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Mining 'priority' sector in Oman's diversification from oil: officials

  • Author
  • Diana Kinch
  • Editor
  • Richard Rubin
  • Commodity
  • Natural Gas Metals

London — Mining has been earmarked as one of five priority industry sectors for development in Oman as the sultanate follows a policy to diversify away from economic dependency on oil and natural gas, government officials said Thursday.

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"Mining is a new sector backed up by policy improvement," said Azzan bin Qassim al-Busaidi, CEO of Ithraa, Oman's Public Authority for Investment Promotion & Export Development, at an event at the Arab-British Chamber of Commerce, or ABCC, in London. "Oman has a new mining code which has opened up to 100% foreign investment."

No minimum capital or partners are now required for foreign investors in Oman according to the terms of a new foreign capital investment law published in January, Gareth Stevens, director of trade and investment of the Department of International Trade at the British Embassy, Muscat, said at the event.

Oman has reserves of copper, zinc, chromite, silicon, gold, cobalt, iron, limestone, dolomite and gypsum.

According to Busaidi, 110 mineral areas have been identified for development under the new scheme, of which 13 have been approved for international investment. Three areas were put up for bidding last week, initially for local companies, and a second round of properties, aimed at international investors, will be put up for bidding later this year, he said.

Mining production of 26 million mt in 2018 is set to rise to 147 million mt by 2023, Busaidi said. It is estimated that the mining sector may contribute OMR300 million ($779.19 million) to GDP by 2030.

Large-scale copper mining is set to start in Oman with the Al Hadeetha Resources project at Washihi-Mazzaza, which targets sales of 16 million mt/year of copper ore and the eventual construction of a 1 million mt/year copper concentration plant with an initial 10-year mine life. This has been identified as a strategic project in the Sultanate's 2020 state budget, according to the ABCC.

AIM-listed Savannah Mining last year received mining licences for two copper deposits in Oman, and Oman Chromite, which is partly owned by Minerals Development Oman, a public company backed by investment funds, recently received eight new exploration licences, ABBC reported. Oman Chromite produced 19,545 mt of chromite ore in 2019 and aims to offset dwindling reserves at existing sites.

Export-focused investments

Oman is trying to encourage export-oriented mineral investments, to the subcontinent, East Africa or further east, Busaidi said.

"Local market requirements are not so significant," he said. Currently most minerals are exported in the raw form, although the policy foresees the development of more downstream processing in future, he said.

Export is facilitated by Oman's growing port infrastructure, with three existing major ports at Muscat, Sohar and Salalah, which have allowed Oman to become one of the world's biggest transshipment points, with overall exports of $10 billion worth of products annually, said Qais Mohammed al-Yousef, chairman of the Oman Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

Oman is expected to become a global logistics hub by 2040 following the development of the greenfield major Duqm port, which will also play a part in minerals exports, Yousef said.

Other industrial sectors to be developed as part of Oman's "Vision 2040" strategy include manufacturing, logistics and transport, renewable energy, tourism, agribusiness and fisheries, he said.