Bahrain businesses urged to cash in on Russia links
Manama, June 12, 2014
Bahrain's businesses must make better use of trade relations with Russia if they want to be taken seriously as an alternative regional investment hub to Dubai, according to a top diplomat.
In an exclusive interview with the GDN to mark his country's national day today (June 12), Russian Ambassador Victor Smirnov said recent agreements signed between the two countries marked an important first step - but businessmen must now take the lead to spur bilateral trade, reported the Gulf Daily News (GDN), our sister publication.
"Bahrain has been looking to the east and the west, but not to the north for trade - and the same is true for Russia," he said.
"We weren't looking south but it is important to make it a priority."
In April, national investment arm Mumtalakat inked an agreement with the Russian Direct Investment Fund on the back of a visit to Russia by His Royal Highness Prince Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa, Crown Prince, Deputy Supreme Commander and First Deputy Premier, which Smirnov described as "a big step".
This, and an earlier visit by His Majesty King Hamad in December 2008, "created a good basis for further enhancement of co-operation," said the ambassador, but more must be done if Bahrain wants to reclaim the title of "gateway to the Gulf."
"It's not accurate to say that everything is brilliant," said Smirnov.
"Economics and trade between us is currently weak, perhaps because of history or because of business preferences. Businessmen are practical, they know where money is made."
A delegation of Russian businessmen, representing companies worth billions of dollars, were brought to Bahrain by the embassy to coincide with the Crown Prince's Russian visit, and just one of these magnates runs a firm that produces enough wheat to satisfy Bahrain's annual consumption twice over, Smirnov said.
"We are also happy to provide Bahrain with gas if it is required - there are several different ways in which we can do this," he said.
"We could even make Bahrain the hub for our gas distribution in the Middle East.
"All proposals are on the table - now we want to see a reciprocal interest from Bahraini businessmen."
A meeting with Bahrain Chamber of Commerce and Industry (BCCI) chairman Khalid Almoayyed had been held, Smirnov added, to plan ways to develop trade.
"We are planning with the BCCI to have a Russian industrial expo called Russia GCC," he said.
"We're calling it Russia GCC because we're willing to accept that Bahrain is a gateway to the Gulf - but at the moment, it isn't for Russia, Dubai is.
"I want Bahrain to be able to compete with Dubai for Russian business and I want Bahrain's Foreign Affairs Minister to take the lead." - TradeArabia News Service