MANAMA - Three leading Italian industrial firms have announced plans to set up operations in Bahrain, Industry, Commerce and Tourism Minister Zayed Al Zayani told the GDN.
Speaking on the sidelines of a three-day roadshow in Italy organised jointly by the ministry and the Economic Development Board (EDB), he said the competitive advantages offered by the kingdom, its proximity to the Saudi market, ease of doing business as well as the freedom of ownership of companies, prompted Italian companies to invest in Bahrain.
The three investments include one announced by EDB chief executive Khalid Al Rumaihi on Wednesday.
“We are here to open a new chapter with the Italian economy,” said Mr Zayani, adding that, “It is medium-term strategy of Gulf Air to look at flying to Italy which we feel will have a positive impact on facilitating business and tourism between the two countries.”
Stating that the bilateral sentiment was very positive, the minister said he expected a pick up in momentum “once we get started with a few projects.”
“So far the relations have largely been confined to trade and we would like to take them to the next level which is investment. It is more of a long-term commitment and when you have investment inflows, that also has a positive impact on growth in trade.”
When asked about the scarcity of industrial land in Bahrain and the ability to attract industrial companies, Mr Al Zayani said, “In the current situation, we must be careful in our choices and choose the industry suitable for the size of Bahrain, which does not require large areas or a significant consumption of natural resources.”
“Selectivity in attracting investments requires creating an added value for the Bahraini economy, and this is the target group of investments until the development of new industrial zones,” he said.
The plan is to position and develop Bahrain as a light manufacturing hub in the region.
According to the minister, there is a lot of potential for bilateral trade growth as Italy is the 17th largest trading partner of Bahrain.
“Italy is one of the leading industrial countries in the world, it is quite progressive in services and quite a big market for tourism and we can benefit from that by getting more inbound Italian tourists.
“So far, we have not been able to do that due partly to the lack of a direct flight between the two countries,” said the minister.
He said Italians already were the second largest in numbers of cruise tourists visiting Bahrain, helped by the fact that most of the leading cruise operators were Italian companies.
“But this is a seasonal business and we would like to expand it throughout the year to have more flow from Italy.
“It is possible to start charter flights as a first step to promote tourism between the two countries. A number of tourist offices are taking this step by leasing aircraft for high-end tourists,” he said.
According to Mr Al Zayani more than 60 Italian brands already had franchises in Bahrain and the roadshow also aims to establish more such joint ventures.
The roadshow that covers Milan and Rome began on Wednesday and ends today.
Showcasing many investment opportunities and competitive advantages offered by Bahrain in a variety of sectors, including financial services, manufacturing and tourism, the roadshow includes participation in the first Italian Arab Business Forum in Milan and in the Confindustria Assafrica & Mediterraneo Forum in Rome as well as one-to-one meetings between the 21-member Bahraini delegation and their Italian counterparts.
Relations between Bahrain and Italy date back to 1973 and have been predominantly economical.
Non-oil trade between the two countries reached $367 million in 2016.
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