Bahrain's economic delegation concluded an official visit to India, organised by the Bahrain Economic Development Board (EDB) this week to promote investment opportunities in Bahrain. The delegation's activities were centered in Mumbai, a vital hub for financial services and technology in India.
The Bahraini delegation included officials from the EDB, the Central Bank of Bahrain and representatives of the private sector.
During the visit, the EDB organised a business forum which formed an important interactive platform for delegation members to discuss opportunities with around 100 Indian investors and sector representatives.
The delegation sought to enhance the bilateral investment relations between Bahrain and India by promoting the Kingdom's investment opportunities in the financial services, financial technology and real estate sectors, as Bahrain is the ideal gateway to the Gulf market, worth $ 1.5 trillion.
The visit is part of the EDB's efforts to attract investments to the Kingdom to contribute to the creation of jobs in the local market.
In 2014, the Ministry of Industry, Commerce and Tourism and the EDB coordinated the visit of an economic trade delegation to India to encourage investment between the two countries, coinciding with the historic visit of His Majesty King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa to India.
During the visit, the delegation highlighted Bahrain's experience in creating a supportive environment for incubators and business accelerators represented by the Bahrain FinTech Bay.
It also discussed the competitive advantages of the Kingdom's investment environment in terms of low operating costs, advanced legislation and economic openness.
The visit saw the signing of an agreement between the EDB and the Indian state of Maharashtra to create a framework for cooperation in the promotion of innovation in financial technology and to provide mutual support to the financial technology environment through training programmes.
The Bahraini delegation also met officials from leading Indian companies, with ties to major international businesses, in the areas of trade, entertainment, financial services, FinTech, consultations, business solutions and ICT.
Discussions focused on potential to explore cooperation, where representatives of the Indian companies showed interest in strengthening relations with Bahraini business sectors.
"I am very optimistic about the results of this roadshow that will pave the way to a strategic partnership on the government side and between Bahraini and Indian businesses in vital sectors such as FinTech, financial services, and ICT," Dr. Simon Galpin, Managing Director at EDB, said.
"Bahrain and India share many common interests since both countries are seeking a transformation towards a digital economy, and an adoption of tech solutions by the financial services environment in both countries."
Bahrain's General Consul in Mumbai Ali Abdulaziz Al Balooshi has welcomed the EDB roadshow in India's financial capital and lauded its work.
"The signing of this MoU comes within the framework of the major developments in the Bahraini-Indian relations and cooperation, especially in terms of the economic and FinTech aspects," he said.
"The focus at this stage is to begin practical steps to implement the provisions of the MoU. Bahrain, as a result of the guidance of the wise leadership and the great steps taken in this regard, is ready for such important agreements in line with the Kingdom's great ambitions and keenness to stay ahead."
MoUs and roadshows contribute to the start of further partnerships and agreements with India, which has a strong economy that is growing steadily and has been able to reduce disparities with large economies, he added.
"The expectations are that the Indian economy will have the largest growth in the future. This represents significant opportunities that must be seized through the conclusion of such agreements and partnerships for the benefit of all parties."
Rishi Kapoor, Co CEO of Investcorp, said on the sideline that the roadshow has been successful and that he looked forward to further opportunities to promoting Bahrain.
"As an Indian living in Bahrain for almost 25 years now, Bahrain is home," he said. "It is a privilege to be part of the Economic Development Board of Bahrain. For Investcorp it is a very national extension because it ties so neatly with our own inspirations and opening a good investment opportunity channel relating to the Indian market place, for our investors globally. As a global firm, this is an ideal way for Investcorp to benefit from that India-Bahrain corridor to enable our investment activities in India and also to enable the activities of Indian corporates and other promoters as they continue to grow in the Middle East.
"In terms of investment, Investcorp has been present in Bahrain since nearly the 1980’s, as the hub of our global operation in terms of the Middle East side of the business and it continues to be a very important asset of our global business. Bahrain is the core of our client coverage for the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) and it is also the centre of all our Middle East investing activities. "
Several investors said on the sideline of the forum that they were confident about the Bahrain options and assurances.
Sanjeev Agarwal, Managing Director of Sunrise Corporation, said it was important to have the support of the Economic Development Board and stressed that it provided commendable support.
"Last year, I was working on a project to set up a base in the Middle East. I went to several countries in the region, including Bahrain, the UAE and Turkey, to select a manufacturing base to export to the US and to the Middle East," he said.
"The quality of interactions and inputs that were given to me by the Bahraini Economic Development Board was the best of the lot. They understood what I needed. They made sure that whenever I travelled to the place, they had all the relevant meetings lined up, to meet the right people, to understand the regulations, to know the issues involved, and to appreciate the agreements between Bahrain and the Middle East countries about tax on import and export duties. Although the local market in Bahrain is small, those who want an entry point into the Middle East will find that the most effective and the most cooperative people in the Middle East are the Bahrainis. The cost of living in other places is pushing people towards Bahrain."
Agarwal said he was working on a FinTech concept product related to gold and jewellery and that he was exploring India and Bahrain at the entry setup level.
"From the perspective of lower costs, India is better. But if I look for entry into the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) market, the various benefits offered by the government, including support at the startup and support financially and on the ground levels, Bahrain is better than any state in the Middle East," he said.
"EDB has offered support and set up meetings for me with top people in the customs, banks, in the trade to understand every aspect of cost, process and structure that I need to look into before I set up business. The potential in Bahrain is higher than elsewhere in the region thanks to the quality of work and inputs EDB is providing and the flexibility of the regulations in Bahrain to understand all needs."
Nayan Shah, Managing Director of Paramount Health Services and Insurance, said the company already has a joint venture in Bahrain.
"We have a company called Health 360, a joint venture with Takaful International, an insurance company," he said.
"We work for a number of insurance companies in Bahrain and we are now getting into IT space in healthcare and insured tech activity. We give our software to Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, including Palestine, and we have a contract with a company in Bahrain."
Bahrain is very familiar and his company had a lot of work, he added.
"Our company now has a joint venture in Saudi Arabia and we expect to grow there. We have a company in Sharjah and Dubai, but we want to shift our full teach activity to Bahrain. I have been interacting with EDB and we should set up shop in Bahrain in 2019. There are companies in the insurance sector that are using the old technology. They want to move into the latest space technology and have machine learning and artificial intelligence that we can provide in Bahrain will open us the door to GCC and MENA region and we look forward to interacting with EDB and see how fast we can proceed."
Shah said that they would start with 15 people in Bahrain and will grow depending on the work.
"We are discussing with EDB on how they can support us. We need exposure in the market and contacts within the market."
Praveen Suthrum, President and co-founder of Next Services, said that thanks to the EDB, he had visited Bahrain to explore the healthcare industry.
"My company is currently US and India based. We sell mostly in the US and the team is based in the US and India. Bahrain can be a good place for the Middle East.
I look at it from that standpoint. Right now, we work mainly with gastrologist and pathology labs. We offer many services. We have software electronic health record platform, which is on AWS. With such different services, we have created a common platform that can be used and expanded everywhere."
The company might raise capital next year and they are looking for financial partners.
"I am very optimistic about Bahrain and the future is fantastic and looks very promising. It is important for us in the healthcare technology sector to have assurances. With AWS and having offices, there is a good validator for the region and it provides us with assurances and guarantees about what could happen. I felt confident about the forum and the various perspectives we heard here."
Bahrain and India enjoy strong economic and trade relations. According to the latest statistics, trade between both countries has exceeded $1 billion.
Bahrain’s industrial diversification policy has played a major role in boosting economic cooperation with India. Currently, there are more than 23 branches of Indian banks and companies registered in Bahrain, in addition to 3,181 joint ventures registered in Bahrain.
The EDB has attracted 76 companies with a total investment of BD305 million ($810 million), surpassing the record achieved by the Board in 2017 when it attracted 71 companies with a total investment of BD276 million ($733 million). Direct investments in the first nine months of 2018 were almost five times higher than investments in all of 2015.