Gulf Daily News - 17/5/2006
BAHRAIN'S construction and contracting market is ready to enter the global playing field, international exhibitors said at the gulfBID exhibition yesterday. The local market is at optimum performance and is burgeoning because of straightforward and business-friendly laws, they said.
Exhibitors also welcomed gulfBID, which they said allowed local traders to interact and learn from worldwide competitors, as well as bringing exposure to their own businesses.
Bahrain's strategic position makes it a key "passport" country for local agents to provide links between international businesses and the Saudi market, participants said.
The Bahrain market has the potential to "go international", according to Arab-British Chamber of Commerce business services head Layla Derraz.
The London-based company promotes trade between the UK and the 22 members of the Arab League by organising events and providing business information service to both sides.
In the UK it helps businesses with export documentation, visas and provides translation services.
Chamber members already include a small number of Bahrain businesses as well as a large number of British companies operating in Bahrain.
"Obviously it's a small country and there are huge competitors, especially the countries that it is trying to compare itself to, but I think it definitely has potential, said Ms Derraz.
"This is my first time to Bahrain and on my cab ride over here to see the amount of construction work that's going on - it shows that it's going in the right direction."
The gulfBID exhibition provides a key networking opportunities between businesses, she added.
"I think its pinnacle that Bahrain has hosted this event because it allows all of these suppliers, producers and service providers to showcase themselves to a very expanding and growing market."
Business-friendly legislation backs up the appeal of the expanding market, she said.
"The legislation that they're bringing in, or that has already been introduced is helping international business - it's very encouraging for British companies to come over to Bahrain and set up shop."
Bahrain's current strategy of "sticking to what it's good at" is crucial to its success, said Ms Derraz.
"But because of the competition they need that unique selling proposition to steer them away from Dubai and Saudi Arabia and bring them over here - and as I said its got growing potential so I'm sure it will get there one day.
"You should stick to what you're good at and theirs (Bahrain's) is the financial background and therefore that's why they're building this financial harbour, which is an excellent idea."
The freedom in Bahrain's market and its closeness to Saudi Arabia make it an ideal gateway market, said Mumbai-based Alukbond India marketing director Uday Shetty.
The company produces aluminium composite panels used to clad buildings' facades and has been operating in the Middle East for four years.
"I'm seeing an exponential growth in the usage of our material in this market. We participated in the Big Five last time (in Dubai) and in the Gulf we're primarily here because we want to look at Bahrain as well as the Saudi market.
"We look at Bahrain as an access to the Saudi market primarily because of its geographical closeness.
"You have the famous causeway (across) which Saudi business community uses to import materials.
"We've come to explore the Bahrain market and see if we can find a good co-operation, a good customer base in Saudi Arabia right now.
A local agent could provide a "passport" into the Saudi Arabia market for the company, said Mr Shetty.
Company officials are expecting to meet with aluminium company representatives during their stay.
The country's boom is just beginning and could soon see a "new skyline" he predicted.
"Bahrain itself is going to have a lot of opportunities in times to come, you can see the financial hub coming, the Bahrain World Trade Centre on the way and we believe if one such tower comes, 50 more will follow, or a hundred more will follow," said Mr Shetty.
"The UAE market has always been voluminous so there is 20-30pc growth - but in Qatar, Kuwait, Bahrain you would see more than 50-60 pc growth."
"It's worth the effort to come here - because there's a lot to explore right now."
Bahrain is one of the easiest countries "in the world" to set up a business, according to German company Wiggert and Co's Middle East office general manager Kishore Gogia.
The company specialises in the manufacture of concrete plants and concrete transport equipment by supplying machines to companies creating concrete based products.
"Bahrain obviously has the most simple rules and it's the easiest to set up business in the Gulf," said Mr Gogia.
"It's more easy to set up a business in Bahrain than even in the UAE - that's been published in international studies."
One of the strengths of the gulfBID exhibit is the diversity of what is on offer, he added.
"We hope that by this diversity they are able to bring a very diverse range of potential investors, range of clients to visit the exhibition."
The exhibition also provides Bahraini businesses a chance to learn from their worldwide competitors and show off their wares, said Alasco Group's sales and marketing manager Bassam El Zein.
The Bahraini company specialises in solar protection systems including sunshades, umbrellas, industrial and home use blinds, as well as running a pre-cast factory and an interior design division.
"It's a small exhibition but it means a lot, and hopefully it can be something like Big Five in the future," said Mr Al Zein.
Dubai-based "Big Five", currently the largest exhibition for the GCC construction and contracting industry, brought together almost 34,000 clients and traders in its 2005 exhibition.
"Just now it (the economy) is perfect - it's booming, many good investments are taking place in Bahrain, I think it is better now than even two years ago.
"We expect that it is going to be even better in five years time, the investment in Bahrain is very good."
"It can show the healthy economy of the company - you will know it from the exhibition."