Interview: Zayed bin Rashid Alzayani

In what ways can Bahrain Economic Vision 2030 enhance industrial competitiveness?

ZAYED BIN RASHID ALZAYANI: The vision for development to 2030 provides a clear mandate to move towards an economy led by innovation, creativity, manufacturing, production and competitiveness. The manufacturing sector accounts for about 14.5% of GDP and the goal is to increase it to 20%. This strategy seeks to increase Bahrain’s competitiveness so that businesses can internationalise and capture a fair share of export markets in the GCC and beyond. A key focus is to deliver quality infrastructure and capital expenditures that enable businesses to prosper and grow. One example is the airport expansion, which will see annual passenger numbers grow from 4.5m to 14m. Air cargo volumes will also increase to around 1m tonnes per year, reducing the time to market for goods. In addition to infrastructure investments, parallel efforts are being undertaken to ensure that our legislative and supporting services sectors, such as logistics and banking, develop at the same pace. Bahrain also has an attractive support package in place for the enterprise sector, which includes 100% foreign ownership, duty-free imports on raw materials and equipment, duty-free access to the GCC, US, Singapore, European Free Trade Association states and more than 30 bilateral commerce agreements.

How can industrial policy be reformed to attract more foreign direct investment (FDI)?

ALZAYANI: The regional market is estimated at $1.5trn and is growing quickly, driven mainly by the young average age of the population. This is a great opportunity for development-oriented companies to grow their export markets. Our strategy, which is aligned with market opportunities and Bahrain’s core strengths, focuses on manufacturing industries in the aluminium sector; food, beverages and associated auxiliary industries; fast-moving consumer goods; engineering and related services; and pharmaceuticals and medical equipment.

What is Bahrain doing to balance labour market requirements and job automation shifts?

ALZAYANI: The ongoing competitiveness of the economy is always a key priority for government. Investments in infrastructure, coupled with policy and legalisation changes, have the core objective of ensuring that Bahrain is the most competitive and leading location for companies looking to invest within the GCC.

Business is constantly changing, however, and is being impacted by new technologies, robotics, artificial intelligence and the digital economy. In this context, the ministry’s objective is to encourage companies to transition to more value-added activities, upskill the workforce, and promote investment in research and innovation. This will result in increased productivity, higher levels of quality job creation and more exports. For example, our national carrier, Gulf Air, has launched a programme to attract Bahraini cockpit crew. This has resulted in 100% of our second officers and 96% of our first officers being Bahraini nationals; with time they shall be our future captains.

The ministry works closely with companies and other government stakeholders, such as Tamkeen and the Labour Market Regulatory Authority, to ensure employees at all levels are proficient in the skill set and technical capabilities required to meet the demands of an evolving work environment. In this respect, Tamkeen offers a range of support mechanisms to companies.

Many recent investments have incorporated high levels of technology and automation. Building on the strength of Aluminium Bahrain (Alba), significant opportunities exist for enhancing the aluminium industry and maximizing downstream manufacturing activities. The recent $3.5bn investment in the Line 6 expansion, which established Alba as the largest aluminium smelter in the world, demonstrates the opportunity to attract further FDI projects to Bahrain. It is the ministry’s objective to support downstream activities and draw further companies that create valuable investments and jobs.