“We have to go beyond just manufacturing and retailing goods” March 2018 issue

Al Alam Palace (His Majesty’s Palace) in Muscat. The city has been a major source of employment for large sections of Indians

“We have to go beyond just manufacturing and retailing goods”

Dr. Ali Bin Masoud Al Sunaidy, Commerce Minister, Sultanate of Oman |

It’s not just about gas pipelines or the largest expatriate Indian community. It’s about India and the strategic Persian Gulf. And as The Dollar Business finds out in an exclusive tête-à-tête with Dr. Ali Bin Masoud Al Sunaidy, Commerce & Industry Minister of the Sultanate of Oman, it’s about those centuries-old ties that, if given the right push, can work wonders for both India and Oman

Vanita Peter D’souza | The Dollar Business

Dr. Ali Bin Masoud Al Sunaidy, Commerce and Industry Minister, Sultanate of Oman


TDB: India is Oman’s second largest trading partner. Tell us what all Oman looks at India for.

Ali Bin Masoud Al Sunaidy (AS): I think India can supply both technology and labour to Oman. As India looks all around the globe for new markets and growth, it is bound to find many of them saturated. But not Oman. I am here to promote Oman as a trade and investment destination, with high priority sectors that can be targeted. These sectors include logistics, healthcare and manufacturing.

TDB: If you believe that some of India’s traditional markets have saturated, how do you think India can tackle such a situation? Do you have any recommendations?

AS: Some of the companies I have spoken to, haven’t heard of free trade agreements (FTAs). I think, policymakers are to be blamed for this. For example, they don’t know that Oman has a FTA with US. Maybe, partly various chambers of commerce are to be blamed for such a situation, or perhaps the commerce ministry. Even individual businesses are to be blamed. Many of them are not aware of what all they can do. For instance, they don’t know what value-add they can do to manufacturing in Oman.


"Today, a presence in India also means a presence all over the world, thanks to subsidiaries of Indian companies"


Some businessmen, I spoke to in India, talked about specific items for the Arab world. For example, medical items such as those used in surgery – things made of high quality plastic and light metal. This is an industry that addresses problems of large sections of the Arab population. India produces high quality artificial knee replacements, which are very light and clean, and exports them all over the world. For this industry, you don’t need huge operations. All you need to do is be present near the market.

India Oman Trade-The Dollar Business


TDB: You have stressed a lot on value addition. How do you think Oman and India can benefit from this?

AS: Value addition can happen even in simple things like polishing. I know of at least one company which has signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) to export food processes to Oman. The company will bring the procedural knowledge to Oman, we will process the food and then export it to countries across the globe. Value addition can also happen in engineering. A case in point is clean energy. Even if one doesn’t buy an Indian windmill or fully integrated Indian solar panels, one can always buy bits and pieces of them, particularly since Indian components in these sectors are now very competitive. In fact, Oman has been importing mechanisms and interfaces – even simple things like switches – from India for many years now.

These days, value addition is no longer about equipment but about what you do with those equipment. It has boiled down to how you integrate them, how you interface them and how you maximise your profits by minimising your power bill. These are some areas we had not thought about in the past because we were busy manufacturing and busy retailing. We cannot just be manufactures or retailers anymore, we need to move forward and be present in the middle of the value chain as well.

TDB: Do you think small and medium enterprises (SMEs) can play a part in such value addition?

AS: Absolutely. Let’s take the example of small designing companies in Oman. In Oman, most designs are made keeping in mind the habits of people in the Arab world. But we have a lot of constraints in terms of economies of scale. So, these designs can be brought to India and Indian SMEs can use them to manufacture end products. In a shop here in New Delhi, I saw fantastic German-designed products that were made in India. I was told they are also exported all over the world. No matter how little value was added, the fact is that they are India-made products. 

TDB: Do you think India can really benefit from this?

AS: Yes! Until now, we haven’t crossed the stage of me selling and you buying and you selling and me buying. I have looked at the statistics. India buys crude oil from Oman, refines it and sells it back to us. If India can do this and make money, it means there is a lot of money in the value chain that we haven’t explored. We just need to figure out where this money is. I have seen Indian sales people traveling to Oman and Omani purchase managers coming to India, but we need to go further. Why don’t we send entire business development departments to each other’s countries? Business development managers think of the long term and not just the next one or two years.

TDB: What do you think Oman and India need to do to take trade relations to the next level?

AS: Each trading hub in Oman and India, probably, has the third or the fourth generation waiting to take over. I think, we are making a mistake by waiting for so long to introduce them. It might be too late by the time they are older. I think it’s about time we started creating forums for the younger generation. I want to ask one question to fresh Indian graduates: When do you intend to come to Oman? Will you come only after making your first million or after becoming the CEO of some company? Can’t you come sooner? Similarly, we don’t just want the sons and daughters of prominent Omani businessmen, but also new entrepreneurs to come to India and ascertain what business here will look like five years from now.


"I want young Indian graduates to head for Oman, instead of waiting for years"


TDB: Do you think innovation can help enhance the total quantum of bilateral trade between the two countries?

AS: Today, if you are present in India, you are also present in Canada, US and UK though Indian firms. Why can’t an Omani marble company sell marbles to an Indian hotel company at lower margins and convince it to use them at its hotel in London. So, even if you are not necessarily profitable in India, you might be profitable in London or elsewhere. Recently, I saw some Apollo Hospital executives using iPads, which worked both in English and Hindi. Why not test such services in Oman and sell them to Arabs, who also have the same problem? Humans are humans everywhere, so why should such a service be restricted to just India? Why should one think that India is the only market for that software and why should we wait for 10 years (say) to access it? We can also invest in the development of such software, with an understanding that Oman will have the first right to Arabise it. It will cost us less if we co-develop it right now. I think we need to change the way we look at the trade potential of the two countries.