OPEN FOR BUSINESS

Oman 2020 | DUQM | INTERVIEW

By developing all the relevant amenities and legislation for industries from the get go, SEZAD has set itself up as the most attractive investment destination in the region.

Ismail bin Ahmed Al Balushi
BIOGRAPHY

Ismail bin Ahmed Al Balushi was appointed CEO of SEZAD in 2020. Prior to his appointment, Al Balushi served as Acting CEO and, before that, Deputy CEO. He comes with over 26 years of experience in different commercial and economic sectors and has been managing a number of leadership positions in various private and government bodies, including the Ministry of Commerce and Industry and the Capital Market Authority. The latest of these positions was vice-president of CMA. Al Balushi is a PhD holder in banking sector from Mohammed First University in the Kingdom of Morocco.

Can you guide us through the main pillars of your new strategy, and how you seek to leverage the strategic position of Duqm?
Duqm is located in a unique area with mild weather between Muscat and Salalah close to the Indian Ocean and international trade routes. It is located close to more than 4 billion people of the Indian subcontinent, allowing for traders and investors to strategically target a huge international market. Moreover, it is administered by a one-stop shop authority, SEZAD, with its own regulations, which makes it attractive as an investment destination and as a place to run a business. These factors have attracted a good number of local and international players, which justified our investments in infrastructure. Phase I is 90% completed, which accounts for 40% of the total area, 2,000sqkm. The Port of Duqm will start full-fledged operations by 2021, while the drydock has already been fully operational for a while. The airport is operational, the gas pipeline is in its final stages, and water needs have been taken care of. These elements all together give a clear picture of the seriousness of our mandate and, while the main road still has to be completed, it gives us confidence to change our marketing strategy, resolving in taking a more targeted approach.

What does SEZAD's new marketing strategy entail, and what is the investment model and investor profile you are targeting?
Moving forward, our focus will be India and China, respectively. So far, the Chinese model has been successfully implemented in Duqm in different areas, including in light, medium, and heavy industry. The Chinese government has bought 10sqkm of land and needs to market it to its own companies back home. They must place all the infrastructure, including water, electricity, and roads. We want to create similar models with India, European countries, and the US, as Duqm can accommodate any type of business. So far, we have attracted companies in tourism, logistics, and other commercial business. However, we still need to make a lot of effort to keep attracting more industries. The presence of a refinery and the availability of the gas pipeline will make it attractive for downstream propositions and heavy industries, such as petrochemical, to make their footprint. Our focus on heavy industry and petrochemicals make up a good percentage of our business plan. But we also need to focus on other areas simultaneously because for people to come and stay here, they will need healthcare, education, hotels, and accommodation. As we speak, we have around 40,000 people that need an area to live, work, and travel. Eventually, our strategy is to have also a university, which has proven a successful anchor of development in other places around the world.

What is your assessment of the current measures being taken by the government to attract FDI, and how does SEZAD position itself with regards to these efforts?
The PPP law capitalizes on the Foreign Capital Law by helping Oman with ratings and helping foreign companies with a 10% tax facilitation. In Duqm, we already allowed 100% ownership, and we are tax-free. Moreover, we decide our own rate of Omanization, which currently stands at 10%, issue licenses within five days, and provide up to 30 years tax-free. Digital infrastructure is also important to attract investors, which is why we announced many services that we provide through only one system. Through this system, one can apply for registration or investor clearance. Slowly, we are adding other services to be carried out digitally. Before we complete our new business plan, we intend to be fully digitalized. In the sphere of infrastructure development, technology is often associated with smart cities, so it is important to have a vision on how to effectively and efficiently implement smart devices. In this sense, we have already contacted Huawei, Omantel, and Tatweer to create a team that would roll out these plans.