Finance Minister Sheikh Ahmed bin Mohammed Al Khalifa delivered the following keynote speech at the Global Islamic Investment Gateway GIIG2015 in Manama today:
Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen: Assalamu Alaikum
It is with considerable pleasure that I welcome you to the Kingdom of Bahrain for the Gulf Islamic Investment Gateway.
Bahrain has always been, throughout history, a profound and evolving GATEWAY. In the 19th Century we were a gateway for the burgeoning trade between the Arabian Peninsula and India. In the mid-20th Century we were the gateway for forging new links between the Arab Gulf states and European interests. The ingenious people of these islands have always been amongst the first to reach out, welcome new ideas, engage with the wider world, and create partnerships of mutual benefit.
And now, in the 21st Century, Bahrain stands as a NEW GATEWAY – the gateway to OPPORTUNITY on a global scale – ready to utilise the very best of its talent, its regulatory expertise, its mature business environment, advanced infrastructure, technology and VISION.
The phenomenal growth of Bahrain as the world’s pre-eminent Islamic banking centre – just 25 years ago – is sure proof of our ability to deliver. This country was able to go where others "feared to tread" – and are still uncertain how to tread – and we did it with originality, belief and purpose. That is the spirit of the Bahraini people; that is the spirit that will take us forward yet again.
In this new phase, our country is poised to build upon and further advance its leading position, and we will do it with the same fearlessness and ingenuity that characterised earlier epochs.
I want to take a few moments of your time this morning to illustrate FIVE THEMES that will characterise Bahrain’s vision of leadership of the nascent Islamic economy.
FIRST, Bahrain will increasingly position itself as the "Islamic Private Wealth Capital of the World".
We expect to see a greater focus on private banking initiatives. European institutions have traditionally been pre-eminent in this area and now we would like to see an increase in Arab and Muslim private banking and Islamically-structured products and standards of excellence. This is already starting to happen.
The Islamic finance industry itself is likely to experience a further movement towards private equity, fund and asset management. We wish to encourage that. The rise of the family offices in the GCC region in particular is also a sure sign of the way private wealth is being managed and invested today. We expect these trends to continue and we intend to harness this opportunity.
SECOND – Bahrain aims to be the foremost regional centre for trade finance. With its connections in Central Asia – and I am very pleased to welcome representatives from Kazakhstan here today – as well as India, Thailand, Malaysia, Japan and elsewhere, Bahrain is ideally placed to facilitate the "New Silk Route" and finance the increasing trade needs of the emerging markets of Asia. While we will continue to nurture our relationships with Europe and North America, increasingly we will be looking East – and increasingly our young bankers will be trained in documentary credits and international trade techniques.
THIRD – Bahrain wants to see further development of the takaful and re-takaful industry. As Gulf economies grow, particularly as Shari’ah-compliant economies grow, there will be more need for innovative Islamic insurance products. We are aware of the need to have the best research, innovation and regulatory framework in place and the Bahrain Government will do what it can to ensure that happens.
FOURTH – Bahrain will place a much greater emphasis on technology in the future. Already Government has placed many of its public services on-line. Financial services will also increasingly be provided on-line, both internationally and regionally, and Bahrain intends to be at the forefront of this development. We will encourage entrepreneurs, particularly our youth, to develop new systems that add value to institutions and customers. Whether it be trading platforms, payments systems, smart cards, mobile apps – a whole world of opportunity awaits if IT talent is directed to work in partnership with the financial industry.
FIFTH – and finally – what really sets Bahrain apart:
Yes, we know Islamic banking – and have the largest concentration of banks.
Yes, we are the GATEWAY to all the Gulf economies - with some of the lowest operating costs in the region.
Yes, we have the best financial regulations - and are consistently ranked at the top of the league tables for "ease of business" in MENA region.
All this is well-known. But what really sets Bahrain apart from its competitors is its enormous depth of human talent.
We are an integrated economy – not a free zone – and at every level of our society you will find people who are engaged with the financial sector – with banks and financiers – especially Islamic financiers – and a whole range of other financial service providers and support organisations. They are knowledgeable, skilled and dedicated at what they do. We are very proud to have a financial sector workforce that is made up of nearly 80% locals.
We have some of the best training in the region. Whether it is in the classroom of the Bahrain Institute of Banking and Finance or whether it is "on the job" at one of our prestigious institutions - we have outstanding people at every level. And with a 25 year track record, increasingly those who were once juniors are now occupying senior management positions.
We may not be the biggest country in the Muslim world, but Bahrain’s mission is to be THE CENTRE OF EXCELLENCE for the entire Islamic market. A place RENOWNED throughout the world for its Islamic finance BRILLIANCE – in education, in training, in research, in innovation, in product development, in regulation, in market conduct – and, above all, in INTELLECTUAL LEADERSHIP.
The place where all Islamic bankers will want to be. The place where Islamic investors will come and do business. The place where the Islamic economy will be ROOTED and, insh’Allah by the Grace of God, will FLOURISH as the GATEWAY for a new era.
In closing, Bahrain has been through many challenges, such as the financial crisis in 2008 and the unfortunate events of 2011. However, because of our continuing openness to the world, our support for democracy and our inclusive policies – shown by our belief in shared prosperity for all under a strong social umbrella - we have emerged stronger and more focussed on ensuring that our economy continues to be competitive and continues to build on the indomitable spirit of the Bahraini people to produce the qualities we need.
Welcome to a Bahrain which is open for business! Welcome to the Gulf Islamic Investment Gateway!
I wish you an enjoyable and productive conference - this is where a NEW CHAPTER of the Islamic economy begins!.