Transparency of the Regulatory System
In 2018, the GOB issued a competition law, a personal data protection law, a bankruptcy law, and a health insurance law to enhance the country’s investment eco-system. The Law of Commerce (Legislative Decree No. 7, passed in 1987) addresses the concept of unfair competition and prohibits acts that would have a damaging effect on competition. Companies also are forbidden from undertaking practices detrimental to their competitors or from attracting the customers of their competitors through anti-competitive means. There is no official competition authority in Bahrain and the country has yet to institute comprehensive anti-monopoly laws or an independent anti-corruption agency.
Bahrain’s industrial sector is dominated by state-controlled companies such as Aluminum Bahrain (ALBA), Bahrain Petroleum Company (BAPCO), and Gulf Petrochemical Industries Company (GPIC). De facto monopolies also exist in some industries led by individuals or family-run businesses.
The GOB uses International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS) as part of its implementation of Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP). IFRS are used by domestic listed and unlisted companies in their consolidated financial statements for external financial reporting.
Bahrain adopted International Accounting Standard 1 (IAS 1) in 1994 in the absence of other local standards. Non-listed banks and other business enterprises use IASs in the preparation of financial statements.
The 2001 Bahrain Commercial Companies Law requires each registered entity to produce a balance sheet, a profit-and-loss account and the director’s report for each financial year. All branches of foreign companies, limited liability companies and corporations, must submit annual audited financial statements to the Directorate of Commerce and Company Affairs at the MoIC, along with the company’s articles and /or articles of association.
Depending on the company’s business, financial statements may be subject to other regulatory agencies such as the Bahrain Monetary Agency (BMA) and the Bahrain Stock Exchange (banks and listed companies).
Bahrain encourages firms to adhere to both the International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS) and Bahrain’s Code of Corporate Governance. Bahrain-based companies by and large remain in compliance with IAS-1 disclosure requirements.
There are no informal regulatory processes managed by non-governmental organizations or private sector associations.
According to the World Bank, the GOB does not have the legal obligation to publish the text of proposed regulations before their enactment but bills that are discussed by Parliament may be reported in the local news. The text of the proposed regulations is publicly available one day, two weeks or thirty days after it is published in the Official Gazette. Bahrain, therefore, ranks among the countries with low rule-making transparency.
Bahrain’s laws can be drafted or proposed by the Cabinet or originate in the bicameral National Assembly, comprised of an elected, lower house Council of Representatives (COR) and an appointed, upper house Consultative Council (Shura). The independent Legislation and Legal Opinion Commission drafts legislation based on the proposals. The King’s signature is required to ratify any laws following parliamentary approval; laws are in force once published in the Official Gazette. The King may issue royal orders and royal decrees that are immediately effective once issued. For matters deemed urgent, the King can also issue decree-laws when the COR is in recess. These decree-laws must be approved by both chambers with no changes within a month of the COR resuming session, or they are considered null. GOB ministers and heads of agencies are authorized to issue regulations that pertain to the administration of their respective bodies.
Bahrain is a member of the GCC, which created a Unified Economic Agreement to expedite trade and the movement of people and goods within GCC borders. The GCC has also adopted several unified model laws, such as the GCC Trademark Law. Bahrain is a signatory to the Apostille Convention and is a member of the Permanent Court of Arbitration. It is a dualist state, therefore, international treaties are not directly incorporated into its law and must be approved by the National Assembly and ratified by the King.
Commercial regulations can be proposed by the EDB, MoIC, Cabinet, or COR. Draft regulations are debated within the COR and Shura Council. The Bahrain Chamber of Commerce and Industry board of directors may raise concerns over draft legislation at committee meetings or send written comments for review by Members of Parliament; bills are otherwise not available for public comment. The Cabinet issues final approval of regulations.
The e-Government portal and the Legislation and Legal Opinion Commission website list laws by category and date of issuance. Some laws are translated into English. The National Audit Office publishes results of its annual audits of government ministries and parastatals.
International Regulatory Considerations
As a GCC member, Bahrain has agreed to enforce GCC standards and regulations where they exist, and not to create any domestic rules that contradict established GCC-wide standards and regulations. In certain cases, the GOB applies international standards where domestic or GCC standards have not been developed. Bahrain is a member of the WTO and notifies all draft technical regulations to the WTO Committee on Technical Barriers to Trade. Bahrain ratified the Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA) in September 2016 through Law No. 17 of 2016.
Legal System and Judicial Independence
Bahrain’s Constitution defines the Kingdom as a sovereign, independent, Arab Muslim State. Article 2 of the Constitution states that Islamic Sharia (Islamic law) is the main source of law; however, general matters and private transactions are governed mainly by laws derived from international law. Three types of courts are present in Bahrain: civil, criminal, and family (Sharia) courts. The civil court system consists of lower courts, courts of appeal, and the Court of Cassation – the highest appellate court in the Kingdom, hearing a variety of civil, criminal, and family cases. Civil courts deal with all administrative, commercial, and civil cases, as well as disputes related to the personal status of non-Muslims. Family courts deal primarily with personal status matters, such as marriage, divorce, custody, and inheritance.
High-ranking judges in Bahrain are often from affluent, merchant families or may be non-Bahraini citizens. On January 19, 2022, the king appointed nine English-speaking foreign judges and legal experts to the Court of Cassation, all of whom are commercial arbitration specialists. Bahraini law borrows elements from European or other Arab states’ legal codes.
Bahrain has a long-established framework of commercial law. English is widely used, and in April 2007, the government permitted international law firms to be established in Bahrain. Several well-known international (including U.S.) law firms, working in association with local partners, are authorized to practice in Bahrain and provide expert legal services nationally and regionally. These firms provide services such as commercial and financial consultancy in legal matters. Fees are charged according to internationally accepted practices. Non-Bahraini lawyers can represent clients in Bahraini courts.
Investors report general satisfaction with government cooperation and support. Foreign competitors have occasionally perceived that legal interpretation and application varied between ministries and was influenced by influential local business interests or the stature and connections of an investor’s local partner. Such departures from the consistent, transparent application of regulations and the law are uncommon.
The GOB is eager to develop its legal framework. The U.S. Department of Commerce’s Commercial Law Development Program (CLDP) has conducted training and capacity-building programs in Bahrain for years, in cooperation with the National Assembly; Ministry of Justice, Islamic Affairs, and Endowments; Supreme Judicial Council; Bahrain Chamber for Dispute Resolution; Judicial and Legal Studies Institute; and MoIC.
Judgments of foreign courts are recognized and enforceable under local courts. Article nine of the U.S.-Bahrain BIT outlines the disposition of U.S. investment cases within the Bahraini legal system. The most common investment-related concern in Bahrain has been the slow or incomplete application of the law. Although some international law and human rights monitoring organizations have collected anecdotal evidence pointing to a lack of transparency, the judicial process in civil courts is generally considered fair, and cases can be appealed.
Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment
The U.S.-Bahrain BIT provides benefits and protection to U.S. investors in Bahrain, such as most-favored nation and national treatment, the right to make financial transfers freely and immediately, the application of international legal standards for expropriation and compensation cases, and access to international arbitration. The BIT guarantees national treatment for U.S. investments across most sectors, with exceptions of a limited list of activities, including ownership of television, radio or other media, fisheries, real estate brokerages, and land transportation. Bahrain provides most-favored nation or national treatment status to U.S. investments in air transportation, the purchase or ownership of land, and the purchase or ownership of shares traded on the Bahrain Bourse.
The national treatment clause in the BIT ensures American firms interested in selling products exclusively in Bahrain are no longer required to appoint a commercial agent, though they may opt to do so. A commercial agent is any Bahraini party appointed by a foreign party to represent the foreign party’s product or service in Bahrain.
Bahrain generally permits 100 percent foreign ownership of new industrial entities and the establishment of representative offices or branches of foreign companies without local sponsors or business partners. Wholly foreign-owned companies may be set up for regional distribution services and may operate within the domestic market provided they do not exclusively pursue domestic commercial sales. Private investment (foreign or Bahraini) in petroleum extraction is permitted.
Expatriates may own land in designated areas in Bahrain. Non-GCC nationals, including Americans, may own high-rise commercial and residential properties, as well as properties used for tourism, banking, financial and health projects, and training centers.
Bahrain issued Bankruptcy Law No. 22 in May 2018 governing corporate reorganization and insolvency. The law is based on U.S. Chapter 11 insolvency legislation and provides companies in financial difficulty with an opportunity to restructure under court supervision.
Below is a link to a site designed to assist foreign investors to navigate the laws, rules, and procedures related to investing in Bahrain: http://cbb.complinet.com/cbb/microsite/laws.html
Competition and Anti-Trust Laws
The GOB issued Competition Law No. 31 in July 2018 to prevent the formation of monopolies or the practice of anti-competitive behavior. This law makes it easier for new businesses to enter existing markets and compete with significant players.
MoIC’s Consumer Protection Directorate is responsible for ensuring that the law determining price controls is implemented and that violators are punished.
Expropriation and Compensation
There have been no expropriations in recent years, and there are no cases in contention. The U.S.-Bahrain BIT protects U.S. investments by banning all expropriations (including “creeping” and “measures tantamount to”) except those for a public purpose. Such transactions must be carried out in a non-discriminatory manner, with due process, and prompt, adequate, effective compensation.
ICSID Convention and New York Convention
Bahrain uses multiple international and regional conventions to enhance its commercial arbitration legal framework. Bahrain is a party to the UNCITRAL Model Law on International Commercial Arbitration, the New York Convention, the International Centre for the Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID), and the GCC Convention for Execution of Judgments, among others. These conventions and international agreements established the foundation for the GCC Arbitration Centre, and the Bahrain Chamber for Disputes & Resolution (BCDR). Bahrain’s Constitution stipulates international conventions and treaties have the power of law.
Investor-State Dispute Settlement
Article 9 of The U.S.-Bahrain BIT provides for three dispute settlement options:
- Submitting the dispute to a local court or administrative tribunals of the host country.
- Invoking dispute-resolution procedures previously agreed upon by the foreign investor or company and the host country government; or,
- Submitting the dispute for binding arbitration to the International Center for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) or, the Additional Facility of ICSID, or ad hoc arbitration using the Arbitration Rules of the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL), or any other arbitral institution or rules agreed upon by both parties.
Bahrain Chamber for Dispute Resolution Court
The Bahrain Chamber for Dispute Resolution (BCDR) Court was established by Legislative Decree No. 30 of 2009. It operates in partnership with the American Arbitration Association (AAA). BCDR’s casework emanates from disputes brought before the BCDR Court and BCDR’s international arbitration wing, BCDR-AAA.
The BCDR Court administers disputes in excess of 500,000 Bahraini Dinars (approximately $1.3 million) in which at least one party is a financial institution licensed by the Central Bank of Bahrain, or the dispute is of an international commercial nature.
Since its establishment in 2010, BCDR has administered more than 350 cases under its jurisdiction as a court with monetary claims totaling over $6.2 billion.
In February 2022, the Minister of Justice clarified the use of travel bans against insolvent debtors (individuals and companies). The new Enforcement Law in Civil and Commercial Matters 22/2021 stated that the insolvent debtor must disclose any owned assets, within seven days from the beginning of the judicial proceedings. Companies can settle their debts within 21 days. The justice ministry said it would coordinate with debt collectors from the private sector to expedite the enforcement process.
BCDR-AAA International Arbitration Center
BCDR-AAA is an international arbitration center with jurisdiction over disputes with respect to which the parties have agreed in writing that the BCDR-AAA Arbitration Rules shall apply.
As of December 2020, BCDR-AAA registered 17 cases under its jurisdiction as an international arbitration center, one in 2013, one in 2015, three in 2016, five in 2017, two in 2019, and five in 2020. Of these cases, only seven are ongoing: one that was filed in 2017 and one filed in 2019, five that were filed in 2020. The remainder were awarded or settled.
Bahrain Chamber for Dispute Resolution
Suite 301, Park Plaza
Bldg. 247, Road 1704
P.O. Box 20006
Manama, Kingdom of Bahrain
Tel: + (973) 17-511-311
The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) reported that Bahrain faced its first known Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) claim in 2017. The case involved investor claims over the CBB’s 2016 move to close the Manama branch of Future Bank, a commercial bank whose shareholders included Iranian banks. Bahrain and Iran are party to a BIT. UNCTAD reported another investor-state dispute case involving Qatar Airways in 2020.
International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts
Arbitration procedures are largely a contractual matter in Bahrain. Disputes historically have been referred to an arbitration body as specified in the contract, or to the local courts. In dealings with both local and foreign firms, Bahraini companies have increasingly included arbitration procedures in their contracts. Most commercial disputes are resolved privately without recourse to the courts or formal arbitration. Resolution under Bahraini law is generally specified in all contracts for the settlement of disputes that reach the stage of formal resolution but is optional in those designating the BCDR. Bahrain’s court system has adequately handled occasional lawsuits against individuals or companies for nonpayment of debts.
Bahrain Law No. 9 of 2015 promulgating the Arbitration Law (the “New Arbitration Law”) came into effect on August 9, 2015. The law provides that the UNCITRAL 1985 Model Law with its 2006 amendments on international commercial arbitration (the “UNCITRAL Law”) will apply to any arbitration, taking place in Bahrain or abroad, if the parties to the dispute agreed to be subject to the UNCITRAL Law.
The GCC Commercial Arbitration Center, established in 1995, serves as a regional specialized body providing arbitration services. It assists in resolving disputes among GCC countries or between other parties and GCC countries. The Center implements rules and regulations in line with accepted international practice. Thus far, few cases have been brought to arbitration. The Center conducts seminars, symposia, and workshops to help educate and update its members on any new arbitration-related matters.
GCC Commercial Arbitration Center
P.O. Box 2338
Manama, Kingdom of Bahrain
Arbitration Boards’ Secretariat
Tel: + (973) 17278000
The GOB enacted its original bankruptcy and insolvency law through Decree by Law No. 11 in 1987. In May 2018, the GOB issued and ratified Law No. 22, updating the original legislation. Modeled on U.S. Chapter 11 legislation, the law introduces reorganization whereby a company’s management may continue business operations during the administration of a case. The Bankruptcy Law also includes provisions for cross-border insolvency, and special insolvency provisions for small and medium-sized enterprises that were further amended in July 2020 and enhanced creditors rights and expediting liquidation proceedings. The Bahrain credit reference bureau, known as “BENEFIT,” is licensed by the CBB and operates as the credit monitoring authority in Bahrain.
Environmental, Social, and Governance Disclosure
As part of a wider effort to promote sustainability and transparency in Bahrain’s capital market, Bahrain’s national stock market, the Bahrain Bourse (BHB), announced in 2020 new Environmental Social & Governance (ESG) reporting guidelines for listed companies . The voluntary reporting guidance aims to assist listed companies to integrate ESG issues in their reporting cycle and better meet the demands of institutional investors for material ESG information. The ESG reporting guidance encourages listed companies to disclose a set of 32 ESG metrics and indicators in alignment with the recommendations of the Sustainable Stock Exchanges (SSE) initiative and the World Federation of Exchanges, Global Reporting Initiatives (GRI) standards, and the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. The guidance explains the key regional and international drivers for adoption of ESG reporting, the importance of ESG reporting, the ways to report on ESG, and emphasizes Bahrain Bourse’s efforts in promoting sustainability.