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    'Huge business opportunities available in Duqm', says Sezad CEO

    Lee Chee Khian, CEO of the Special Economic Zone Authority of Duqm (SEZAD) is very bullish about the future growth of Duqm region. In an interview with Muscat Daily, Khian talked about ongoing projects and the need to develop more social infrastructure to attract people in Duqm area.

    Huge Business Opportunities available in Duqm

    You joined SEZAD as the CEO in 2013. What were your top priorities when you started working on the projects in Duqm?

    When I started working at SEZAD in 2013, I did have some ideas about the project. At that time, my foremost priority was the implementation of the project as planning is important but more important is how to implement the plans. So for the initial two years, we dedicated our time on the planning and designs because the planning needed to be done keeping the logistic challenges in mind. After making thorough plans for the project, physical implementation of the project started by the end of 2014. When we started working on the Duqm project there were some clear directions such as there would be a large port and government’s plan to set up an oil refinery and petrochemicals complex.
    Since Oman is blessed with natural resources like crude oil and gas available for industries and its strategic location, the sultanate’s government right from the beginning was looking to increase in-country value to create jobs for citizens. The Omani authorities knew it from the very beginning that they cannot just go on exporting crude oil, but need to focus on value addition in the country to maximise its potential.

    Investments in Duqm region have picked up considerably in recent years, but things must have been different in initial stages. What were the key challenges you faced in initial stages?

    When we started working on the project three key areas, namely, petrochemicals, minerals and fisheries were identified as the core for further planning. Petrochemicals industry needs natural gas. Though there were some talks about the availability of gas in Khazzan field, but nobody was sure about this at that time. However, after the announcement of Khazzan field’s gas availability, things have started moving rapidly.
    With the establishment of a petrochemicals industry, exploration and trade of minerals, and the development of fisheries sector; another natural addition was the development of logistics sector in Duqm area. So the plans were made for the expansion of Duqm port, a fishing port, and increasing the road connectivity and setting up a new airport along with possibility of rail linkages. Now with all these infrastructures, you need a human habitation which means a new city has to be planned with all amenities.

    With infrastructure and projects progressing well in Duqm, what are the things that you will be focusing more in the coming years?

    Fishing sector needs to be given more importance. The development of fishing sector is also closely associated with the sultanate’s food security. We are looking at developing this sector aggressively in the region. Once production of fisheries sector reaches an optimum level then other ancillary activities such as packaging and processing would also gather speed. Gradually, with the improvement in logistics infrastructure in due course of time, we can also look at exporting marine products to other countries in Europe, Africa or the GCC.
    Moreover, while looking at developing the fisheries sector there is also a need to safeguard the interest of local fisherman. This can be done by earmarking the area exclusively for small vessels in close proximity to the coast; i.e. around 8-10km area within the shore can be reserved for local fishermen while area beyond that can be left open for companies with bigger fishing vessels to catch.

    What is SEZAD’s long-term plan for Duqm and how do you see things will shape up in next five to ten years?

    Currently, we are in the phase 1 of the planning which extends upto 15 years. This phase includes some of the major projects in Duqm which are in different stages of planning and implementation. These projects are: A 230,000 barrels per day-capacity refinery, a methanol-to-olefin project, a coal-fired power project, an automobile unit, a project for manufacturing solar panels, a five-star hotel, a desalination plant and a sabacic acid unit. Moreover, a hotel along with expansion of the airport is also going on simultaneously.

    My guess is that the total area under phase 1 is much bigger than the total area of Singapore, which currently has a population of around 5mn people. With all these projects being implemented soon more and more people would start going there. So in the first phase a whole new city in the middle of the desert would emerge with a population of around 1mn. Duqm has a huge potential due to its strategic location, it is very near to world’s second largest population and is also close enough to Eastern Africa, which is likely to grow at very high rate in future. Duqm is also located very near to a busy global shipping line. So, in future there will be huge opportunities for shipping maintenance and other such activities.

    What are the challenges that you foresee in achieving these targets?

    Developing the fisheries sector would be a challenge as we have to ensure that there is enough fish stock available throughout the year. During the first four months of the year, the sea is very rough in the region which makes it very difficult to fish. Moreover, we have to make sure that there is enough feed available for marine life to flourish throughout the year.

    Another big challenge is to convince people to move to Duqm area. There is the Renaissance Village, which can take care of people currently building infrastructure and other projects, but we need more housing projects to cater to people who will be moving there to work on these projects once they become operational. Not only housing, there is a need for other amenities such as supermarkets, schools, restaurants, hospitals, malls and other such social infrastructures.

    Now, this is a little catchy situation, once population is big enough there would be demand and traders will rush to meet demand. But till these social infrastructures are not there, getting people ready to move there with families is also a challenge. Now Duqm has enough projects to provide jobs to sizeable population but other things such as banks, insurance, and other financial services are currently not there and those will only come when there is demand. Most people will be reluctant to move there if such services are not available.

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