Interview: Ali Al Baqali

How do you assess the prospects for economic recovery, and what will be the main growth drivers for the aluminium segment?

ALI AL BAQALI: In October 2021 the government, led by the crown prince and prime minister, released an Economic Recovery Plan to help Bahrain bounce back from the Covid-19 pandemic. It included more than $30bn worth of investment opportunities in strategic projects spanning the oil and gas, tourism, logistics, ICT, manufacturing and financial services sectors. The programme also created new industrial investment areas across the kingdom, all of which will support efforts to meet the goal of 5% non-oil GDP growth in 2022. As part of the framework, called the Priority Sectors Plan, Bahrain will establish the Aluminium Downstream Park to provide the infrastructure needed to increase the contribution of non-oil sectors to GDP in a zone near Alba’s facilities. This will also increase exports in the segment, and attract both local and foreign investment. Led by the Ministry of Industry and Commerce, the new park will create jobs and opportunities for the community. Alba will provide companies in the complex with metal from its Line 6 smelter.

In what ways is the focus on sustainability in markets around the world impacting demand and strategic thinking in the aluminium industry?

AL BAQALI: Environmental, social and governance (ESG) standards have gained momentum throughout the aluminium supply chain. As a result, suppliers, producers and clients are joining the race – with decarbonisation being a key value driver – by moving towards greener and more sustainable business models. As most companies are being certified by the Aluminium Stewardship Initiative, they are required to report on their ESG initiatives and lay out plans to achieve targets in order to retain this certification. It is also worth noting that top-tier investors are calling for aluminium assets in their portfolios to have comprehensive net-zero plans and more sophisticated disclosure to avoid greenwashing risks. That being said, and despite disorientating price volatility on the London Metal Exchange, the aluminium market will remain bullish in the coming years on account of strong demand fuelled by economic activity and tight supply, stemming from the energy transition in key markets.

To help meet ESG goals, Alba has invested in the region’s first spent pot lining (SPL) treatment plant, which began operations in December 2021. The facility is one of the key ESG initiatives in line with the kingdom’s environmental and carbon-reduction objectives. With the SPL treatment plant in operation, the company has integrated waste management and recycling into its operational spectrum to create sustainable value in a circular economy. The processed material, called HiCal, can then be used in the cement and construction industries. Indeed, the company recently exported its first shipment of 125 tonnes of HiCal to Thailand.

What has been done to develop Bahrain’s human capital, and facilitate knowledge transfer and technical training in the industrial sector?

AL BAQALI: In addition to containing investment opportunities, the economic reform plan released in 2021 aims to create 20,000 jobs for Bahrainis and train another 10,000 nationals a year through to 2024 – an important step in strengthening the workforce. To that end, as one of the key corporate contributors to GDP, Alba has implemented several programmes to support the development of its workforce. Some examples are Alba’s Skill Matrix and Vocational Training Plan, which helps to educate and train employees, and the Al Jisr Programme for developing high-potential, non-supervisory employees and preparing them for leadership positions.