The Kingdom of Bahrain is located in the central Arabian Gulf on the east coast of the Arabian Peninsula. Bahrain, whose name means ‘two seas’ in Arabic, comprises 33 islands, with most of its inhabitants living on either the main island – on which the capital Manama is situated- or Muharraq, home to Bahrain International Airport.
Bahrain has been ruled by the Sunni Khalifah Royal Family since 1783. The current ruler, King Hamad bin Isa Al-Khalifah, became Emir of Bahrain on the 6th of March 1999 following the death of his father Isa bin Salman Al Khalifa. Under the tutelage of King Hamad bin Isa Al-Khalifah, there have been notable efforts to enact reforms and broaden political participation through elections and to move Bahrain towards a constitutional monarchy with an independent judiciary. However, political unrest linked to the ‘Arab Spring’ hit Bahrain in 2011, with the country’s majority Shi’a population claiming discrimination in jobs, services and public office and calling for a fully elected parliament amongst other political demands. The unrest led to a security clampdown in March 2011 led by Saudi Arabia, Bahrain’s strongest ally. Sporadic protests continue to be reported.
It is important to note that there have been no direct threats or attacks on UK citizens to date and there are no travel restrictions to Bahrain by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. In February 2013 a fresh round of dialogue was initiated with the main opposition party, Al-Wefaq, and the overall political and economic climate has continued to improve. Sectarian tensions nevertheless remain, and the process towards achieving reconciliation and political reform may take some time.
Together with its reputation for cultural neutrality and good relations in the region, Bahrain provides a neutral platform for business, enabling companies to serve other markets in the Middle East with great ease, making it the gateway to the Gulf. Bahrain has the shortest travel time between its seaport, airport and the logistics processing zone of anywhere in the Gulf, enabling more efficient and faster processing of trade goods.
Key areas of opportunity include:
- Financial and professional services
- Transport & infrastructure
- Education and training
- Life sciences
- Downstream manufacturing (from metals to petrochemicals)
Strengths of the market
- The operational costs are amongst the most competitive in the region
- Bahrain is strategically located in the Northern Gulf with good communication links into Saudi Arabia and beyond
- Bahrain is recognised as having strong & effective regulation in Financial Services & other sectors
- Bahrain has the most educated and skilled workforce in the Gulf
- Bahrain was ranked the most open and liberal business environment in the Middle East, and 12th in the world (Source: Index of Economic Freedom,2012 )
- Bahrain has the longest track record in business in the region and provides significant support to foreign investors
- Bahrain has ranked highly for quality of life for expatriates
What are the Challenges?
Is an open business friendly country, there are no major challenges to doing business in Bahrain. Bankruptcy insolvency laws provide a better environment for creditors in Bahrain than in other parts of the MENA Region.
Your first port of call in setting up a business/office in Bahrain would be a visit to the Bahrain Investor's Centre which is a vital part of the Ministry of Commerce. The One Stop Shop "Bahrain Investor's Centre" has been established to facilitate the setting up of business in Bahrain through a seamless process. They are here to facilitate the entire process, from the submission of the initial application to the commencement of business. The back office will guide you to relevant external entities such as the Ministry of Labour & Ministry of Interior who will be able to advice on requirements for residency for expatriates. www.moic2.gov.bh
It is not obligatory to have an agent in order to sell products in Bahrain. However, companies sometimes prefer to establish a new business with the help of a carefully chosen Bahraini partner or advisor, who is able to keep in contact with customers, seek new business and provide information on the latest market trends. All goods imported into or exported from Bahrain must comply with certain requirements. Anyone wishing to import goods into Bahrain for sale or consumption must obtain a general license from the Customs & Port Directorate of the Ministry of Finance & National Economy. Importers are requested to complete the customs declaration and to present it together with certain documents; further details can be found on: www.bahraincustoms.gov.bh
Key areas for business
The Bahrain International Investment Park (BIIP) is a new, quality, 247 Hectare Business Park developed in Bahrain by the Ministry of Industry and Commerce. The Park is situated in a superb location with excellent connectivity and access. Bahrain International Airport and the new Shaikh Khalifa Port in Hidd are both just 5 minutes away by road. The BIIP also enjoys direct motorway access to Saudi Arabia, via the 25km Saudi-Bahrain Causeway, only 20 minutes away and by as early as 2015 will enjoy the same connectivity to Qatar. The BIIP is designed to attract export oriented, local and global companies with high value-added projects that will contribute to creating quality local employment in a world class physical environment. www.biip.com.bh
Bahrain Investment Wharf (BIW) provides the vital means for your investments by setting all essential details allowing you to enhance your productivity and maximising profitability. BIW is ideally suited for various sectors, which may include: Light industries, including warehousing and logistics, Medium industries Business centres, Commercial and residential facilities. www.bahiw.com
The Khalifa Bin Salman Port is considered to be one of the most important and advanced ports in the Gulf region. It is also one of the most vital infrastructure projects that aims to enhance various economic sectors, particularly the commercial, industrial, and investment sectors in the Kingdom. The port will also help promote Bahrain's strategic location as a regional and international commercial and financial hub. The Khalifa bin Salman Port occupies an area of 110 hectares of reclaimed land and is located on the north-east of the Kingdom of Bahrain, only 13 kilometers away from Bahrain International Airport, and it is also linked to the road leading to the King Fahad Causeway. The port provides sea freight, shipping, and logistic services in accordance to the highest international specifications and standards in the industry. Website of the General Organisation of Sea Ports (GOP) www.gop.org.bh
The Bahrain Logistics Zone Based at the heart of the Gulf, in the Kingdom of Bahrain, the Zone offers logistics organisations an unbeatable location for providing services to the growing economies of the Gulf region. As a boutique logistics area, it is dedicated to value-adding activities, catering for companies engaged in a variety of intensive logistics activities. It offers its tenants a range of services to match the requirements of modern logistics organisations, from streamlined customs processes to on-site company registration and visa application. The Bahrain Logistics Zone is owned and operated by the General Organisation of Sea Ports, Bahrain. www.bahrainlogisticszone.com
The Bahrain Financial Harbour (BFH) is a fully integrated US $3billion master-planned development. It is creating a complete financial city, a self contained community and reinforcing Bahrain's unique position as the financial capital of the Middle East. A first of its kind development in the region, BFH is a highly focused, committed and advanced financial environment spread over 380,000 square metres of prime seafront property in the centre of Manama, Kingdom of Bahrain. Furthermore, it comprises 10 projects that distinctively combine business, leisure and residential components under one canopy. Phase I of the project ‘The Financial Centre' which includes the Harbour Towers - Bahrain's tallest towers and the Harbour Mall. The Financial Centre is operational and open for business. www.bfharbour.com
Bahrain has a small and reasonably prosperous economy with less dependence on oil than most Gulf States, despite the fact it was one of the first Gulf States to discover oil and build a refinery. According to Standard Chartered Bank in April 2013, growth is expected to reach 4.5% in 2013 and 5% in 2014 and reflects a revival in oil production following a technical disruption at the country’s main Abu Sa’afa oil field and an improved economic and political environment. Government figures show that the Bahrain economy grew by 3.4% in 2012.
A key tenet of Bahrain’s ‘Vision 2030’ is to diversify the economy away from its reliance on oil, which still accounts for some 20% of GDP and 90% of government income. Significant headway is being made to bolster the legal environment and reduce bureaucratic hurdles. The government is also actively supporting the growth of the domestic private sector, providing quality education and vocational training to Bahraini nationals, expanding the manufacturing, financial services and tourism base and encouraging foreign direct investment through generous incentives and harmonising tax regimes with the rest of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). In terms of current ease of doing business, the World Bank ranks Bahrain at 42nd amongst 185 economies considered in their 2013 guide. This places Bahrain considerably ahead of the regional average for the Middle East & North African region which is 98.