Oman British ties get boost – Joint Working Committee meets
By staff - Mon May 16, 6:42 am
Oman Sultan Qaboos gave an audience at Bait al Baraka to Alistair Burt, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Middle East Affairs at the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office, who is currently visiting the Sultanate. His Majesty the Sultan and the guest discussed aspects of co-operation between the Sultanate and the United Kingdom and ways of serving the common interests of the friendly peoples of the Sultanate and the UK.
The audience was attended by Sayyid Badr bin Hamad al Busaidy, Secretary-General of the Foreign Ministry, and Dr Noel Guckian, British Ambassador to the Sultanate. Meanwhile, the first meeting of the Oman-Britain Joint Working Group held here yesterday was co-chaired by Sayyid Badr and Alistair Burt.
Based on the memorandum of understanding concerning the Joint Working Group of the Sultanate and the United Kingdom, which was signed in Muscat on November 25 last year during the state visit to Oman of Queen Elizabeth II, the two countries reaffirmed their desire to enhance and further develop their mutual friendship and co-operation in various fields.
The Joint Working Group, set up last year, aims at furthering bilateral relations in economy, commerce, trade, energy, investment, education, training, scientific research, environment and culture. At the meeting, Burt said this is an important meeting and one which will help “us elevate relations” with the Sultanate in all spheres. Oman is not only a major trade and investment partner in its own right, but also an increasingly important
partner in international relations, he added. The UK remains the largest foreign investor in Oman. Britain’s trade with Oman continues to rise. The overall trend is upwards, with trade with Oman increasing by 60 per cent over the past five years. The United Kingdom strengths in engineering and technology related to enhanced oil recovery are key drivers.
An estimated 7,000 Britons currently live and work in Oman. Over 2,200 Omani students are currently studying at various colleges in Britain. About 23 British universities are running courses through local educational institutions and there is scope for more, including a strong desire to see a UK university establish a permanent campus in Oman. There is a strong commitment in Oman to ensure that the population has the knowledge and skills needed to succeed in the future market.
Education and training is a vital component of every industry — from tourism to oil and gas — as well as in its own right. It is a sector in which the United Kingdom has an outstanding reputation and is well placed to offer guidance and support. The meeting focused on the bilateral relations between the two countries and the means to enhance them further. Current regional and international issues of mutual interest were also discussed.
According to a joint statement issued by the two sides, the areas of general co-operation identified include: economy, commerce, investment, and the energy sector; co-operation in culture, education, training, scientific research, environment and health.
The two sides agreed that the second meeting of the Joint Working Group will be held in London during the fourth quarter of 2011. It will discuss in detail the topics raised at this first meeting with wider participation from government and the private sector.
After substantive discussions with and Sayyid Badr at his office in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Burt spoke to the media.
In response to a question, Burt said, “The United Kingdom is impressed by the way the Sultanate has listened to the aspirations of the people, introduced changes and continues to keep up the pace of changes in order to meet the aspirations of the Omani people.”
He said “Oman reacted very differently to the recent events compared to other Arab countries.”
In response to another question on the recent Fatah and Hamas agreement, Burt said “the UK welcomes that the Palestinians now speak in one voice. The UK is waiting to see the details of their agreement.”
About a question on visa concerns, Burt said that Britain is trying to alter the visa regime to facilitate further people-to-people contact between the two sides.
He said the UK is one of the world’s most open markets and this allows Omani investors to explore good business opportunities in the country.
The UK and the Sultanate remain committed to further expanding and deepening their long-standing relations, he added.
Meanwhile, Burt yesterday visited the British Council offices in Madinat al Sultan Qaboos to meet with staff and students. While there he discussed the cultural and educational relationship between UK and Oman with senior staff and led a debate with students about the broader relationship between the two countries.
Burt was particularly interested in how Oman and the UK set up links between schools and praised the Omani education system which has led this year to 10 schools achieving the International School Award from the UK. Connecting Classrooms has been linking schools for the past 5 years 1305467849606940600 and there are now 30 Omani schools engaged with UK schools supporting international understanding in both countries.
Burt was surprised to find a number of Language Assistants coming from Oman. These teachers work in UK schools as Arabic language assistants, again supporting the internationalisation of UK schools.
The Director of the British Council, Paul Doubleday, also spoke about the need for a stronger artistic link between the two countries. Supporting the initiative of His Majesty Sultan Qaboos, Doubleday hoped to see greater artistic collaboration in the coming years, working with the arts and education sectors to develop a greater understanding of how the arts and education together can help economic and social development within a country. – (ONA)