It may be better known as one of the six countries making up the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), the political and economic union of Arab states which borders the Persian Gulf. But Oman has also built up a solid reputation as a gateway to the markets of the wider Middle East, something which savvy American entrepreneurs have been well aware of ever since the country's free trade agreement with the United States was concluded just over five years ago.
The launch last year of the new Sharia Index by the Omani stock exchange, the Muscat Securities Market, signals the country is no financial backwater either. And when it comes to Oman business banking services, the level of expertise available to both the national and foreign entrepreneur is easily comparable with the offerings found in many Western financial institutions. Add some encouraging trends to the entrepreneurial mix â€“ for example, US goods and services exports to Oman are on schedule to reach $4.5 billion by the year 2016 â€“ and it's little wonder the country is seen as such an attractive investment proposition.
However, the positive message appears to need spreading around some more which explains why a high-level trade and investment road show from Oman hit the United States towards the end of 2013, visiting Houston, Chicago and New York City.
The delegation of more than 40 businesses and government leaders was lead by His Excellency Dr Ali bin Masoud Al Sunaidy, Oman's Minister of Commerce and Industry, who said at the time, â€œGiven the existing free trade agreement between the United States and Oman as well as Oman's business climate and ideal geographic position, it is important that we inform more American businesses of the advantages of doing business in Oman and using it as a hub to operate across the entire Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region.â€
Of course, the other countries making up the GCC, namely Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), also see themselves in a similar light. All are aiming to attract inward investment in a bid to diversify their respective economies away from over-reliance on oil, which they recognise as a volatile and finite resource. In that respect, the UAE has been particularly successful.
Think of the UAE and most people conjure up tourist images of the city and emirate of Dubai with its fabulous five-star hotels, incredible shopping malls and many towering skyscrapers. Indeed glitzy dynamic Dubai is the home of the tallest man-made structure in the world, the incredible 2,716.5 foot Burj Khalifa.
Whilst tourism is an ever-growing sector in Dubai and across the other emirates making up the UAE, it's only one part of a diverse economic landscape. The services sector, which includes the wholesale and retail trade, real estate and business services, makes up the largest segment of the economy in terms of GDP. Oil and gas is next followed by the non-oil sector comprising, construction, manufacturing and utilities. Agriculture, on the other hand, is a sector in decline forcing the UAE to import more of its food every year.
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