India-Oman to upgrade ties in defence, tourism, Outer Space and health sectors: Envoy

By: |
November 18, 2020 3:35 PM

The two countries have inked a Maritime Transport Agreement.

Oman expressed appreciation for India's remarkable achievements in ensuring food security for its people.

Oman, India’s oldest strategic partner in the Gulf seeks to emerge as a hub for India for eastern Africa and the Indian Ocean Region, furthering New Delhi’s Indo-Pacific strategy. The two countries have inked a Maritime Transport Agreement.

India is among Oman’s top trading partners. For Oman, India was the 3rd largest (after UAE and China) source for its imports and 3rd largest market (after UAE and Saudi Arabia) for its non-oil exports in 2018. During 2019-20, bilateral trade was US$ 5.93 billion. Major Indian imports from Oman are urea, LNG, polypropylene, lubricating oil, dates and chromite ore.

On the occasion of his country’s National Day, Hamed Saif Abdul Aziz Al-Rawahi, Ambassador of Oman to India, interacts with Huma Siddiqui on a wide range of topics. Following are excerpts:

After PM’s visit to Oman — how are the bilateral relations between the two countries?

India is increasing its presence with significant interest in Oman by creating a footprint in the Gulf Cooperation Council and Eastern Africa and this has given New Delhi strategic depth in the region. Prime Minister Narender Modi’s visit to the Sultanate of Oman in 2018 initiated new energy in bilateral relations with enhanced cooperation in trade and investment, energy, defence, security, food security and regional issues.

The two countries had identified new areas of co-operation – what is the progress in those areas?

India and Oman signed eight agreements, including MoUs in the areas of defence, tourism, Outer Space and health, during the visit of PM Modi.

According to Oman’s Ministry of Commerce and Industry, there are over 4100 Indian enterprises and establishments in Oman with an estimated investment of US$ 7.5 billion. Oman-India Joint Investment Fund (OIJIF) is a 50-50 Joint Venture between State Bank of India and the State General Reserve Fund (SGRF) of Oman, the main sovereign wealth fund of Oman. It was set up in July 2010 as a special purpose vehicle (SPV) to invest in India.

OIJIF commenced its operations in 2011 with an initial seed capital of US$ 100 million which was fully invested across seven Indian companies from diversified sectors. OIJIF has raised another US$ 220 million for its Tranche-II and is being invested in India.

What about the Food Security Agreement?

Oman expressed appreciation for India’s remarkable achievements in ensuring food security for its people and had called for greater bilateral cooperation aimed at developing the agriculture and fisheries sectors in Oman. There have been few communication exchanges in recent times, but due to COVID-19 pandemic process has slowed down.

Defence Cooperation between the two countries—any update?

Oman has allowed India, including its navy, access to its Duqm port, about 550 km south of the capital Muscat. The Port of Duqm SEZ is earmarked to be the Indian Ocean’s largest deep-sea port. An Indo-Oman joint venture — Sebacic Oman, is undertaking a $1.2 billion project to set up the largest Sebacic acid plant in the Middle-East.

Also, an agreement to develop Little India, an integrated tourism complex project in Duqm worth $748 million, has been signed between the two countries.

Post-COVID — how can India and Oman work together?

In view of the heavy toll on the global economy from Covid-19 pandemic and its repercussions that reflected in the situation in the Sultanate, His Majesty Sultan Haitham gave orders to form an economic committee, to deal with the economic impacts of the pandemic, accordingly, a number of decisions were taken and resulted in the Government’s offering packages and incentives to private sector establishments and firms.

During the COVID-19, more than 50,000 Indians living in Oman and 25000 Omanis have been flown home on repatriation with the support and exchanges between embassy staff and the people from India and Oman. Whilst COVID-19 situation still lingers, currently, 10000 expats, which includes residence permit holders, work permit holders etc., are travelling per week under the Air Bubble agreement.

The COVID-19 induced economic crisis is quite different from the 2009 global economic and financial crisis in some crucial respects. India’s current growth prospects are highly constrained as it has entered the COVID-19 crisis on the back of an economic downslide.

More about Space Cooperation?

By visiting most of the Gulf countries during his first term, PM Modi helped establish robust political ties. Oman was one of the first countries in the Gulf region that exhibited an interest in forging space cooperation with India nearly a decade ago. His visit in February 2018 resulted in the signing of an MoU on cooperation in the peaceful uses of outer space, which would enable both sides to cooperate in “space science, technology and applications”. Considering the heightening bilateral partnerships, India’s assistance in building Oman’s capabilities, including training and human resource development, is expected to be promising, however, the COVID-19 pandemic has a major role in slowing down the process.

What are the plans of the Government of Oman, to welcome back the Indians who had returned due to the Pandemic?

There has been about 11.2% downfall in the expats, due to the COVID-19 pandemic however, the Indian community, still constitutes the largest expatriate community in the Sultanate.

Oman’s Labour minister Mahad bin Said Ba’owain held a meeting with state-run firms to discuss the opportunities for growth of Omani manpower, however, the move wouldn’t have much impact on Indian workers as the government sector employs only about 52,000 expatriates.

There are Indian families living in Oman for more than 150-200 years. Total 2911 Indian origin people have Omani citizenship as on July 2020. And several thousands of Indians are working as doctors, engineers, chartered accountants, teachers, lecturers, nurses, managers, etc.

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