Headed by Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad al-Khalifa, the EDB is also the main driver behind a two-decade process of economic and institutional reform set out in the kingdoms Economic Vision 2030, a strategy document published in 2008.
The Bahrain of two decades time is not dissimilar to the island kingdom of today, albeit with a heavier reliance on hi-tech and service industries, an extensive public transport system (traffic jams are a frequent feature of northern Manama), a better educated workforce and, more importantly, a wealthier one. A key pledge of Vision 2030 is to double household income, although it remains to be seen how that will be achieved, and on what basis it is calculated.
Labour reform is a key plank of Vision 2030, and the area where there has been most notable progress
The EDB has prioritised for development several economic sectors that offer the most promise for investment. These include financial services, professional services, manufacturing, information and communications technology, logistics and transport, and education. Within the financial industry, one of the primary contributors to economic growth, the board has earmarked a number of sub-sectors, including Islamic finance, wealth management, asset management, insurance and re-insurance.
Labour reform is a key plank of Vision 2030, and the area where there has been most notable progress. Tamkeen, a labour fund that derives its budget from a tax on foreign workers, is training nationals entering the job market and those looking for a step up in their career. Unlike many wealthier Gulf states, where local Arab populations are a middle-class veneer over a working base of expatriate labour, it is not uncommon to see Bahrainis driving taxis or doing menial jobs in the service industries.
The EDB has chalked up some notable successes since its inception, with the nations gross domestic product growing by 5 per cent a year on average between 2000 and 2011. In the past decade, customs tariffs have been reduced and laws introduced governing the reform of the labour market, healthcare and education. The Telecommunications Regulatory Authority was set up in 2001, with a view to liberalising the sector, while a Higher Privatisation Council was established in 2006 to oversee the sale of a number of government assets including a port and electricity generating plants.
The same year also saw the establishment of Mumtalakat, a wealth fund responsible for the management of governmental non-oil assets, and the National Oil & Gas Authority (Noga), which similarly oversees the nations oil industry and is tasked with encouraging private investment in the hydrocarbons sector.
Over the same decade, however, Bahrain saw its attractiveness as a destination for foreign investment eclipsed by the likes of Qatar and Dubai. The political unrest of recent years has additionally tarnished the kingdoms reputation abroad. In response, the EDB has invested heavily in advertising in an attempt to showcase two main aspects of Bahrain: the ease of doing business in the kingdom, for which the World Bank rated it 46 out of 189 economies in 2013; and the comparatively low cost of living and working in the country. According to a recent report by Dutch financial services firm KPMG: It is evident that the cost of doing business in Bahrain is the least compared with Qatar and Dubai Dubai being as much as 25 per cent and Qatar around 40 per cent more expensive than Bahrain, in terms of occupancy, manpower and other living costs.
A national branding exercise was launched in 2008 under a Business Friendly logo devised by UK advertising firm M&C Saatchi, and another such project is reportedly under development, which will focus on attracting companies from neighbouring GCC states. Information released by the Bahrain Tender Board in October 2013 shows that seven companies, the majority headquartered in London or New York, have put together bids worth between $1.9m and $25.7m for providing public relations services to the EDB. Several of the bidders, including Bell Pottinger and Gulf Hill & Knowlton, have already worked with the government in recent years.
The Ministry of Industry & Commerce, meanwhile, is responsible for a diverse range of activities that make up the commercial environment in Bahrain, including the registration of all forms of commercial business, commercial agencies, industrial property and foreign trade, as well as other related activities. The ministry reports that its aim is to ensure the maintenance of an open, transparent and market-driven commercial environment, so as to develop Bahrains economic competitiveness and encourage inward investment, at the same time as promoting employment for the local population.
Key details Economic Development Board
Chairman: Prince Salman bin Hamad al-Khalifa
Tel: (+973) 1 758 9999
Ministry of Industry and Commerce
Minister: Hassan Fakhro
Tel: (+973) 1 756 8000