The man in charge of economic development in Bahrain has visited Birmingham to establish trade links and assuage concerns about political unrest in the Gulf state.
Sheikh Mohammed bin Essa Al-Khalifa, chief executive of the Bahrain Economic Development Board (EDB), told the Post his country offered access to growth and a helpful climate for Midland firms to generate wealth.
The kingdom has been making headlines after a series of pro-democracy protests, which put paid to its plans to host a Grand Prix in March, but Sheikh Mohammed said it had been unfairly portrayed in the media.
The delegation included 12 companies from Bahrain who took part in more than 40 meetings locally to set up links.
More than £529 million worth of trade is completed each year between the UK and Bahrain, and Sheikh Mohammed has set a target to double that amount in the next decade.
He said: “Our main role is to create win-win situations – we can create jobs by taking advantage of opportunities in our part of the world. It is about creating partnerships that can benefit all sides.”
The EDB’s visit to the UK is being supported and coordinated with UK Trade & Investment (UKTI). It comes as the eyes of the world are on Bahrain after clashes between its majority Shia population and the kingdom’s security forces.
When asked about the “goings on”, Sheikh Mohammed said: “We are here for two reasons – firstly to explain the economic opportunities and the other is to explain as you put it the ‘goings on’ in recent months.
“We believe we have been unfairly represented about what went on. Not all of the story was told and we believe our half was never explained. In Bahrain, we firmly believe in the same values you believe in – democracy, transparency, fairness and an accountable society. The debate we are having is over the pace of reform.
“Some want to move faster but a significant number of our people, and rightly so, say our heritage and history should not be changed overnight.
“This is not an excuse to delay reform. Just look at the last 10 years – we have been at the forefront of economic reform in the Gulf, from freedom of the press and elections and so on and so forth. We are by no means trying to delay reform.”
He said Bahrain remains a big opportunity for Midland firms, as a trillion dollar market which is forecast to grow by two per cent this year.
He said a new airport, hundreds of miles of highways and 50,000 new homes being built, creating opportunities in construction and engineering, but also said the country had enjoyed growth in retail and manufacturing
He added: “Birmingham is well diversified but this is where things get made and built and this is where our business community wanted to come. There are a cross section of opportunities – manufacturing is definitely one area we have interest in but construction, engineering, composites, all the way across to financial services.”
Coventry-based black cab-maker LTI is among those to prosper in the kingdom, having supplied hundreds of cabs.
Deb Leary OBE, Chair of the Midlands World Trade Forum, said: “This region is one of the few places they are visiting in the UK and the fact they brought 12 firms with them shows their intention to kick-start new partnerships and relationships.”