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Bahrain

Executive Summary

The investment climate in the Kingdom of Bahrain is positive and relatively stable. Bahrain maintains a business-friendly attitude and liberal approach to attracting foreign investment and business.

In an economy dominated by state-owned enterprises (SOE), Bahrain aims to foster a greater role for the private sector to promote economic growth. Government of Bahrain (GOB) efforts focus on encouraging foreign direct investment (FDI) in the manufacturing, logistics, information and communications technology (ICT), financial services, tourism, health, and education sectors.

Bahrain’s total FDI stock reached BD 11.537 billion ($30.683 billion) in 2020. Annual FDI inflows dropped from BD 603 million ($1.6 billion) in 2018 to BD 355 million ($942 million) in 2019 and BD 333 million ($885 million) in 2020. The financial services, manufacturing, logistics, education, healthcare, real estate, tourism, and ICT sectors have attracted the majority of Bahrain’s FDI.

Bahrain’s economy saw a major recovery in 2021, following the slowdown of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the rise in global oil prices. In addition, the continuity of some key provisions from the BD 4.3 billion ($11.4 billion) financial relief package, that was launched in 2020 to help support businesses and individuals, helped boost Bahrain’s revenues and economic growth.

In November 2021, the government announced a new economic recovery plan focused on five pillars: (1) creating quality jobs for citizens; (2) streamlining commercial procedures to attract $2.5 billion in yearly FDI by 2025; (3) launching $30 billion in major strategic projects; (4) developing strategic priority sectors; and (5) achieving fiscal sustainability and economic stability, including by extending Bahrain’s Fiscal Balance Program to 2024. Since then, the government has released detailed development strategies for the industrial, tourism, financial services, oil and gas, telecommunications and logistics sectors and identified 22 signature infrastructure projects, including the creation of five new island cities, that will stimulate post-pandemic growth and drive the economic recovery plan. The government has not identified funding sources to finance these projects or its sector modernization strategies.

Bahrain’s Vision 2030 outlines measures to protect the natural environment, reduce carbon emissions, minimize pollution, and promote sustainable energy. Bahrain’s Sustainable Energy Authority (SEA), within the Ministry of Electricity and Water Affairs, designs energy efficiency policies and promotes renewable energy technologies that support Bahrain’s long-term climate action and environmental protection ambitions. Endorsed by Bahrain’s Cabinet and monitored by SEA, the National Energy Efficiency Action Plan (NEEAP) and the National Renewable Energy Action Plan (NREAP) set national energy efficiency and national renewable energy 2025 targets of 6 and 5 percent, respectively, with the NREAP target increasing to 10 percent by 2035.

To strengthen Bahrain’s position as a regional startup hub and to enhance its investment ecosystem, the GOB launched Bahrain FinTech Bay in 2018; issued new pro-business laws; and established several funds to encourage start-up investments including the $100 million Al Waha Fund of Funds and the Hope Fund to support startup growth. Since 2017, the Central Bank of Bahrain (CBB) has operated a financial technology regulatory sandbox to enable startups in Bahrain, including cryptocurrency and blockchain technologies, and regulate conventional and Sharia-compliant businesses.

The U.S.-Bahrain Bilateral Investment Treaty (BIT) entered into force in 2001 and protects U.S. investors in Bahrain by providing most-favored nation treatment and national treatment, the right to make financial transfers freely and without delay, international law standards for expropriation and compensation cases, and access to international arbitration.

Bahrain permits 100 percent foreign ownership of new industrial entities and the establishment of representative offices or branches of foreign companies without Bahraini sponsors or local partners. In 2017, the GOB expanded the number of sectors in which foreigners are permitted to maintain 100 percent ownership in companies to include tourism services, sporting events production, mining and quarrying, real estate, water distribution, water transport operations, and crop cultivation and propagation.  In May 2019, the GOB loosened foreign ownership restrictions in the oil and gas sector, allowing 100 percent foreign ownership in oil and gas extraction projects under certain conditions.

The U.S.-Bahrain Free Trade Agreement (FTA) entered into force in 2006. Under the FTA, Bahrain committed to world-class Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) protection.

Despite the GOB’s transparent, rules-based government procurement system, U.S. companies sometimes report operating at a disadvantage compared with other firms. Many ministries require firms to maintain a local commercial registration or pre-qualify prior to bidding on a local tender, often rendering firms with little or no prior experience in Bahrain ineligible to bid on major tenders.

In February 2022, Bahrain’s Ministry of Industry, Commerce, and Tourism broke ground on the United States Trade Zone (USTZ) to incentivize U.S. companies to build out full turnkey industrial manufacturing, logistics, and distribution facilities in Bahrain to access the wider GCC market.

Table 1: Key Metrics and Rankings
Measure Year Index/Rank Website Address
TI Corruption Perception Index 2021 78 of 175 http://www.transparency.org/research/cpi/overview
Global Innovation Index 2021 78 of 129 https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/analysis-indicator
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, historical stock positions) 2020 $571 https://apps.bea.gov/international/factsheet/
World Bank GNI per capita 2020 $19,900 https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GNP.PCAP.CD

 

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

4. Industrial Policies

6. Financial Sector

8. Responsible Business Conduct

The Ministry of Labour and Social Development in 2011 authorized the creation of the Bahrain Corporate Social Responsibility Society (BCSRS) as a social and cultural entity. Though there are no measures in Bahrain to compel businesses to follow codes of responsible business conduct, the BCSRS has sought to raise awareness of corporate social responsibility in the business community, and in 2021 hosted the GCC International Conference on Social Responsibility and Sustainable Development. The Society is a founding member of the Arab Association for Social Responsibility, which includes representatives of most Arab countries.

In 2003, Bahrain established a National Steering Committee on Corporate Governance to improve corporate governance practices. The MoICT promulgated the new Corporate Governance Code pursuant to Decree No. 19 of 2018. The new code expanded the base of companies obligated to implement responsible governance, as per the country’s Corporate Governance Code issued in 2010, to include all locally incorporated closed joint stock companies. The law stipulates minimum standards required for corporate governance and applies to all companies incorporated in Bahrain, other than companies that provide regulated financial services licensed by the CBB.

The GOB drafted a Corporate Governance Code to establish a set of best practices for corporate governance and provide protection for investors and other company stakeholders through compliance with those principles. The GOB enforces the code through a combined monitoring system comprising the MoICT, CBB, Bahrain Stock Exchange (BSE), Bahrain Courts, and other professional firms, including auditors, lawyers, and investment advisers. The code does not create new penalties for non-complying companies, but states that the MoICT (working closely with the CBB and the BSE) may exercise penalty powers granted to it under the Commercial Companies Law 2001.

The GOB has put in place advanced regulations and laws protecting labor rights, including vulnerable categories such as migrant workers from South and Southeast Asia. Despite legislative guarantees of certain rights, workers may be exposed to unfair labor practices such as unpaid overtime, denied vacation, or nonpayment of wages. Labor courts have not been fully effective in settling labor disputes between employers and employees. However, there have been reports of cases that were settled in favor of employees in Bahraini labor courts. Bahrain is a class five country on the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) Global Rights Index for freedom of association and workers’ rights, with the index ranging from one to five in ascending order from best to worst.

Beginning in 2022, all companies must integrate into the Wage Protection System (WPS) to pay employees’ salaries via prepaid card or financial transfers through a bank or financial institution approved by the Central Bank of Bahrain. Domestic workers and Flexi-Permit holders are exempt from the mandate. The LMRA has the authority to review employer-employee transactions in the system.

Law Number 35 of 2012, the Consumer Protection Law, ensures quality control, combats unfair business practices, and imposes sanctions for breaches of the law’s provisions. MoICT is highly effective in implementing the law.

Bahrain’s amended Corporate Governance Law enhances transparency and ethical business conduct standards. Among the changes, the GOB urged companies to submit audited ratified accounts to the MoICT.

The GOB does not maintain a National Contact Point (NCP) for the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) guidelines, nor does it participate in the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI).

Additional Resources

Department of State

Department of the Treasury

Department of Labor

Climate Issues

Bahrain’s Vision 2030 outlines measures to protect the natural environment, reduce carbon emissions, minimize pollution, and promote sustainable energy. Bahrain’s Sustainable Energy Authority (SEA), within the Ministry of Electricity and Water Affairs, designs energy efficiency policies and promotes renewable energy technologies that support Bahrain’s long-term climate action and environmental protection ambitions. Endorsed by Bahrain’s Cabinet and monitored by SEA, the National Energy Efficiency Action Plan (NEEAP) and the National Renewable Energy Action Plan (NREAP) set national energy efficiency and national renewable energy 2025 targets of 6 and 5 percent, respectively, with the NREAP target increasing to 10 percent by 2035.

14. Contact for More Information

Manama Commercial Office
U.S. Embassy Manama
P.O. Box 26431
Bldg. 979, Rd. 3119
Block 331, Zinj
Kingdom of Bahrain
Telephone No. +973 1724-2700
E-mail address: manamacommercial@state.gov 

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