past six months, in close collaboration with governmental entities, Invest OMAN has been instrumental in bringing to fruition a landmark $1.3 billion project with United Solar Polysilicon. This initiative will see the establishment of a state-of-the-art polysilicon production facility within the Sohar Port and Freezone. Expected to be operational sometime next year, the plant will occupy an area of 160,000 square meters and produce 100,000 metric tons of high-quality metallurgical silicon annually. The manufacturing process at this plant will revolutionize the production of polysilicon, starting from melting silicon in a furnace to casting it into molds, followed by cooling, grinding, and ultimately packing the product for global distribution. Set to commence operations in 2025, the project is a step forward in building a value-added chain across downstream and renewable energy sectors, especially in solar panel manufacturing in addition to boosting the local supply chain and downstream industries. This venture not only aligns with Oman’s ambitions to foster innovation and integrate modern technologies into its economy but also establishes a foundation for knowledge-based industrial development. Such strategic projects exemplify the high-return investment opportunities Oman offers, setting a precedent for leveraging innovation and technological advancement within the framework of Vision 2040. These efforts underscore Invest OMAN’s mandate to curate and promote investment in areas where Oman is uniquely positioned to excel, driving forward the nation’s economic diversification and sustainable development goals.

Many countries worldwide are racing to attract investments amidst a continued global slowdown on one hand, and lower interest rates expected at last in 2024 on the other hand. What will Oman need to focus on to be competitive in this race and be a preferred investment destination in the Middle East? What places Oman in a favorable position to attract investments over other destinations?

Oman’s strategy for standing out in the global race to attract investments is multifaceted, emphasizing stability, talent, infrastructure, business environment, and strategic location in the face of the global economic slowdown and fluctuating interest rates. The country’s stable economic rankings, as assessed by leading agencies such as Fitch Ratings, Moody’s, and Standard & Poor’s, provide a robust platform that fosters investor confidence. A BB+ rating from Fitch, Ba1 from Moody’s, and BB+ from S&P affirm the nation’s creditworthiness and macroeconomic stability—a critical factor for investors, especially in uncertain economic times. An essential element of Oman’s appeal is its focus on nurturing a skilled workforce and talent pool ready to engage with emerging industries. This forward-thinking approach to human capital not only positions Oman as a hub of expertise but also aligns with the demands of a knowledge-based economy. The size of foreign investment in Oman, which amounts to USD59 billion, underlines the country’s success in industrial and free zones. This is bolstered by cutting-edge infrastructure, which includes advanced connectivity and logistical capabilities, as well as a strategic geographical location that provides access to global trade routes. To maintain its competitive edge, Oman must continue to build upon these strengths. Prioritizing continuous improvements in ease of doing business, reinforcing the legal framework to protect investments, and promoting sectors where Oman has a comparative advantage or emerging potential will be key. In addition, embracing sustainability and innovation can cater to the growing global emphasis on responsible investment. Oman’s favorable position is further solidified by a combination of competitive incentives such as tax exemptions, foreign ownership rights, and investor residency options. When combined with political stability and a commitment to economic diversification, these factors create a compelling narrative for Oman as the investment destination of choice in the Middle East.

Where do you expect most investors to come from, and are there any regions or countries from where you would welcome investments, or greater investments, into Oman?

In the dynamic landscape of global investments, Oman is well-positioned to capture a significant share of attention from investors around the world. The substantial existing foreign investment in Oman’s industrial and free zones is a testament to the country’s attractive investment climate. This is underpinned by advanced infrastructure, appealing legal and regulatory framework, strong connectivity, logistical prowess, and a strategic geographic location that bridges East and West, providing access to diverse markets. As we look to the future, we anticipate that the majority of investors will continue to hail from countries that have historically had strong economic ties with Oman. The United Kingdom, currently leading with an investment of 22.10 billion USD, is likely to remain a key investor, given the long-standing and mutually beneficial relationship between the two nations. Thanks to the United States-Oman Free Trade Agreement, the United States, with a substantial investment of 7 billion USD, also stands as a significant contributor, with shared strategic interests and investment in Oman’s growth sectors. With lower interest rates expected in 2024, American investors may find additional incentives to allocate funds towards Omani projects. The United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabic, Kuwait, India, China, Bahrain, Qatar, and other countries collectively contribute significant investments that enhance Oman’s economic fabric. These relationships are bolstered by Oman’s efforts to fortify economic ties within the region, particularly within the GCC, where trade and investment are expected to intensify. The intra-regional investment is crucial, as it not only provides financial capital but also fosters regional integration and cooperation. Furthermore, Oman is keen to welcome greater investments from regions that show immense potential for economic partnerships. This includes European countries like the Netherlands, Belgium, Norway, and Germany, which are known for their robust economies and technological advancements. China and Russia, both global economic powerhouses with expanding international footprints, are also on the list for targeted investment growth. Additionally, the inclusion of countries like Jordan indicates a strategic intent to build a diversified investment portfolio, tapping into emerging markets and new sectors. Overall, Oman’s focus is on sustaining and expanding the scope of investments from these regions while remaining open to new partnerships from across the globe. The goal is to maintain a balanced and diversified investment portfolio that can drive growth, innovation, and prosperity within the nation.

What is your outlook for Oman’s investment climate in 2024 and what are your targets for the year at Invest Oman?

Oman’s investment climate in 2024 is poised to capitalize on the nation’s robust economic fundamentals and the momentum generated by our strategic initiatives to diversify the economy. We anticipate an environment that is conducive to growth and reassuring for investors looking for reliable and upward-trending markets. Our targets for Invest Oman in 2024 are ambitious yet achievable. We aim to continue expanding the scope and scale of foreign investment. With an emphasis on trending sectors that align with global economic shifts, such as renewable energy, technology, and sustainable tourism, we plan to further augment the industrial and free zones that have been pivotal in attracting investments thus far. We will evaluate incoming investments based on their socio-economic impact, striving for a balance between their inherent value and the benefits they bring to employment and the local supply chain. Moreover, our strategic geographic location, cutting-edge infrastructure, investment environment, connectivity, and logistical capabilities remain core advantages. These, coupled with our young, educated, and dynamic workforce, position Oman favourably in the competition for attracting foreign investment within the Middle East and beyond. The coming year will see Invest OMAN emphasizing the enhancement of investor relations and a proactive approach to showcasing Oman’s investment opportunities internationally. We intend to leverage digital platforms and global investment forums to position Oman as the preferred destination for investors, spotlighting the nation’s unique offerings and the progressive policies that facilitate business growth and success.

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