Muscat: The UK’s special relationship with Oman is blooming and business is booming, according to the new British ambassador.
In his first interview since taking up the post, and speaking exclusively to Times of Oman, Hamish Cowell said UK Export Finance (UKEF), the United Kingdom’s export credit agency, is underwriting several billion pounds worth of loans to British companies to boost the United Kingdom’s (UK) long-standing commercial ties to the Sultanate.
The ambassador said, “UKEF’s overall current envelope for Oman is three billion pounds, with two billion committed. And that helps to encourage investment and support UK-Omani commercial activity.”
The UK remains the Sultanate’s largest Foreign Direct Investor (FDI), with its strong trade links complementing one of the UK’s oldest and most treasured relationships in the region.
“It’s a relationship that has a great deal of history to it, but is also very much in the present day,” he added. “We have very strong ties, very strong defence cooperation. We have very regular ministerial contact on both sides with visitors in both directions and very strong economic and commercial links. The UK is the biggest FDI contributor in Oman by a long way. We account for 46% of all FDI to the Sultanate,” said Cowell.
He added, “We have a lot of commercial projects going on. We are also one of the major investors in the oil and gas sector.”
One of those major investments is the giant Khazzan gas field, which is operated by BP in partnership with the Oman Oil Company Exploration and Production. Phase one of the major gas project delivers around 1 billion cubic feet of gas per day, with future expansions expected to raise those figures by 500 million cubic feet of gas. Approximately, 300 wells are expected to be drilled over the estimated lifetime of the Khazzan field. The first two phases together will develop an estimated 10.5 trillion cubic feet of recoverable gas resources.
Age of Sail
Oman’s relationship with the UK, which dates back to a treaty signed in 1646, has existed through the Age of Sail to the incredibly diverse mosaic of personal, commercial, and regional ties that bind them today. Yet, with the Sultanate’s emergence on the logistical stage in recent years, it only makes sense for major projects such as the Duqm Special Economic Zone (SEZ) to benefit from the two countries’ special relationship.
“We are very excited about the Duqm project,” said Cowell.
On the commercial side, Cowell emphasised the growing presence of British companies in Duqm, which is helping support the continued expansion of the Sultanate’s mega-project.
The Duqm SEZ includes the Port of Duqm, a Refinery & Petrochemical Complex, and the New Duqm Town, among many other components. The Port of Duqm alone will complete its first phase of development in June 2018, as reported by the Times of Oman, which will include the multipurpose terminal, dry bulk terminal and early operations container terminal. Another aspect that has helped boost ties all-round is the people-to-people links that have seen approximately 150,000 British tourists visit Oman annually.
“The close friendship between His Majesty the Sultan and Her Majesty the Queen, the close links between senior ministers and senior officials, business leaders—those people-to-people links at every level are really important,” said Cowell.
According to Cowell, that includes the nearly 2,000 Omani students who travel to study in the UK every year.
“Over time, that means there are thousands and thousands of Omanis that have studied in the UK. We have worked with the British Council to establish an alumni network for Omani students who have studied in the UK, which works very well and we are trying to develop that network,” said Cowell.
He added: “In the other direction, we have a British resident community here of some 6,000 people and many of the residents have been in Oman for many, many years; so they have all contributed to the richness and strength of the relationship between Oman and the UK.”
“Whether it’s the people-to-people links at the very highest level or visitors in both directions, people who live in one country or the other, all of that forms a very rich tapestry of connections between the two countries. And that crosses all the sectors,” Cowell further added.