Interview: Sheikh Ahmed bin Hamad Al Khalifa

What position does logistics hold within the wider context of Bahrain’s economy?

SHEIKH AHMED BIN HAMAD AL KHALIFA: Customs Affairs is just one cog in the large plan of Vision 2030, as it applies to logistics, one of the key sectors identified by the crown prince, HRH Prince Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa, as a priority for future development. So far, the processing capacity at Khalifa Bin Salman Port has increased, and there is still room for further expansion. The number of vehicles crossing King Fahd Causeway has doubled, the Airport Modernisation Programme is under way and the Bahrain Logistics Zone is moving towards success due to the high number of companies investing there in 2015-16.

The Bahrain Logistics Board, which consists of representatives from key institutions, was recently established to streamline processes and reduce wait times, and we have witnessed substantial achievements towards these goals. Logistics is at the forefront of the kingdom’s economic development since it is also fundamental to the ease of doing business.

Bahrain has what it takes to become a logistics hub for the region. It has capable people, the commitment from its government to promote efficiency and encourage businesses and, of course, an advantageous geographic location. One of Bahrain’s key advantages is that it is the fastest gateway not only to the Eastern Province, but also to the northern part of Saudi Arabia, as it is part of the GCC Customs Union. Within this context, Customs Affairs has a double function. It is responsible for enforcing regulations in terms of health, security and quality, while also offering an efficient service.

With the goal of facilitating trade, we have managed to achieve a 90% reduction in truck wait times on the King Fahd Causeway. Independent measurements by Mondelez International, one of the biggest companies using the causeway, have shown that it now takes an average of 10 hours for industrial users to cross the causeway. New equipment to be tendered in 2017 will allow us to scan 20-25 containers and 120 trucks per hour, further reducing wait times. Working with our current partners within the kingdom to increase their satisfaction is a clear path towards increasing Bahrain’s attractiveness to other foreign investors.

What are the main areas of focus of Customs Affairs in terms of service?

SHEIKH AHMED: Customs Affairs is currently focused on two main areas. The first is to shift as much as possible from after-the-fact inspection and duty clearance to a pre-clearance process, in which goods coming to Bahrain are declared before arrival, with most fees and duties paid in advance. Inspections would then occur after a risk assessment has been performed.

The second area is the upgrading of the technology we use in our daily operations. For example, we are incorporating high-quality scanners to increase the efficiency of inspections, and we are developing clearing centres with e-payment facilities to enable remote inspection. Clearance centres will allow us to do Customs checks at the warehouse rather than at the location of entry. For example, at Mina Khalifa bin Salman Port this will allow us to clear out cargo so more ships can come in while we perform inspections remotely. Technology is a real aid to our Customs process. It has allowed decision-makers to focus on the key goods and facilitates the flow of trade to and from Bahrain.

How are employees kept up to date with the latest regulations and processes?

SHEIKH AHMED: Training is fundamental for all sectors of the economy, but particularly in the field of logistics and Customs management. Through our training institute, we can make sure we remain up to date in this changing landscape, and we receive input from the GCC, as well as Bahraini authorities and ministries.

We also seek to introduce international benchmarks to improve our efficiency. Training cannot be isolated, and it is an important component of collaboration.