What programs does OMFA implement to help Omani manufacturers, especially during the pandemic?
The association was originally established to support its members, and they are our priority; however, OMFA is designed to help the whole sector. When we started two years ago, we looked into the issues that our own members faced and classified the challenges based on priority. We started communicating and sitting down with stakeholders from the ministry, government, and even the private sector. The new minister of commerce understands all those challenges, as he comes from the private sector and now has the authority to support us, which has worked out well. The majority of the association's work has been during the pandemic. We could not hold face-to-face meetings, educational events, or networking events, though we are optimistic about next year. During the difficult period, the role of the association became much more visible, because we managed to play a role as a communicator between the manufacturers and the government. The association has managed to exclude the sector from the restrictions that have been imposed. Even when COVID-19 measures are tightened, the factories will stay operational.
How do you aim to support the manufacturers classified as SMEs?
We want to introduce a subscription scheme for SMEs in 2022. Thus far, we have supported SMEs even if they are not members, for example when the issue of plastic bags started. We organized the meeting between the Ministry of Commerce and the Ministry of Environment and tried to work out a deal by not cutting plastic bags completely. Now, we want to do more for SMEs.
What are the competitive advantages of Omani manufacturers when it comes to exporting goods?
In Oman, there are many supporting programs, and we are trying to be an easy environment for manufacturing. We have attractive FTA agreements, access to the GCC, great industrial areas, and rapidly improving regulations, though recently the financial challenges have been increasing—fees, electricity prices, and environmental licenses. This has to do with the country's decision to waive as many subsidies as possible, and we are part of it, both as individuals and as manufacturers. Foreign investors were wary of coming to Oman in uncertain times, with a new sultan and regulations. However, Oman is still an interesting place to start a manufacturing business. We still have space and one of the lowest human capital costs in the GCC.
What is the role of the manufacturing sector when trying to achieve Oman's Vision 2040?
Learning from our previous lessons, just throwing out a plan and hoping for it to manifest does not usually get positive outcomes. Unless we see some serious action from now until 2040, we will not be able to achieve those objectives. There are some great targets, and we need to work hard to build those. The manufacturing sector in Oman is oil dependent; however, oil will deplete someday, and we cannot really depend on it much longer. We have known this for a while, but not much was done about it. Now, there is new leadership and unity in the government in order to address this issue. Either we go for tourism or technology. We have the manpower and the infrastructure when it comes to technology, though manufacturing could play a much larger role, because it is easy to set up factories in Oman, even for foreign investors.
How do you plan to support the manufacturing industry in the coming year?
We will continue to help them with their challenges. As soon as COVID-19 restrictions ease up, we will increase our networking base so more people can meet and find opportunities to collaborate. We have done a few online meetings, though people are busy, and it is challenging to get them to join an online event. We look forward to prosperous business after the pandemic, as people are keen to return to normal.