Interview: Mohamed bin Thamer Al Kaabi

What opportunities does the Logistics Services Sector Strategy 2022-26 present, and what can be done to catalyse private investment in key projects?

MOHAMED BIN THAMER AL KAABI: Bahrain already provides a business-friendly environment for the private sector, and the Logistics Services Sector Strategy 2022-26 builds on this. We have undertaken improvements in Customs procedures to streamline business processes. We have also launched the fastest global sea-to-air logistics centre in the region. Once completed, this project is expected to save 40% compared to pure air freight and offer 50% faster lead times than pure sea freight. It also enables a two-hour turnaround for all containers. FedEx has confirmed the expansion of its operations in Bahrain, and other companies will soon follow this path.

To what extent do Bahrain’s transport and logistics plans dovetail with economic development programmes in neighbouring Saudi Arabia?

AL KAABI: Our main commercial port, the Khalifa Bin Salman Port, lies adjacent to Salman Industrial City and the Bahrain Logistics Zone. It is located only 13 km from Bahrain International Airport, allowing easy access to national distribution points. Furthermore, the port is just 30 km away by land from Saudi Arabia via the King Fahd Causeway, which will provide additional links to Saudi Arabia via rail and road. We work hand in hand with our Saudi counterparts to ensure that our connectivity enhances our geographic location.

Where can Bahrain seek a competitive regional advantage in the digital economy?

AL KAABI: In 2002 Bahrain was the first country in the region to liberalise its telecommunications sector. As a result of our advanced regulatory and network readiness, the kingdom has been recognised as a leader in ICT development in the Arab world.

The government has prioritised network readiness in both fixed and mobile telecommunications infrastructure. This has attracted more than $2bn in investment since 2010, and $831m since 2017.

Our national broadband network extends to 100% of all businesses and 81% of households. In terms of 5G, we were one of the first countries in the world to achieve a 100% nationwide rollout in early 2021. This readiness will enable the telecommunications and ICT sector to support growth across the economy and make an increasing contribution to digital transformation. We are also working to ensure that ICT leaders can use the available networks in Bahrain to test 5G use cases and export their innovations from our country to the world.

In what ways can the Telecommunications, ICT and Digital Economy Sector Strategy 2022-26 support the kingdom’s post-pandemic recovery?

AL KAABI: The recently announced Economic Recovery Plan will build on a digital transformation that has already begun. As part of the plan, Bahrain aims to offer 100% national broadband network coverage and automate more than 200 government services to add to the more than 560 e-services currently available. The government has undertaken an initiative to train at least 20,000 citizens in cybersecurity, while national labour fund Tamkeen will train 1200 in coding and emerging technology. In addition, the launch of Citi’s Global Technology Hub will create 1000 coding jobs in the next decade, enriching the local talent pool.

How can stakeholders strengthen the technology ecosystem and foster wider economic growth?

AL KAABI: We are currently working with stakeholders to achieve wide-scale deployment of 5G throughout the kingdom, as well as internet-of-things and artificial intelligence applications across various economic sectors. Furthermore, we need to ensure a business and regulatory environment that encourages investment in ICT-related research and development and secure a reliable supply of top talent and skills in the sector.