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The Tejarah Talks —
Oman’s Long-Term Development Strategy

by Leone Radioncini

On 23 February 2022 the Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Investment Promotion (MoCIIP) of the Sultanate of Oman held the first meeting of the Tejarah Talks, which is a series of seven events dedicated to economic diversification and developing non-oil sectors.[1] The main idea behind these talks is to create an environment in which stakeholders, researchers and thought leaders can discuss the most relevant developments in the country for future generations and the business sector on the path to sustainability.

The first meeting titled Sustainability: A Nice-to-have or a Need-to-have? conceptually explored sustainability and how both civil society and the industrial sector can engage with it by addressing the ever-increasing relevance of climate change and disruptive natural events. Oman (together with the other Gulf Cooperation Council countries) is deeply affected by climate change—a trend set to get worse. The Arabian Peninsula faces an alarming increase in droughts, rising temperatures and extreme weather. It is thus vital for Muscat to develop an adequate strategy to contain the climate change-related problems while promoting a business-friendly environment.

However, as Michael Tsang (founder of Three Pillars Consulting) pointed out during the first Tejarah Talks, sustainability encompasses various aspects and climate change is only one of the perspectives through which sustainability can be examined.

He said that '(s)ustainability touches upon lots of impact categories […] it could be access to clean drinking water, habitat destruction and restoration, biodiversity […] it depends on what sector you’re in […] there are also societal aspects […] social equity, equality, access to education, workers’ rights […]. Climate change […] touches upon a lot of these things but is not the only way to talk about sustainability.’[2]

Sultan Haitham bin Tarik Al Said tried to expand the previous plan implemented by his predecessor Sultan Qaboos Al Said by opening the country to diversified foreign investment. COVID-19, the fluctuating energy markets, fiscal vulnerabilities and the, so far, unsuccessful diversification of Oman’s economic structure. This underscores the need to attract foreign investors to support the transition to reducing dependency on energy exports. Adham Al Said, the moderator of the Tejarah Talks’ noted that

‘Business in manufacturing, energy, tourism and food are finding interesting and exciting ways to address sustainability issues. The upshot is companies discovering new ways to go green, protect the environment and make substantial savings.’[3]

Given the strategic position of Oman proximate to key commercial routes, the Sultanate has priorities promoting investment opportunities in its ports and free zones such as:

  1. The Special Economic Zone at Duqm

  2. The Almazuna Free Zone

  3. The Salalah Free Zone

  4. The Sohar Free Zone.

 

The Public Authority for Special Economic Zones and Free Zones (OPAZ), established in August 2020, spearheads this initiative. Creating a business-friendly environment, cutting the oversized government budget, and implementing a more efficient bureaucracy are some of the steps undertaken by the Sultan to address economic and environmental problems. However, other issues require redress, including fundamental reforms to the labour market, developing a more transparent decision-making system and speeding-up new business approvals, in order to boost Oman’s appeal for foreign investors.

 

These efforts are in line with the goals of the Sultanate’s Vision 2040, a roadmap for reforms and policies to improve the life of citizens, modernise the industrial and infrastructural sectors and achieve net-zero carbon emissions. Vision 2040 is based on three main pillars:

  1. People and Society

  2. Economy and Development, and

  3. Governance and institutional performance.

 

The second pillar, specifically, recognises the importance of diversification of Oman’s economy as well as ‘Preserving Environment Sustainability.’[4]

 

These pillars are also aligned with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals 2030 (SDGs). Oman, as well as the other GCC countries, adopted the requests made by the UN to implement policies that would address social and gender equality and recasting its economic and industrial structure to be more sustainable. As such, the Tejarah Talks are part of a more robust framework to engage with the public, the private sector, researchers and stakeholders in order to help boost the government’s international engagements, address the needs of the younger generations and environmental sustainability.

 

Another step in this direction is in regards to cooperation with the European Union (EU). On 21 February 2022, Oman — along with the other GCC members — signed a Joint Cooperation programme for the period 2022-2027 with the EU. Within this programme, one of the more relevant aspects is the joint action in combating climate change, protecting the environment and developing renewable energies.

***

 

All considered, the Tejarah Talks represent a relevant moment of engagement for the future of Oman. On this subject the following policy recommendations can be made:

  1. Engage with the EU—as it represents the first external investor in the GCC countries, therefore engaging as much as possible with EU institutions as well as the business community could represent a relevant way to support the development and the green transition in Oman.

  2. Formalise the Tejarah Talks to be held annually—to help define a long-term strategy for these events and evaluate the achievements of Oman’s business sector and civil society annually.

  3. Sector-specific consultations amongst business groups—chambers of commerce and trans-sectoral business communities within the GCC and EU countries culminating in outcome statements and/or joint policy recommendations will help to consolidate the economic network such monumental transitions will generate.

Sources

“Tejarah Talks launched by Oman MoCIIP”, Zawya, 20 February 2022,  https://www.zawya.com/mena/en/press-releases/story/Tejarah_Talks_launched_by_Oman_MoCIIP-ZAWYA20220220123512/

“MoCIIP to start Tejarah Talks on challenges to businesses on Feb 23”, Muscat Daily, 21 February 2022, https://www.muscatdaily.com/2022/02/21/mociip-to-start-tejarah-talks-on-challenges-to-businesses-on-feb-23/

Oman Vision 2040, Omanuna, https://omanuna.oman.om/en/home-top-level/eparticipation/oman-vision-2040

“Oman Vision 2040, Moving Forward with Confidence” https://www.national-day-of-oman.info/wp-content/uploads/2020/11/OmanVision2040-Preliminary-Vision-Document.pdf

“Sustainable Developments Goals, Oman”, National Centre for Statistics and Information, Sultanate of Oman, https://sdg.ncsi.gov.om/

“Co-Chairs' Statement - 26th EU-GCC Joint Council and Ministerial Meeting”, Foreign Affairs Council, Press Release, 22 February 2022, https://www.consilium.europa.eu/en/press/press-releases/2022/02/22/co-chairs-statement-26th-eu-gcc-joint-council-and-ministerial-meeting/

“Loans based on sustainability targets being offered in Oman”, Times of Oman, 19 February 2022, https://timesofoman.com/article/113465-loans-based-on-sustainability-targets-being-offered-in-oman

“Tejarah Talks session focuses on sustainability as a business imperative”, Oman Observer, 26 February 2022, https://www.omanobserver.om/article/1115280/business/economy/tejarah-talks-session-focuses-on-sustainability-as-a-business-imperative

 

[1] A registration of the first conference is available at Tejarah Talks Twitter Account: https://twitter.com/Tejarah_om/status/1496504727378415617

[2] Ibid.

[3] “Tejarah Talks session focuses on sustainability as business imperative”, Oman Observer, 26 February 2022, https://www.omanobserver.om/article/1115280/business/economy/tejarah-talks-session-focuses-on-sustainability-as-a-business-imperative

[4] Oman Vision 2040, Omanuna, https://omanuna.oman.om/en/home-top-level/eparticipation/oman-vision-2040