OLD TIES

Oman 2014 | DIPLOMACY | GUEST SPEAKER

Alistair Burt, UK Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, on the long relationship between the two countries, regional stability, and business opportunities in the Sultanate.

Alistair Burt
BIOGRAPHY
Alistair Burt MP was appointed Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Foreign & Commonwealth Office on May 14, 2010. He entered Parliament for the first time in 1983 and is the Conservative MP for northeast Bedfordshire. He has had a long and distinguished career in politics serving in various positions in local, national, and international politics. Alistair was educated at Bury Grammar School, and studied at St John’s College Oxford, where he was president of the university law society. Burt became a solicitor in 1980 and served on Haringey Council in London from 1982 to 1984.

As maritime trading nations, our early links were based on commerce, with the first trade treaty signed in 1646. Today, the links between our two countries are multi-faceted. HM Sultan Qaboos bin Said Al Said has close personal ties to the UK. In 2010, Her Majesty the Queen paid a State Visit to the Sultanate. Their Royal Highnesses, the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall, visited Oman in March 2013, and His Majesty the Sultan visited the UK in 2012. His Majesty generously sent 112 horses to the UK to take part in the celebrations of Her Majesty's Diamond Jubilee celebration in 2012, the largest contingent of any country.

The UK and Oman are key partners in foreign policy. Oman has a long-established policy of maintaining good relationships with all countries, and the UK greatly respects this position. We work closely with the Omanis on Yemen, where both of our countries want to see the security, economic growth, and prosperity that are the pre-requisites for Yemen's long-term stability. We keep in close touch with Oman about the tragedy unfolding in Syria, and we share the view that a political solution to the current crisis is the only way to bring the conflict to an end. The UK has a healthy trading relationship with Oman. The Sultanate is politically and economically stable, and our financial and political ties mean that the UK is well placed to win business in Oman. There are close ties between the Omani and British education and training sectors, with over 13,000 Omani students studying in the UK over the last three years. Some 20 British higher education institutions already have relationships with Omani counterparts, and specialist-training companies have scored some notable successes over the past two years. There is a continuing appetite for British expertise in these areas.

There have been some striking trade successes in recent years. In 2012, Ultra Electronics signed a contract for the systems integration at the new Muscat Airport, and BAE Systems agreed with the Omani Ministry of Defense to deliver 12 Typhoon and eight Hawk aircraft in a deal worth £2.5 billion. Carillion built many of Muscat's iconic buildings, including the resplendent Royal Opera House. The UK is, by far, the largest foreign investor in Oman, with some 36% of the total stock of FDI worth $5 billion. Much of this investment is in the oil and gas industry. Shell is the main international partner of Petroleum Development Oman, and we expect that BP will invest heavily in the Khazzan-Makarem gas field in the coming years. The UK financial services industry is well represented in Oman. In 2012, HSBC merged with the Oman International Bank in a deal worth $600 million. As well as HSBC, Standard Chartered and several other British law and accountancy firms have Omani branches. With the establishment of Oman's first two Islamic banks, there are opportunities in particular for British companies with expertise in that area. Areas where British exporters perform strongly include industrial machines, vehicles, power generation equipment, electrical appliances, chemicals, and defense equipment. Looking forward, I hope that, through the UK-Oman Joint Working Group, co-chaired by myself and His Excellency Sayyid Badr Bin Hamad Bin Hamood Al Busaidy, Secretary General at the Omani Foreign Ministry, we can increase cooperation in every field. Working in partnership with the Omani government, the UK can make a key contribution to the Sultanate's economic development. In particular, we want to contribute to the development of SMEs, culture and heritage, education, and trade sectors. It is notable that Omani businesspeople often say they want to see more British companies in the Sultanate. The UK will continue to focus on how it can expand its trade and investment links. Companies such as Shell, BP, HSBC, Carillion, and Ultra Electronics are committed to developing local capabilities through training and educational programs, maximizing the in-country value of their operations and helping the development of Omani SMEs. They see themselves as partners in Oman's economic development. Of UKTI's list of 100 projects designated as “High Value Opportunities," two are Omani: the Oman National Railway Project and the Healthcare Infrastructure Project. Oman has ambitious plans to further develop its transport infrastructure, and to capitalize on its advantageous geographical location.

“ The UK is, by far, the largest foreign investor in Oman, with some 36% of the total stock of FDI worth $5 billion. "