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A millennia-old relationship

Interview - June 6, 2012
Indian Ambassador to the Sultanate of Oman, J.S. Mukul, speaks with United World about the two countries long standing links and modern-day cooperation

The ties between India and Oman go back thousands of years. The two countries are linked by geography, history and culture, and enjoy warm and cordial relations. What is the current state of the bilateral relations between India and Oman?

India and Oman have strong and rich centuries’ old civilizational relations.  Ancient people-to-people contacts nurtured by maritime trade links were the defining facet of our past relations. India-Oman relations have since the period of the Indus Valley Civilization been dominated by trading contacts through traditional maritime links between the two countries. In recent years, both countries have optimally utilized the emerging opportunities to meet the aspirations of their people and to strengthen the bilateral relationship.

Today, India and Oman continue to be partners in each other’s growth and prosperity. The political relations between the two countries are excellent and have reached the level of strategic partnership. These have been supplemented by rich people-to-people interaction and cultural exchanges.

Economic relations between India and Oman date back to over 5,000 years and they have been strengthened over the past decade due to the significant economic growth attained by both countries. Please elaborate on the trade and investment activities between the two countries?

Traditionally, India has been one of the oldest and most important of the commercial and maritime partners of the Gulf countries. The strongest element in the trade of the Omanis was commerce originating in India. India-Oman economic-commercial relations remain vibrant. Bilateral trade is flourishing and continues to go from strength to strength. Investment flows both ways are robust reflected in the numerous joint ventures, big and small, established in Oman and India.

The overall India-Oman bilateral trade registered US$ 5.1 billion in the financial year April 2010-March 2011 in comparison to US$ 4.5 billion in financial year 2009-10 and US$ 2 billion in 2008-09. The recent figures of Omani Ministry of Oil & Gas show that India in 2011 emerged as the second biggest buyer of Omani oil and gas after China. The two countries are extending cooperation to each other in various areas: chemicals and fertilizers, oil and gas, healthcare and wellness, infrastructure, tourism, science and technology, higher education, vocational training, and agriculture.

The contribution of the Indian community to the economic and social development of Oman has been recognized by the government of Oman on various occasions.

It is a matter of satisfaction that the Sultanate has provided a safe and friendly atmosphere to the Indian community in Oman. The Indian entrepreneurs and professionals are recognized for their industry, enterprise, economic strength, education and professional skills. Indian nationals and their Omani counterparts are the pillars of strength in the era of vast opportunities before us. Today, Oman is a second home for more than 700,000 Indian expatriates resident here.

Indian business groups have emerged as prime investors in Oman. More than 1,500 Indo-Omani joint ventures have been established with an estimated investment of US$ 7.5 billion of which Indian investment is estimated around US$ 4 billion. Presently, numerous Indian firms in construction and engineering, waste management, logistics, manufacturing, finance and capital, software solutions, IT, communications, in addition to oil and gas and downstream projects have established their presence along with reputation for excellence.

Furthermore, the India-Oman Joint Investment Fund, set up with initial seed capital of US$ 100 million is operational through its Mumbai-based management company.

It is estimated that some 2,000 Indian doctors work in Oman in government hospitals and in clinics in the private sector. There are also some 30 Indian academics in the Sultan Qaboos University’s various departments and faculties. Furthermore, 19 Indian schools are functioning in Oman.

Currently, Air India (including Indian Airlines and Air India Express) is operating 34 weekly flights and Jet Airways is operating 21 weekly flights. In October 2011, IndiGo has also started four weekly flights from Muscat to Mumbai, while Oman Air operates 77 flights per week to 10 destinations in India. The frequency of these flights reflects well the volume of the activities between the two countries.

Can you point out some of the most successful India-Oman joint ventures? In what areas do you see the major potential for investment and business in the future?

The Oman-India Fertilizer Company (OMIFCO) in Sur is India’s largest joint venture in Oman with a US$ 969 million joint investment between Oman Oil Company and Indian undertakings Iffco and Kribhco, along with the Bharat-Oman Refinery Limited (BORL) in Bina, India, a US$ 2.4 billion joint venture between Oman Oil Company and Bharat Petroleum Corporation Limited (BPCL). These are shining examples of mega projects between the two countries. Besides, the Jindal Shadeed Iron & Steel plant, a US$ 500 million endeavor is a major private sector investment from India.

I am confident that cooperation across the full spectrum of activity between our two countries will result in greater opportunities and lead to enhanced economic benefits for the people in both the countries. It will further deepen and diversify our partnership, i.e. deepen it in existing areas of cooperation and diversifying it to new areas.