(MENAFN - Muscat Daily) Ties between Oman and Australia are growing, H E Neil Hawkins, the Australian Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, has said. He was speaking on the sidelines of an awards ceremony held by the Australian Business Group in Oman (ABGO) at Grand Hyatt Muscat on Monday.
WorleyParsons was named Australian Company of the Year, Wayne Pearce, CEO, Oman Air, won the Australian Businessperson of the Year award while Hamad al Hajri, former consul general of Oman in Australia, received an award for Distinguished Contribution.
H E Hawkins said, ''I'm in Oman for a number of reasons. I'm doing preparatory work for official talks to be held between Oman and Australia in Perth in the next few days. Australia is also about to take up the chair of the Indian Ocean Rim of Regional Countries, of which Oman is a member, so there is close cooperation on that front as well.''
Calling education one of the core pillars of ties between the two countries, he said, ''There are currently 750 Omani students studying in Australia.
They are very respected by the universities and they play an important role in Australian society. It's important to note that over 25 per cent of Australians are born overseas, and there are half a million Muslims in Australia.
Most universities and shopping centres have mosques, so Omani students are well settled. His Majesty Sultan Qaboos bin Said has sponsored a chair of Islamic studies at Melbourne University. We're also seeing an increase in partnerships between Australian and Omani universities, like Sultan Qaboos University (SQU) and Nizwa university.
''Australian education providers are coming to Oman to share their experience. Vocational training is also very popular in Australia and we have a well respected system. There are talks between the two governments to use this system in Oman.
With 1,200 Australians in Oman, he said the Australian business community in the country plays an important role.
''One example is the national carrier of Oman, which is a quality airline headed by an Australian. The two-way trade is about half a billion dollars a year. It's mostly in Australia's favour as A450mn worth of goods are exported to Oman every year, while Oman's exports to Australia are at about A40mn a year.''
He said Australia is the 13th largest source of imports for the sultanate. ''The Camry is a popular car here and it's made in Melbourne.
Agriculture is also a major pillar. Official statistics don't really reflect the true situation as hundreds of millions worth of goods come to Oman through Dubai and Abu Dhabi, so the official half billion dollars is an underestimate as it only accounts for direct trade.
Qantas has moved from Singapore to Dubai. There are between 14 to 16 flights between Dubai and Australia. With all these flights coming over, there's a lot of cargo, we can get food from the field or the paddock in Australia to the plate in Oman within 48 hours.''
Australia is also in the process of signing an air services agreement with Oman which will allow the two national carriers to code share. There are several other areas of cooperation, such as infrastructure.
''There are a number of Australian companies with presence in Oman. Since the two countries share similar environment, climate and geography, the experience gained in operating railways and roads in harsh climates like the ones here can be transposed from Australia to Oman, and that is happening.''
Other areas that could boost cooperation, he said, were mining, aquaculture and fisheries.
''Oman and Australia are neighbours. You can draw a straight line between the two countries. The Indian Ocean carries 70 per cent of the world's oil and 50 per cent of containers; it's a very busy area. It's important for Indian Ocean countries to cooperate on fisheries. Oman has taken the lead in regulating fishing activity, and the two countries are working closely on Indian Ocean matters as there are various shared interests. Australia has had a navy ship working against piracy in the region, and the navies and armies of both countries regularly work toge