Publication of this special report on Oman coincides with the 28th anniversary of the accession to power of His Majesty Sultan Qaboos bin Said in November 1970. Under the leadership of Sultan Qaboos Oman has undergone a complete transformation, from an undeveloped desert backwater to a forward looking, cosmopolitan, regional centre of banking and commerce. The last 12 months have seen considerable change in the Sultanate as Oman gears up to meet the challenges of the years ahead. His Majesty, Sultan Qaboos, agreed to participate in this special report by responding to the following questions posed by Pat Lancaster.
Q The Government of Oman has sent out encouraging signals to investors including amending the country's legal framework to make Oman more investor friendly. However, the Sultanate is not alone in its efforts to diversify and develop away from an oil dominated economy by attracting foreign private sector investment. Given the stiff regional competition how can Oman expect to attract and, more importantly, keep hold of these highly prized investors, and what must Omani business be wary of in this fast evolving economic climate?
A Diversification of the economy away from total dependence on oil revenues has been my policy throughout the period of the Sultanate's renaissance. The general development of the economy has now reached the stage of strength and flexibility where increasing emphasis can be placed upon other elements of the national economy, notably the private sector. In fact, in my National Day speech in November last year I nominated 1998 as the Year of the Private Sector, as you know. This major aspect of the diversification plan is going very well: a US$3 billion aluminium smelter is to be constructed at Sohar; a joint venture with BP will see a US$1 billion petrochemical plant also being established at that location. Another joint venture with the Government of India will be realised in the setting up of a fertiliser plant which will `feed' India's urgent need for this commodity in the expansion of its agricultural centre and, similarly, our own agriculture here.
As you will doubtless have heard the existing port at Raysut, near Salalah, is actively being expanded to take the largest international container ships of more than 100,000 tons displacement -- in which a number of foreign companies, in addition to Omani investors, are involved. The important international shipping lines, Maersk and SeaLand have already...