Omani Sultan Haitham bin Tarik al Said, who assumed the sultancy in January 2020, has led a whole of government effort to reform Oman’s economy to attract foreign direct investment (FDI). This effort has built on an overhaul of Oman’s business and investment framework that included, most notably, updates in 2019 to Oman’s Commercial Companies Law, Foreign Capital Investment Law, Privatization Law, Public-Private Partnership Law, and Bankruptcy Law. Under Sultan Haitham’s leadership, Oman is now in the process of developing further advantages for foreign investors, including a program of tax and fee incentives, permissions to invest in several new industries in the economy, expanded land use, increased access to capital, and labor and employment incentives for qualifying companies. These reforms seek to improve Oman’s investment climate and are in line with Oman’s Vision 2040 development plan. The success of Oman’s reform effort will depend on Oman’s ability to open up key sectors to private sector competition and foreign investment, minimize bureaucratic red tape, pay off its overdue bills, balance its desire for “Omanization” with the realities of training and restructuring its work force, and translate its promises of economic reform into increased FDI flows and job creation.
Oman’s location on the Persian Gulf and the Indian Ocean, at the crossroads of the Arabian Peninsula, East Africa, and South Asia, and in proximity to shipping lanes carrying a significant share of the world’s maritime commercial traffic and access to larger regional markets, is an attractive feature for potential foreign investors. Some of Oman’s most promising development projects and investment opportunities involve its ports and free zones, most notably in Duqm, where the government envisions a 2,000 square-kilometer free trade zone and logistics hub. Because of its “friends of all, enemies of none” foreign policy, Oman does not face the external security challenges of its neighbors. Because of its domestic policy of peaceful coexistence, political instability among its diverse population is practically nonexistent.
Oman has taken numerous recent measures to promote investment. In August 2020, it created the Public Authority for Special Economic Zones and Free Zones (OPAZ) to oversee and facilitate investment into the Special Economic Zone at Duqm, Almazuna Free Zone, Salalah Free Zone, Sohar Free Zone. In 2019, it promulgated five laws to promote investment: the Public-Private Partnership Law; the Foreign Capital Investment Law (FCIL); the Privatization Law; the Bankruptcy Law; and the Commercial Companies Law. The FCIL, which came into force January 1, 2020, holds particular promise for removing minimum-share capital requirements and limits on the amount of foreign ownership in an Omani company. Under the U.S.-Oman Free Trade Agreement (FTA), U.S. businesses and investors already have the right to 100 percent ownership.
Oman’s overall financial situation continues to suffer from the COVID-19 pandemic, the collapse of global oil prices, and the resulting oversupply. The situation has highlighted Oman’s oil dependence, chronic fiscal vulnerabilities, and its inability to significantly diversify its economy. While the government took steps to curb spending in 2020, revenue losses outpaced expenditure cuts and the deficit ballooned $2 billion beyond projections. Oman’s wealth will continue to rely on oil and gas revenues, despite diversification efforts. Overall, Oman is facing worsening financial conditions and rising financial obligations, which could continue to restrict the government’s ability to invest in needed growth to address a worsening employment situation. Its debt to GDP ratio reached 81 percent by the end of 2020, compared to 60 percent in 2019.
Sultan Haitham has recognized these challenges and is seeking to address them. In the first year of his reign, he succeeded in cutting at least $4.7 billion from Oman’s bloated government budget and filled his cabinet with technocrats who are united the goal of in righting Oman’s faltering economy, with an emphasis on FDI. As part of Oman’s government revenue diversification efforts, the government instituted a Value-Added Tax of 5 percent for the majority of purchases of goods and services April 16 and implemented long overdue subsidy reforms January 1; in addition, the Tax Authority is planning a personal income tax on high-income individuals for next year.
The top complaints of businesses often relate to requirements to hire and retain Omani national employees and a heavy-handed application of “Omanization” quotas. Payment delays to companies are also a problem across various sectors. Smaller companies without in-country experience or a regional presence face considerable bureaucratic obstacles conducting business here. Beginning in 2020, the government also temporarily ceased the issuance of most new contracts and purchases as a move to curb expenditures.
The government also needs to undertake more fundamental reforms for investment such as making its tender system transparent, modifying its labor laws to provide companies with workforce flexibility to address manpower redundancies, increasing access to credit, and speeding up approvals for new businesses to truly open up Oman to foreign investment.
|TI Corruption Perceptions Index||2020||49 of 179||http://www.transparency.org/research/cpi/overview|
|World Bank’s Doing Business Report||2019||68 of 190||http://www.doingbusiness.org/en/rankings|
|Global Innovation Index||2020||84 of 131||https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/analysis-indicator|
|U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, stock positions)||2018||USD 1,624||https://apps.bea.gov/international/factsheet/|
|World Bank GNI per capita||2019||USD 14, 110||http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GNP.PCAP.CD|
1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment
Policies Towards Foreign Direct Investment
Oman actively seeks foreign direct investment and is in the process of improving the regulatory framework to encourage such investments. The Foreign Capital Investment Law (FCIL) allows 100 percent foreign ownership in most sectors and removed the minimum capital requirement. The law effectively provides all foreign investors with an open market in Oman, privileges already extended to U.S. nationals due to the provisions in the 2009 U.S.-Oman Free Trade Agreement (FTA), although the FTA goes further in providing American companies with national treatment.
The Omani government’s “In-Country Value” (ICV) policy seeks to incentivize companies, both Omani and foreign, to procure local goods and services and provide training to Omani national employees. The government includes bidders’ demonstration of support for ICV as one factor in government tender awards. While the government initially applied ICV primarily to oil and gas contracts, the principle is now embedded in government tenders in all sectors, including transportation and tourism. New-to-market foreign companies, including U.S. firms, may find the bid requirements related to ICV prohibitive.
Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment
With the implementation of the U.S.-Oman FTA in 2009, U.S. firms may establish and fully own a business in Oman without a local partner. Although U.S. investors are provided national treatment in most sectors, Oman has an exception in the FTA for legal services, limiting U.S. ownership in a legal services firm to no more than 70 percent. Since January 1, 2021, foreign lawyers may not represent cases in Omani courts at any level. The government also has a “negative list” that restricts foreign investment to safeguard national security interests. The list includes some services related to radio and television transmission as well as air and internal waterway transportation. The Ministry of Commerce, Industry, and Investment Promotion (MOCIIP) – until August 2020 known as the Ministry of Commerce and Industry (MOCI) – issued Ministerial Decision 209/2020 on December 8, 2020, updating the list of activities in which foreign investors are prohibited from engaging, from 37 in 2019 to 70. MOCIIP is applying the new law on a reported case-by-case basis, and it remains uncertain whether
a 100 percent foreign-owned company can now undertake an activity which is not on the negative list. Under the new FCIL, foreign nationals seeking to own 100 percent shares in local companies no longer are required to seek MOCIIP approval.
Oman bans non-Omani ownership of real estate and land in various governorates and in other areas the government deems necessary to restrict, as per Royal Decree 29/2018. However, Oman permits the establishment of real estate investment funds (REIFs) in order to encourage new inflows of capital into Oman’s property sector, and foreign investors, as well as expatriates in Oman, may own property units in REIFs. In January 2020, Oman’s first REIF (Aman) launched an initial private offering valued at $26 million for Omani and non-Omani investors. In addition, the Ministry of Housing and Urban Planning in October 2020 issued Ministerial Decision 357/2020 extending permissions for non-Omanis to own units in multi-story commercial and residential real estate buildings under the usufruct system in some locations in Muscat governorate.
Other Investment Policy Reviews
Oman has not undergone any third-party investment policy reviews in the past seven years. The last WTO Trade Policy Review was in April 2014 (Link to 2014 report: https://www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/tpr_e/tp395_e.htm.)
Royal Decree 97/2020 restructured the Ministry of Commerce, Industry, and Investment Promotion (MOCIIP) in August 2020 to assume the functions that the Public Authority for Investment Promotion and Export Development (Ithraa) previously held. In this role, MOCIIP works toward attracting foreign investors and smoothing the path for business formation and private-sector development. It works closely with government organizations and businesses in Oman and abroad to provide a comprehensive range of business support. MOCIIP also offers a comprehensive range of business investor advice geared exclusively to support foreign companies looking to invest in Oman, based on company-specific needs and key target sectors that the country’s diversification program identifies. Oman’s “Invest in Oman” website (https://investinoman.om) provides information on Oman as a business location.
MOCIIP has an online business registration site, known as “Invest Easy” (business.gov.om), through which businesses can obtain a Commercial Registration certificate from MOCIIP. MOCIIP can normally complete most registrations in approximately three or four business days, however, some commercial registration and licensing decisions may require the approval of multiple ministries and could take longer. The “Invest Easy” portal integrates several government agencies into a single portal and serves as a single window for businesses in Oman.
The government neither promotes nor provides incentives for outward investment but does not restrict its citizens from investing abroad.
2. Bilateral Investment Agreements and Taxation Treaties
Although Oman does not have a bilateral investment treaty (BIT) with the United States, the FTA contains a chapter governing investment. Oman has 28 BITs with the following countries: Algeria, Austria, Belarus, Bulgaria, China, Croatia, Egypt, Finland, France, Germany, Iran, Italy, Japan, Jordan, Republic of Korea, Lebanon, Morocco, Netherlands, Pakistan, Singapore, Sudan, Sweden, Switzerland, Tunisia, Turkey, United Kingdom, Uzbekistan, and Yemen.
Oman does not have a bilateral taxation treaty with the United States, but it has signed double taxation treaties with 34 countries.
3. Legal Regime
Transparency of the Regulatory System
The legal, regulatory, and accounting systems in Oman remain less than fully transparent and new policies are often ambiguous. There are no regulatory processes managed by community organizations or private sector associations. Ministries or regulatory agencies do not solicit comments on proposed regulations from the general public and do not conduct impact assessments of proposed regulations. There is no requirement for periodic review of regulations.
Although reforms enacted in 2011 expanded the policy review function of the Majlis Oman, or Council of Oman (Oman’s parliamentary body), its powers remain limited. Omani community organizations and private sector associations do not play a significant role in the regulatory environment.
The Ministry of Justice and Legal Affairs (MJLA) prepares and revises draft laws, drafts royal decrees, and negotiates international agreements and contracts in which the Omani government is one of the involved parties. MJLA also gives legal opinions and advice on matters from other ministries and government departments. Its website contains copies of actual royal decrees and some ministerial decisions, mostly in Arabic, but some have English translations. It also publishes Omani budget documents within a reasonable period of time.
Oman’s Capital Market Authority (CMA) is in the process of developing an updated legal framework for the capital markets sector. Toward that end, it issued the Commercial Companies Law (CCL) and related regulations in 2019 to create a more transparent and robust corporate governance system by imposing rules on shareholders and boards of directors.
Oman’s budget is widely and easily accessible to the general public, including online on MJLA’s website and via the Official Gazette. The government maintains off-budget accounts, including sovereign wealth funds. Their portfolios are opaque, and transfers to and from these funds are only included in the debt-financing section of the budget as a debt financing mechanism. Limited information on debt obligations is publicly available.
International Regulatory Considerations
As a member of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), Oman largely follows its regional regulatory system. In 2013, GCC Member States issued regulations on the GCC Regional Conformity Assessment Scheme and GCC “G” Mark in an effort to “unify conformity marking and facilitate the control process of the common market for the GCC members, and to clarify requirements of manufacturers.” U.S. and GCC officials continue to discuss concerns about consistency of interpretation and implementation of these regulations across all six GCC member states, as well as the relationship between national conformity assessment requirements and the GCC regulations.
As Oman is a member of the World Trade Organization (WTO), it is committed to update the WTO Committee on any technical barriers to trade. Oman’s Trade Facilitation Agreement with the WTO entered into force on February 22, 2017.
Legal System and Judicial Independence
Oman’s legal system is code based, but incorporates elements from a variety of legal traditions, most notably modern English and French law, as well as Islamic law in the Ibadhi interpretation.
Oman has a written commercial law and specialized commercial courts. Oman’s Commercial Court is responsible for resolving business disputes. The Commercial Court has jurisdiction over most tax and labor cases, and can issue orders of enforcement of decisions. The Commercial Court can accept cases against governmental bodies, but can only issue, and not enforce, rulings against the government.
Oman’s judicial system is independent and reliable, though the procedures can be long, and many steps are required to initiate a case. Oman’s multi-level court system has an appeals process. The Supreme Court is the court of last resort for appeals of regulations and enforcement actions.
Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment
The Foreign Capital Investment Law (FCIL) issued by Royal Decree 50/2019 in July 2019 removed the prior capital requirement of investing at least RO 150,000 (about $390,000) under the old FCIL and eliminated the prior 70 percent limit on foreign ownership of an Omani company. In August 2020, the Ministry of Commerce, Industry, and Investment Promotion (MOCIIP) issued ministerial decision 72/2020 as the executive regulations of the FCIL. December 8, 2020, MOCIIP also released an official “negative list” by ministerial decision 209/2020 of 70 commercial activities that are prohibited to foreign investors, an increase from 37 the year before.
Competition and Anti-Trust Laws
Oman does not screen investments for competition considerations, and Oman does not have an active competition commission. The Competition and Anti-Monopoly Law (Royal Decree No. 67/2014), promulgated in December 2014, aims to combat monopolistic practices by prohibiting anti-competitive agreements and price manipulation. It includes a reporting requirement for any activity, such as mergers and acquisitions, which results in a dominant market position for one firm. Royal Decree 2/2018 issued in January 2018 established a Competition Protection and Monopoly Prevention Center.
Expropriation and Compensation
Oman’s interest in increased foreign investment and technology transfer makes expropriation or nationalization unlikely. In the event that a property is nationalized, Article 11 of the Basic Law of the State issued in January 2021 stipulates that the Government of Oman must provide prompt and fair compensation. There are no recent examples of expropriation or nationalization.
ICSID Convention and New York Convention
Oman is a party to the International Convention for the Settlement of Investment Disputes between States and Nationals of other States (ICSID) and the United Nations New York Convention of 1958 on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards.
In June 2018, Oman sued U.S. mining company owner Adel Hamadi Al Tamini in Massachusetts federal court for a $5.6 million arbitration award issued against him by ICSID. In 2011, Al Tamini filed a claim against the Government of Oman alleging that it improperly ended limestone mining leases that violated his rights under the U.S.-Oman Free Trade Agreement (FTA). The Tamini case was the first ICSID case filed against Oman and the first case filed under the bilateral FTA. An ICSID tribunal dismissed the claim and rendered an award for Oman, which the government is now seeking to enforce. No Oman-related cases are pending in the ICSID.
Investor-State Dispute Settlement
Oman has a modern arbitration law that is largely based on the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL) model. Pursuant to its arbitration law, an arbitration agreement must be in writing, and it can be in one or more instruments. The parties are free to choose any law relating to the arbitration agreement and, in the absence of an explicit law, the courts are given the power to make the determination. Additionally, there are specific dispute resolution mechanisms through the FTA that can assist Omani and U.S. companies in resolving disputes outside of the Omani legal system.
International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts
Many corporate entities in Oman are increasingly turning to arbitration to resolve their disputes, since arbitration is considered a more efficient and reliable mechanism than court processes. An arbitral award is usually rendered in Oman within 12 months after the aggrieved party states in writing that a dispute has arisen. In contrast, court processes can often be much lengthier, particularly where technically complex issues are involved. Cases normally go through three tiers of justice (Primary, Appeal, and Supreme), lengthening the process.
The Omani Arbitration Law (Royal Decree 47/97 as amended) defines the term “arbitration” as a dispute resolution mechanism agreed to by parties of their own volition. Usually, the parties will state in their initial contract that any dispute will be resolved by arbitration pursuant to, for instance, the Omani Arbitration Law. The Law mandates that an arbitration agreement should be in writing. It is also permissible for parties to agree in writing, once a dispute has arisen, to resolve it by arbitration. In such cases, however, the agreement has to specify the underlying issues that the parties have agreed to resolve by arbitration.
The Omani government recognizes binding international arbitration of investment disputes with foreign investors, though the government has increasingly challenged rulings in favor of foreign companies in payment collection cases. The government has been slow in the payment of some arbitration awards to foreign companies. Oman’s legal framework provides for the enforcement of international arbitration awards and most foreign companies elect for dispute resolution by arbitration. Arbitration is generally cheaper, quicker, and easier than settling commercial disputes in the normal court system, where judges often lack expertise on technical commercial issues.
Oman introduced a new Bankruptcy Law in 2019 which came into effect in July 2020. The main provisions of the new law involve the concepts of restructuring and preventive compositions. Other provisions of the new law prescribing expert input and instituting strict timelines into bankruptcy proceedings will be beneficial to both businesses and investors in avoiding liquidation. The Bankruptcy Law will apply to foreign agencies and branches of foreign companies established in Oman, but exclude entities licensed by the Central Bank of Oman and insurance companies.
According to the World Bank, it takes on average three years to complete foreclosure proceedings in Oman, and the cost of resolving bankruptcy as a percentage of the estate (3.5 percent) is lower in Oman than elsewhere the region. In 2019, the World Bank ranked Oman 97th in the world for resolving insolvency, up three slots from the previous year. Oman ranks higher than many other countries in the region for resolving insolvency.
4. Industrial Policies
Oman offers several incentives to attract foreign investors such as competitive lease rates for certain types of companies established in recognized industrial estates, free zones, and specific locations, but only on a case-by-case basis. Oman’s sweeping government restructuring in August 2020 brought the Tax Authority under the charge of the Minister of Finance. Oman has no personal income tax or capital gains tax. The Sultan in October 2020 approved a Medium-Term Fiscal Plan in which it announced Omani plans to introduce an income tax for higher-income individuals in 2022 or 2023, as part of the government’s efforts to increase revenue. The government has yet to define what that higher-income threshold will be.
However, some of Oman’s investment incentives, such as for reductions in utility rates, have diminished since 2017. Most industrial and commercial consumers now pay cost-reflective tariffs for utilities.
Oman’s overhaul of its corporate tax law in 2017 by Royal Decree 9/2017, and amendments to Oman’s Tax Law in 2020 through royal decree 118/2020, eliminated many tax exemptions for foreign investors. Oman taxes corporate earnings at 15 percent.
Foreign Trade Zones/Free Ports/Trade Facilitation
The government established the Public Authority for Special Economic Zones and Free Zones (OPAZ) in August 2020 by Royal Decree 105/2020 to oversee the Special Economic Zone at Duqm, Almazuna Free Zone, Salalah Free Zone, Sohar Free Zone, and any other special zone or free zone in Oman to complement its port development projects in Duqm, Salalah, and Sohar. These areas include strategically located ports and are well connected with modern infrastructure and facilities. An incentive package for investors includes a tax holiday, duty-free treatment of all imports and exports, and tax-free repatriation of profits. Additional benefits include streamlined business registration, processing of labor and immigration permits, assistance with utility connections, and lower “Omanization” employment quota requirements. Foreign-owned firms have the same investment opportunities as Omani entities.
Performance and Data Localization Requirements
Since 1988, the Omani government has had a labor market policy of Omanization, which includes minimum employment quotas for Omani nationals. These quota targets vary depending on the sector; they can be as low as 10 percent in the Special Economic Zone at Duqm (SEZAD) and as high as 90 percent, for example, in the banking sector. Most government ministries have achieved Omanization rates at or near 100 percent.
Omanization targets are prevalent throughout the private sector but the government enforces them inconsistently. In practice, each company in Oman submits an Omanization plan to the Ministry of Labor (MoL), which has the authority to adjust required Omanization percentages. In response to the economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic, the MoL adopted stronger measures to force companies to increase their employment of Omanis and also to retain their Omani employees.
Employers seeking to hire expatriate workers must seek a visa allotment from the MoL and Royal Oman Police (ROP). The MoL and ROP scrutinize visa allocations, often using opaque criteria. Foreign investors complain of the difficulty in hiring expatriates to the point that it deters companies from investing or expanding in Oman. As of January 1, 2021, the ROP allows expatriate workers to switch employers upon completion or termination of their employment contracts without the need to obtain a “no-objection” certificate (NOC) from their current employers.
In January 2018, the MoL issued a decree that imposed a six-month ban on visas for expatriates in 87 job categories across 10 private sector industries. The MoL has extended the dates for this ban several times and has added additional job categories to the visa ban.
Currently, Oman does not have any requirements for companies to turn over source code or to provide access to surveillance. However, the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA) requires service providers to house servers in Oman if they are to provide services in Oman. The TRA is the lead agency on establishing data quotas in Oman.
5. Protection of Property Rights
Oman does not recognize or enforce securitized interests in property, both moveable and real. Mortgages and liens exist in the country. Foreign nationals are generally not able to own real estate in Oman, other than residential property in so-called “integrated tourism complexes” — zoned areas that permit foreign nationals to own property on a freehold basis. The Ministry of Housing and Urban Planning (MHUP) in October 2020 issued Ministerial Decision number 357/2020, which allows foreign nationals to purchase units in multi-storied commercial and residential buildings under the usufruct system, with limitations. Individuals record their interest in property with the Land Registry at the MHUP. The legal system, in general, facilitates the acquisition and disposition of property rights.
There are lands reserved for tribal use and ownership, but there are no clear definitions or regulations governing these lands. These tribes legally own the land, as opposed to the government owning the land, and they therefore control access and any commercial activities on it.
According to the World Bank, it takes 18 days on average to register property in Oman, and the cost of the registration process as a percentage of the property value (three percent) is lower in Oman than elsewhere the region. In 2018, the World Bank ranked Oman 52nd in the world for registering property, and Oman ranked higher than many other countries in the region.
Intellectual Property Rights
Oman has a relatively robust legal and regulatory framework for intellectual property rights (IPR) protection. Oman was not included in the United States Trade Representative (USTR) Special 301 Report or the Notorious Markets List.
U.S. stakeholders have experienced difficulty encouraging appropriate agencies, including the Public Authority for Consumer Protection, the Public Prosecution, Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Investment Promotion (MOCIIP), and the Royal Oman Police, to take IPR enforcement action. Adding to the lack of efficiency in IPR enforcement is the continued confusion about which government agencies are responsible for investigating different types of IPR violations.
Consumer Protection Authority officials have confirmed that they do not accept responsibility for complaints arising from brand-owners; they only take action on consumers’ complaints. MJLA officials have also confirmed that the Law of Copyrights and Neighboring Rights (Royal Decree No. 65/2008) stipulates that the MOCIIP shall be responsible for IPR enforcement at the retail level, including inspections and seizures.
Oman revised its intellectual property and copyright laws to comply with its obligations under the 2009 U.S.-Oman FTA (FTA). As a result, Oman offers increased IPR protection for copyrights, trademarks, trade secrets, geographical indications, and patents. FTA-related revisions to IPR protection in Oman built upon the existing IPR regime, already strengthened by the passage of World Trade Organization-consistent intellectual property laws on copyrights, trademarks, industrial secrets, geographical indications, and integrated circuits. The FTA’s chapter on IPR can be found at: https://om.usembassy.gov/business/u-s-oman-free-trade-agreement/texts-free-trade-agreement/.
Oman is a member of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) and is registered as a signatory to the Madrid, Paris, and Berne conventions on trademarks and intellectual property protection. Oman has signed the WIPO Copyright Treaty and the WIPO Performances and Phonograms Treaty. Oman is a signatory to the International Convention for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants.
Trademark laws in Oman are Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPs) compliant. MOCIIP registers trademarks and notes them in the Official Gazette. Local law firms can assist companies with the registration of trademarks. Oman’s copyright protection law extends protection to foreign copyrighted literary, technical, or scientific works; works of the graphic and plastic arts; and sound and video recordings. In order to receive protection for a foreign-copyrighted work, the rights holder must register the work with the Omani government by depositing a copy of it with the government and paying a fee. Trademarks are valid for 10 years while patents are generally protected for 20 years. Literary works, software and audiovisual content receive protection for 50 years.
For additional information about treaty obligations and points of contact at local IP offices, please see WIPO’s country profiles at:
Resources for Rights Holders:
Ministry of Commerce and Industry – Department of IPR Enforcement
Director of Intellectual Property
Ali bin Hamad Al Mamari
Tel: +968- 9572-7260
Oman Chamber of Commerce & Industry
Dr. Al Fadhil bin Abbas al-Hinai, CEO
Tel: +968-2479- 9146
U.S. Patent & Trademark Office
Regional IP Attaché
Pete C. Mehravari, Intellectual Property Attaché for the Middle East & North Africa
U.S. Embassy Abu Dhabi
U.S. Department of Commerce
Tel: +965 2259 1455
United States Trade Representative
IPR Director for the GCC
Tel: +1 (202) 395-9564
U.S. Department of Commerce – International Trade Administration
International Trade Specialist
6. Financial Sector
Capital Markets and Portfolio Investment
There are no restrictions in Oman on the flow of capital and the repatriation of profits. Foreigners may invest in the Muscat Securities Market so long as they do so through an authorized broker. Access to Oman’s limited commercial credit and project financing resources is open to Omani firms with foreign participation. At this time, there is not sufficient liquidity in the market to allow for the entry and exit of sizeable amounts of capital. According to the 2018 annual report on exchange arrangements and exchange restrictions of the International Monetary Fund, Article VIII practices are reflected in Oman’s exchange system.
The Commercial Companies Law requires the listing of joint stock companies with capital in excess of $5.2 million. The law also requires companies to existence for two years before their owners can float them for public trading. Publicly traded firms in Oman are still a relatively rare phenomenon; the majority of businesses are private family enterprises.
Money and Banking System
The banking system is sound and well capitalized with low levels of non-performing loans and generally high profits. Oman’s banking sector includes eight local banks, nine foreign banks, two Islamic banks, and two specialized banks. Bank Muscat, the largest domestic bank operating in Oman, has $28.1 billion in assets. The Central Bank of Oman (CBO) is responsible for maintaining the internal and external value of the national currency. It is also the single integrated regulator of Oman’s financial services industry. The CBO issues regulations and guidance to all banks operating within Oman’s borders. Foreign businesspeople must have a residence visa or an Omani commercial registration to open a local bank account. There are no restrictions for foreign banks to establish operations in the country as long as they comply with CBO instructions.
Foreign Exchange and Remittances
Oman does not have restrictions or reporting requirements on private capital movements into or out of the country. The Omani rial (RO) is pegged at a rate of RO 0.3849 to $1, and there is no difficulty in obtaining exchange. In general, all other currencies are first converted to dollars, then to the desired currency; national currency rates fluctuate, therefore, as the dollar fluctuates. The government has consistently stated publicly that it is committed to maintaining the current peg. The government has stated publicly that it will not join a proposed Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) common currency. There is no delay in remitting investment returns or limitation on the inflow or outflow of funds for remittances of profits, debt service, capital, capital gains returns on intellectual property, or imported inputs.
Oman does not restrict the remittance abroad of equity or debt capital, interest, dividends, branch profits, royalties, management and service fees, and personal savings, but it does apply withholding tax to many of these transfers at a rate of 10 percent. Because Oman’s currency is pegged to the dollar, the Omani government is unable to engage in currency manipulation tactics. Investors can remit through legal parallel markets utilizing convertible, negotiable instruments. There are no surrender requirements for profits earned overseas.
The GCC, of which Oman is a member, is a member of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) and its regional body. In February 2019, Oman hosted a workshop on combating money laundering and terrorism in cooperation with FATF. The level of compliance of Oman’s anti-money laundering and counter-terrorist financing regime with the FATF Recommendations is comparatively high for the region, and the legal framework is sound. However, the government has not yet fully addressed a number of gaps, including completing the certification procedures for anti-money laundering/countering the financing of terrorism (AML/CFT), issuing AML/CFT regulations to the sectors identified in Oman’s CFT law, and designating wire transfer amounts for customer due diligence procedures. Statistics regarding suspicious transaction reports, investigations, and convictions are not widely available.
Sovereign Wealth Funds
The Oman Investment Authority (OIA) is Oman’s principal Sovereign Wealth Fund. It replaced the State General Reserve Fund (SGRF) in June 2020 by Royal Decree 61/2020. SGRF joined the International Forum of Sovereign Wealth Funds in 2015 as a full member and follows the Santiago Principles. Omani law does not require sovereign wealth funds to publish an annual report or submit their books for an independent audit. Many of the smaller wealth funds and pension funds actively invest in local projects.
The OIA focuses on two main investment categories: public markets assets (tradable) that include global equity, fixed income bonds and short-term assets; and private markets assets (non-tradable) which include private investments in real estate, logistics, services, commercial, and industrial projects.
7. State-Owned Enterprises
State-owned enterprises (SOEs) are active in many sectors in Oman, including oil and gas extraction, oil and gas services, oil refining, liquefied natural gas processing and export, manufacturing, telecommunications, aviation, infrastructure development, and finance. The government does not have a standard definition of an SOE, but tends to limit its working definition to companies wholly owned by the government and more frequently refers to companies with partial government ownership as joint ventures. All SOEs in Oman fall under the Oman Investment Authority. The government does not publish a complete list of companies in which it owns a stake.
In theory, the government permits private enterprises to compete with public enterprises under the same terms and conditions with access to markets, and other business operations, such as licenses and supplies, except in sectors deemed sensitive by the Omani government such as mining, telecom and information technology. SOEs purchase raw materials, goods, and services from private domestic and foreign enterprises. Public enterprises, however, have comparatively better access to credit. Board membership of SOEs is traditionally composed of various government officials, with a cabinet-level senior official usually serving as chairperson. Especially since the government reorganization began in August 2020, the government is making efforts to include private-sector officials on SOE boards.
SOEs receive operating budgets, but, like budgets for ministries and other government entities, the budgets are flexible and not subject to hard constraints. The information that the Omani government published about its 2021 budget did not include allocations to and earnings from most SOEs. The government restructuring that began in August 2020 is bringing increased oversight to the structure and operations of some SOEs.
The Omani government has indicated that it hopes to reduce its budget deficits by privatizing or partially privatizing some state-owned enterprises. Although the plan for privatization is not publicly available, the Omani government has already begun to reorganize some of its holdings for public offerings.
In March 2020, State Grid Corporation of China acquired a 49 percent stake in the Oman Electricity Transmission Company from Nama Holding, a government-owned holding company for five electricity transmission and distribution companies. The government’s divestment of a portion of its ownership in telecommunications firm Omantel is also an example of a partial privatization. In this case, the government in 2014 offered 19 percent of Omantel’s ownership as stock on the Muscat Securities Market, but only to Omani investors. The government today owns a 51 percent share of Omantel, according to the company’s website.
The government allows foreign investors to participate fully in some privatization programs, even in drafting public-private partnership frameworks. In July 2019, Oman established the Public Authority for Privatization and Partnership (PAPP), which was reportedly examining 38 public-private partnership projects for implementation. Royal Decree 110/2020 in August 2020 subsequently folded the PAPP and moved its functions to the Ministry of Finance, as part of the government’s broad restructuring and consolidation of the Omani Civil Service.
8. Responsible Business Conduct
Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is becoming increasingly prevalent among local and foreign companies operating in Oman, and several companies have dedicated CSR departments and programs. While CSR programs may differ, they invariably seek to engender goodwill in the communities they serve and to provide a social benefit. Examples include: competitions in elementary and secondary schools for academic performance and artistic skill; sponsorship of charitable, academic, and social events; training programs; entrepreneurship incubators; and the organization of women’s or tribal empowerment events.
The press covers consumer rights violations, mostly the sale of expired food or counterfeit medicine or car parts. There is a general culture of accountability, and a sense that companies who violate these tenets of corporate social responsibility will suffer in business and market share.
There are no independent consumer organizations promoting CSR. However, many business associations, including the Oman American Business Center (the local American Chamber of Commerce affiliate), pursue CSR initiatives as a part of their annual activities. Companies generally follow CSR guidelines set forth by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.
Since 2019, Oman’s Council of Ministers has directed state-owned companies to allocate a portion of their CSR budgets to support training programs/employment of Omani citizens. Additionally, each government ministry has a department dedicated to facilitating CSR compliance and initiatives. The government has not waived regulations promoting CSR to attract foreign investment.
Department of State
- Country Reports on Human Rights Practices (https://www.state.gov/reports-bureau-of-democracy-human-rights-and-labor/country-reports-on-human-rights-practices/);
- Trafficking in Persons Report (https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/);
- Guidance on Implementing the “UN Guiding Principles” for Transactions Linked to Foreign Government End-Users for Products or Services with Surveillance Capabilities (https://www.state.gov/key-topics-bureau-of-democracy-human-rights-and-labor/due-diligence-guidance/) and;
- North Korea Sanctions & Enforcement Actions Advisory (https://home.treasury.gov/system/files/126/dprk_supplychain_advisory_07232018.pdf).
Department of Labor
- Findings on the Worst forms of Child Labor Report (https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/resources/reports/child-labor/findings );
- List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor (https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/reports/child-labor/list-of-goods);
- Sweat & Toil: Child Labor, Forced Labor, and Human Trafficking Around the World (https://www.dol.gov/general/apps/ilab) and;
- Comply Chain (https://www.dol.gov/ilab/complychain/).
U.S. businesses do not generally identify corruption as one of the top concerns of operating in Oman.
The Sultanate has the following legislation in place to address corruption in the public and private sectors:
1) The Law for the Protection of Public Funds and Avoidance of Conflicts of Interest (the “Anti-Corruption Law” promulgated by Royal Decree 112/2011). The law predominantly concerns employees working within the public sector. It is also applicable to private-sector companies if the government holds at least a 40 percent share in the company, or in situations where the private-sector company has punishable dealings with government bodies and officials.
2) The Omani Penal Code (promulgated by Royal Decree 7/2018). In January 2018, the Omani government issued a new penal code that completely replaced Oman’s 1974 penal code. Minimum sentencing guidelines for public officials guilty of embezzlement increased from three months to three years. The definition of “public officials” expanded to include officers of parastatal corporations in which the Omani government has at least a 40 percent controlling interest. The new penal code may make Oman seem more investment friendly, by virtue of modern references to corporations as legal entities, as an example. However, its language on money laundering remains ambiguous and descriptions of licit and illicit banking are unclear, potentially contributing to confusion about investment regulations.
A lack of domestic whistleblower-protection legislation in Oman has resulted in the private sector taking the lead in enacting internal anti-bribery and whistleblowing programs. Omani and international companies doing business in Oman that plan to implement anti-corruption measures will likely find it difficult to do so without also putting in place an effective whistleblower-protection program and a culture of zero tolerance.
Ministers are not allowed to hold offices in public shareholding companies or serve as the chairperson of a closely held company. However, many influential figures in government maintain private business interests and some are also involved in public-private partnerships. These activities either create or have the potential to create conflicts of interest. In 2011, the government updated the Tender Law (Royal Decree No. 36/2008) to preclude Tender Board officials from adjudicating projects involving interested relatives to “the second degree of kinship.”
It is not yet clear if Sultan Haitham will prioritize rooting out corruption. The late Sultan dismissed several ministers and senior government officials for corruption during his reign. In response to public protests in 2011, a royal decree expanded the powers of the State Audit Institution.
Oman has stiff laws, regulations, and enforcement against corruption, and authorities have pursued several high-profile cases. In March 2019, local press and social media focused intensely on an embezzlement scandal and the subsequent arrest of employees at the Ministry of Education. The Courts have signaled that they will not tolerate corruption. Media in 2020 occasionally reported on instances of economic crimes in the public domain and in February 2021, of a 25 percent increase of cyber crimes in Oman in 2020 over 2019.
In an extra attempt to prevent and eradicate corruption in the Sultanate of Oman, Oman joined the United Nations Convention Against Corruption (the “UNCAC”) in 2013. Oman is not a party to the OECD Convention on Combating Bribery.
Resources to Report Corruption
State Audit Institution
Phone number: +968 8000 0008
There are no “watchdog” organizations operating in Oman that monitor corruption.
10. Political and Security Environment
Oman is stable, and politically motivated violence is rare. Oman’s first head of state transition since 1970 occurred on January 11, 2020, with the peaceful rise to power of Sultan Haitham bin Tarik, in accordance with Oman’s Basic Law of the State. Omani law provides for limited freedom of assembly, and the government allows some peaceful demonstrations to occur. Oman experienced Arab Spring-related demonstrations in 2011. These were far smaller than in other Arab countries, although demonstrations in the northwestern Omani city of Sohar resulted in some reported deaths and injuries, property destruction, and the blocking of pedestrian and vehicle access to the Port. In recent years, high youth unemployment has been the Omani public’s most significant social grievance, and the Omani government prioritizes providing employment opportunities for Omani nationals. On regional security, Oman is committed to securing its border with Yemen, ensuring that Yemen’s instability does not affect Oman, countering illicit trade and terrorist travel, and supporting freedom of navigation through its strategic territorial waters in the Strait of Hormuz.
11. Labor Policies and Practices
Oman’s labor market is a significant factor for foreign business and investors to consider. Sultan Haitham made clear in his first royal decrees and nationally televised speeches that addressing unemployment among Omani nationals would be a top priority.
Unemployment figures in Oman vary, but the most severely impacted demographic is young men and women. There are no available statistics about employment in the informal economy, but this sector is mostly limited to agriculture and fishing in rural areas.
Omani national private sector employees often work in administrative or managerial roles carved out for them through Omanization. Most drivers and secretaries are required to be Omanis across all sectors. Generally speaking, there is a surplus of workers in desirable fields, such as information technology and engineering. There is a shortage of workers in labor-intensive sectors, particularly construction, due to Omanization laws curbing the number of foreign workers who can be brought in to fulfill these roles. Foreign workers play a significant role in the Omani economy. Indians and Bangladeshis alone constitute approximately half of the workforce.
Omani citizens enjoy a high degree of protection, making labor dispute resolution very difficult and lengthy. Both the Ministry of Labor (MoL) and the courts have broad powers to reinstate Omani national employees or mandate a severance package that provides pay for several months or, in some cases, several years. Foreign workers may also appeal termination to the MoL but they have less legal protection than do Omani nationals.
While unions are allowed to operate in the private sector, they are not very influential and do not engage in collective bargaining. Most unions only exist to ensure that employers provide government-mandated benefits to employees, such as required annual raises. Workers generally direct appeals for wage increases, by sector or throughout the economy, towards the government. During the Arab Spring protests in 2011, the government passed a law increasing worker benefits.
There were no significant organized private-sector strikes in the past year. Several small-scale protests about the lack of jobs, inadequate unemployment benefits, and recruitment policies have occurred outside MoL headquarters in Muscat and Salalah in past years. The Omani government takes public concern about unemployment very seriously.
Oman is a member of the International Labor Organization (ILO). Oman has ratified four of the eight core ILO standards, including those on forced labor, abolition of forced labor, minimum working age, and the worst forms of child labor. Oman has not ratified conventions related to freedom of association, collective bargaining, equal remuneration, or the conventions related to the elimination of discrimination with respect to employment and occupation.
The issue of forced labor remains a problem in Oman, but the government continues to demonstrate increasing efforts to combat trafficking in persons. As of January 1, 2021, expatriate workers can switch employers upon completion or termination of their employment contracts without the need to obtain a “no-objection” certificate (NOC) from their current employers.
In addition to the government’s NOC decision, the Supreme Committee on COVID-19 issued a series of guidelines in April 2020 to bolster Omani nationals’ employment and to authorize the termination of expat laborers in response to the economic slowdown. At the time of this writing, the government appeared on track to issue a new labor law by the first week of April, 2021. Government officials have not shared publicly the contents of any proposed draft.
13. Foreign Direct Investment and Foreign Portfolio Investment Statistics
According to the Oman’s National Centre for Statistics and Information (NCSI) — the only host-country source of foreign direct investment (FDI) data — total FDI in Sultanate through the third quarter of 2020 was RO 15.6 billion, representing growth of 11.7 percent increase over the same period in 2019. FDI inflow at the end of the third quarter of 2020 stood at RO 1.644 billion ($4.25 billion). The United Kingdom remains by far the biggest investor in FDI (RO 7.92 billion – $20.5 billion), followed by the United States (RO 1,847.9 billion – $4.8 billion), UAE (1,267.7 billion – $3.3 billion), Kuwait (RO 933.2 million – $2.4 billion), and China (RO 848.9 million – $2.2 billion).
Major foreign investors that have entered the Omani market within the last five years include SV Pittie Textiles (India), Moon Iron & Steel Company (India), Sebacic Oman (India), BP (UK), Sembcorp (Singapore), Daewoo (Korea), LG (Korea), Veolia (France), Huawei (China), SinoHydro (China), and Vale (Brazil).
|Host Country Statistical source*||USG or international statistical source||USG or International Source of Data: BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other|
|Host Country Gross Domestic Product (GDP) ($M USD)||2018||$82,200||2018||$79,789||www.worldbank.org/en/country|
|Foreign Direct Investment||Host Country Statistical source*||USG or international statistical source||USG or international Source of data: BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other|
|U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, stock positions)||2018||$4,025||2018||2,131||BEA data available at
|Host country’s FDI in the United States ($M USD, stock positions)||N/A||N/A||N/A||N/A||BEA data available at
|Total inbound stock of FDI as % host GDP||N/A||N/A||2018||34.3||UNCTAD data available at
* Source for Host Country Data: National Centre for Statistics and Information (NCSI).
|Direct Investment from/in Counterpart Economy Data|
|From Top Five Sources/To Top Five Destinations (US Dollars, Millions)|
|Inward Direct Investment*||Outward Direct Investment**|
|Total Inward||30,313||100%||Total Outward||16,764||100%|
|“0” reflects amounts rounded to +/- USD 500,000.
*Source for Host Country Data: National Centre for Statistical Analysis, 2019 Q2 (Inward). **2017 Q4 (Outward). Data on Oman from the IMF’s Coordinated Direct Investment Survey is not available.
Table 4: Sources of Portfolio Investment
Data not available.
14. Contact for More Information
Economic & Commercial Officer
U.S. Embassy, P.O. Box 202, Postal Code 115, MSQ, Muscat, Sultanate of Oman