With its Strategic Location, Advanced Infrastructure, and Plenty of Incentives for Doing Business, it’s No Wonder Sohar Port and Freezone is at the Peak of Oman’s Current Trade Revival
Positioned right at the crossroads between Europe and the Far East, Oman has long been a global centre for trade, dating back thousands of years. With its stable economy, strong infrastructure and peaceful and tolerant culture, it might be one of the lesser-known countries of the region, but provides an extremely favourable climate for those wishing to do business, not to mention its incredible touristic appeal.
As set out in the Oman 2040 Vision, the country is actively seeking foreign direct investment, particularly in high value-added and non-oil sectors, and is in the process of improving the regulatory framework to encourage such investments. Its new Foreign Capital Investment Law came into force in January 2020; a highly significant legislative development that removes most legal restrictions on the foreign ownership of Omani companies. Having jumped ten places in the Ease of Doing Business 2020 report, Oman now ranks at the top in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries in the cross-border trade index, a positioning that is in no small way supported by SOHAR Port and Freezone. The logistics behemoth is on a journey to revive Oman’s standing as an international trade hub.
AN AWARD-WINNING PORT
Established in 2004 as a joint venture between the Omani government and the Port of Rotterdam, SOHAR Port and Freezone is not only one of Oman’s mega-projects, but is also one of the fastest-growing complexes of its kind in the world and a major industrial hub. Today, with seven out of 10 products that Oman buys or consumes coming through SOHAR, it serves as the main gateway for import and export and contributes 2.8% of the country’s GDP. With a focus on sustainability and cutting-edge technology, it is leading the development and modernization of the country’s logistics infrastructure, while offering unrivalled access to key markets in Europe, Africa, Asia and the Americas, as well as across the Middle East. Facing the Arabian Sea and with direct access to the Indian Ocean, the world’s largest ships are able to dock without having to navigate the Strait of Hormuz, the only waterway between the Persian Gulf and open ocean where one-third of the world’s liquefied natural gas and 25% of total global oil consumption passes through.
SOHAR’s rise to prominence over the last 18 years has no doubt been impressive. Since the Freezone was added in 2010, the complex has grown to 21 million square metres – all fully leased ahead of schedule – with a further 2.5 million square metres currently being added and even more space primed for development at a later stage. The efforts to optimise every step of the process has been recognised within the industry. SOHAR has been a frequent winner at fDi Magazine’s annual Free Zone of the Year awards, including taking the ‘New Investments Award’ and commendations for Infrastructure Improvements and Energy Independence in previous years. SOHAR was also named the world’s best dry bulk port in 2018 at the IBJ Awards and the annual index 2020 released by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development named Oman’s ports as the world’s fastest in container ship handling.
Meanwhile, during a period of global uncertainty, the Port has continued to operate at full capacity throughout and welcome new tenants to the Freezone, as well as seeing throughput grow quarter on quarter, year versus year.
A FLOURISHING FREEZONE
Conveniently connected to the Port via a bonded transport corridor, the Freezone offers sector-specific zones and clusters, and integrated, bespoke logistics solutions across the value chain, with warehousing and cold storage facilities available. As with any other industrial zone, SOHAR continues to experience a rapidly rising energy demand, but this has been anticipated. The company joined forces with Shell to co-develop onsite solar power projects to harness solar power within a dedicated 600-hectares solar PV project area and create long-lasting economic value for Oman and the companies in the Freezone.
Over the last year, SOHAR has ramped up its efforts to attract investors, taking advantage of Oman’s burgeoning trade relations with developing countries like China and India. With an abundance of space readily available and filling up fast, some 26 companies are already reaping the benefits of unrivaled access to land, low-cost energy, and a skilled workforce. SOHAR is currently home to logistics, petrochemicals and metal clusters that provide downstream industries with iron, steel, plastics, marble, fertilisers, quartz and chemicals. Moreover, its new Food Zone boasts the region’s first dedicated agro-terminal offering an ideal, close-to-market base to import, process, package and distribute fresh food products to the region and beyond.
INCENTIVES IN ABUNDANCE
But there is more to entice investors than SOHAR’s abundance of energy, raw materials and world-class logistics, like generous incentives for local and international partners. The Freezone allows 100% foreign ownership with 0% personal income tax and 0% import or re-export duties. Companies can enjoy a guaranteed 10-year exemption from corporate tax, normally 12% in Oman, and this can even be extended to 25 years. It has cultivated an environment where business can flourish and prosper by providing a One-Stop-Shop for investors to set up and operate their businesses effectively. The Freezone supports tenants with company registration, licensing and permits, as well as tax exemption certificates and customs registration. Everything a company requires to get started and begin trading with the world.
Until the end of 2022, new and renewing tenants can also purchase a General Trade Licenses (GTLs) for one, two or three years at up to 50% of the usual cost. SOHAR is also offering a complete working solution for companies looking to relocate to the complex through its commercial office partner, Corporate Parks, which offers a reduction of between 30% and 45% in office rental rates for up to three years. The new offers are designed to encourage investment in SOHAR across all sectors and provide the spark for existing businesses to take the next step in their development. Companies can enjoy all of the benefits of working and trading in the Freezone with added flexibility and greater cost-efficiency. With competitive rates starting from one to three years, companies can register for a SOHAR GTL electronically from anywhere in the world and secure all required permits through the One-Stop-Shop.
With its eyes set on the future, SOHAR has strategically set its course to capitalize on its location, resources and competitive edge as well as invest in new technologies to cement Oman’s leadership position in the global logistics arena and enhance its own reputation as a trade and manufacturing hub.