Free market solutions to diversify Bahrain’s economy echoed throughout a forum held at the Wyndham Grand Hotel on January 28. A volunteer committee of business leaders working in equal partnership under the umbrella of the Bahrain SME Society hosted a National Business Agenda (NBA) Forum and outlined priorities from six of Bahrain’s key small and medium enterprise sectors for an audience of more than 100 from both the business and government communities. A National Business Agenda is the most effective advocacy tool used by the U.S. Chamber Commerce to work with the government on economic reforms. Countries around the world have successfully adopted this tool including Middle Eastern countries such as Algeria, Iraq, Jordan, and Tunisia.
The SME NBA Steering Committee invited representatives from the salons, contracting companies, transportation, IT, industry, and real estate development sectors to present their top reform priorities that committee members will research, compile solutions and present to the government for consideration afterwards. These priorities included establishing a governmental entity for export promotion, improving coordination among the governmental bodies to enhance the business investment environment for all economic sectors, simplifying procedures and removing administrative barriers through a one stop shop, enforcing employment contracts to enhance productivity and efficiency, improving the conditions to upgrade the IT industry to expand beyond the Bahraini market, and improving regulations and legislation that promote the small and medium enterprises sector to create job opportunities for Bahrainis and reduce unemployment rates.
The Minister of Industry, Commerce, and Tourism served as patron for the event and featured remarks from Undersecretary of Industry Affairs Osama Mohammed Al Alrayedh. Mr. Simon Galpin, Managing Director of the Economic Development Board (EDB) also addressed the forum as did Mr. Esam Hammad, representing Tamkeen. Bahrain SME Society Chairman and the Bahrain NBA Deputy Chairman Dr. Abdulhasan Al Dairi highlighted the importance of the government representatives in the event, noting that “Business leaders know what it takes to create jobs and help diversify Bahrain’s economy. By organizing their ideas in this NBA, the private sector will serve as a credible partner to the Government of Bahrain and help it apply targets, indicators, and a virtual road map to its Vision 2030. The SMEs’ various sectors can be more productive and key component of the economic prosperity if found the conducive and convenient ecosystem”.
The NBA SME Steering Committee is supported in their efforts by the Center for International Private Enterprise (CIPE), a U.S. Chamber of Commerce affiliate. CIPE Deputy Director for Programs Abdulwahab Alkebsi mentioned in his address to the forum that, “Bahrain, more than any other country in the region, has what it takes to succeed with Vision 2030. Bahrainis have a strong work ethic that is engrained in them and cannot be taught. The county also boasts the political will to diversify its economy and it is strategically located to unlock markets for Bahraini goods throughout the region and beyond.”
Voluntary Chairman of the Committee and Shura Council Member Mr. Darwish Mannai explained that, “A National Business Agenda is both a process and a product. As a committee, we will research the priorities outlined by our colleagues in the targeted sectors, and compile possible solutions with the help of additional private sector representatives for improving the business environment in Bahrain. These solutions will then be formally presented to the government for their consideration in a later stage. However, we also seek government buy-in for the NBA process and invite their participation at all stages of research and compilation of the NBA.”