Consumer and business confidence in Bahrain is almost back to normal and investors are still interested in setting up business in the island nation, after protests rocked the Gulf country five months ago, Industry and Commerce Minister Hassan Fakhro said.
The number of companies that registered with the ministry from May through July was 30 percent higher than in the same period last year, Fakhro said in an interview at the ministry Aug. 22. The number of shoppers at City Center, the country’s biggest mall, was 8.5 percent higher in July than a year earlier, he added.
“I am very optimistic,” said Fakhro. “I am now more optimistic than I was in April or May because I’ve seen the return to normality and I’ve seen things are happening by the day.”
Fakhro’s outlook for the economy comes amid tensions lingering from the month of demonstrations that began in February and were mostly led by Shiite Muslim protesters calling for change. The Shiites say the measures the Sunni-led leadership has taken to calm the situation, including releasing political detainees, hosting a national dialogue and setting up an independent fact-finding commission to look into allegations of human rights abuses, are not enough.The unrest has hurt the economy of the country, which has promoted itself as a business center to rival nearby Dubai.
The economic cost is $1.5bn to $2bn, Esam Fakhro, chairman of Bahrain Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said in an interview with the Asharq al-Awsat newspaper published August 8. Gross domestic product shrank 1.4 percent in the first quarter from the previous three months. The central bank cut its economic growth forecast this year by two percentage points to 3 percent, Governor Rasheed al-Maraj said in a June 16 interview.
Credit Agricole, France’s second-largest bank by assets, will relocate its regional headquarters out of Bahrain, two bankers familiar with the matter said last week.
Fakhro declined to comment on Credit Agricole’s decision, saying his ministry doesn’t handle banks. Foreign companies haven’t lost interest in setting up in Bahrain, he said.
“If you consider the problems of February and March, I think it’s very gratifying,” the minister said.Fakhro said a group of multinational investors in building materials and industrial products told him in April they are looking at setting up a major company that will be registered in Bahrain and do business in the Middle East and North Africa.“It will be a mega company that will turn over $125bn in 10 years and will serve the entire MENA region,” he said. “They’re raising the capital and doing various bits and pieces.”
From / Arabian Business news