NEW DELHI: India and Oman signed a Maritime Transport Agreement on Tuesday during the visit of foreign minister S Jaishankar to the Sultanate. The pact – the first with any Gulf country – enables India to expand its footprint in the western Indian Ocean, the Persian Gulf and east Africa.
Additionally, in a significant development that will have a far-reaching impact on stability in the Persian Gulf, Strait of Hormuz and India’s interests in the region, the Jaishankar met his counterparts from Oman and Iran for lunch in Muscat on Tuesday for what can be described as the first trilateral of sorts.
Oman is playing the role of mediator between the US and Iran and between Iran and the Gulf powers. Iran, Oman and India are part of the Ashgabat Agreement connecting Indian Ocean with Eurasia.
Jaishankar travelled to Muscat from Tehran, where he held talks over Sunday and Monday to accelerate operations in Chabahar port.
Oman, India’s oldest strategic partner in the Gulf, seeks to emerge as a hub for India for eastern Africa and the Indian Ocean Region, furthering New Delhi’s Indo-Pacific strategy. Jaishankar met Omani ministers including his counterpart Yousuf bin Alawi bin Abdullah, deputy PM Sayyid Fahd bin Mahmoud Al Said and defence minister Bader Bin Saud Bin Harib Al Busaidi.
Oman and India are linked by geography, history and culture. The two countries enjoy warm and cordial relations attributed to historical maritime trade linkages and close links of Oman’s royal family with India.
Oman has allowed India, including its navy, access to its Duqm port, about 550 km south of the capital Muscat. The Port of Duqm SEZ, which is earmarked to be the Indian Ocean’s largest deep-sea port, is where an Indo-Oman joint venture, Sebacic Oman, is undertaking a $1.2 billion project to set up the largest sebacic acid plant in the Middle-East.
An agreement to develop Little India, an integrated tourism complex project in Duqm worth $748 million, has been signed between the two countries.
Oman’s sea ports and industrial hubs established along its 1,700 km coast on the Indian Ocean makes it an ideal home for international businesses.
“The Sultanate of Oman offers four sea ports and an equal number of industry free-zones, all facing the Indian Ocean, and Indian private and public sector companies are increasingly increasing their footfall in the country,” Oman’s ambassador to India, Sheikh Hamad Bin Saif Al Rawahi, told ET.
Prime Minister Narinder Modi’s visit to Oman in 2018 initiated a new energy in bilateral relations, with enhanced cooperation in trade and investment, energy, defence, security, food security and regional issues, according to Al Rawahi.
The industrial zones at Oman’s Duqm offer a range of incentives, including 30-year corporate tax exemption, zero customs duty, 100% foreign ownership and full repatriation of profit.
“These sea ports are supported with airports and warehousing facilities for the benefit of entrepreneurs,” the ambassador said.
India is among Oman’s top trading partners, with bilateral trade reaching $5 billion in 2018-19. India was the second-largest importer of crude oil from Oman in 2018. There are over 780,000 Indian citizens living in Oman, the second-largest expatriate community in the country.
Investment flows between Oman and India have increased and have been robust, as reflected in numerous joint ventures, established in both countries, with total investment estimated at $7.5 billion. There are over 3,200 Indian enterprises and establishments in Oman and 400 flights a week between the two countries.
Source: Economic Times