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Minister of Industry and Commerce Rishad Bathiudeen (left) meets Acting Undersecretary of the Foreign Ministry for Diplomatic Affairs of Sultanate of Oman’s Dr. Mohammed bin Awad Al Hassan in Colombo

In a new breakthrough for Sri Lankan exports sector, one of the fastest growing free ports in the world, and one of the biggest free-ports in the powerful Gulf Cooperation Council has opened its doors to Sri Lanka with unparalleled incentives of entry hitherto not offered by other free ports in the world and historic Ceylon Tea, and several other Lankan sectors, are the immediate beneficiaries in the proposed win-win play.

“Sri Lanka has multiple benefits beyond exports when starting at Sohar which can be Sri Lanka’s main manufacturing and re-exports base in the Middle East” said the Acting Undersecretary of the Foreign Ministry for Diplomatic Affairs of Sultanate of Oman’s Dr. Mohammed bin Awad Al Hassan recently during his visit to Colombo.

“Oman’s four famous free economic zones are Sohar, Al Mazunah, Salalah and Duqm. We like to discuss the possibility of a Ceylon Tea Hub in Sohar Free Port and Free Zone’s newest phase. You can process, blend Ceylon Tea and re-export to the entire Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) region, the Indian Sub-Continent and East Africa, almost duty free. From Zohar, Ceylon Tea and other Lankan exports can reach 3.5 billion consumers in the Gulf region straight away. Sohar is Oman’s joint venture with the Port of Rotterdam and this is one of the fastest developing port cum economic zones anywhere in the world.

Sohar zone is more than 11000 acres (4500 hectares).  Its first phase has been completed and almost all the space has been taken by 16 global Companies. Vast amount of space is available for Sri Lankan exporters to set up with us in Phase II. We allow 100% ownership, zero custom duties and great tax exemptions. Most importantly, we do not impose stringent rules on employees – there is no requirement to employ only Oman citizens but you can bring your own Sri Lankan workers for your export projects at Sohar and employ them. Only 10% of your workforce at Sohar need to be Omani nationals and the other 90% can be Sri Lankans. Therefore, Sri Lanka has multiple benefits beyond exports when starting at Sohar which can be Sri Lanka’s main manufacturing and re-exports base in the Middle East as well as GCC. At this moment I talk only about Ceylon Tea since it is the well-known Sri Lankan export in the Middle East, but you are welcome to set up in other defined segments in Zohar’s designated clusters – rubber, plastics, ceramics, food and perishables and steel and iron, and take advantage of our capacity in GCC logistics market.”

The GCC’s logistics market is estimated to be one of the fast growing sectors at a valuation exceeding US $70 billion, with Oman playing a lead role in it with Saudi Arabia and UAE.

According to the Department of Commerce, annual bilateral trade between Oman and Sri Lanka shows an irregular pattern and totals around $250 Million. More than 50% of Sri Lanka’s imports from Oman are Petroleum oils while Sri Lanka’s main exports to Oman are light electrical products and coconuts. Both Sri Lanka and Oman are members of Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA).