Economy and trade at the Forefront of Bilateral Relations

by Liz O’Reilly

Tue, 02 June 2020

Economy and trade at the Forefront of Bilateral Relations

New Italian Ambassador, HE Paola Amadei, told Liz O’Reilly about how her community is dealing with viral restrictions and the growing Italian commercial attention for Bahrain. 

How long have you been in Bahrain now and how are you finding it, restrictions aside?
I am deeply honoured to have recently presented my credentials to His Majesty King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa and I am proud to represent my country in the Kingdom. I arrived mid-January. I was able to appreciate the great potential that exists in Bahrain when I had the honour to participate as a member of the Italian delegation during a high-level official visit to Rome, led by His Royal Highness Prince Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa, the Crown Prince, Deputy Supreme Commander and First Deputy Prime Minister, which included meetings between the Italian Prime Minister, Giuseppe Conte, and HRH the Crown Prince, as well as between the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Luigi Di Maio, and former Minister Khaled bin Ahmed Al Khalifa and also between the Bahraini Minister of Industry, Commerce and Tourism, HE Zayed Rashid Alzayani, and the Italian Undersecretary for Cultural Heritage and Tourism, Lorenza Bonaccorsi.

Approximately how many Italians are living in Bahrain?
There are approximately 500 Italians in Bahrain. The Italian Embassy ensures that all their requests are duly addressed. Our focus, in line with the natural vocation of any foreign mission, is to be the first point of reference to our community. 

How is the embassy supporting them under the current pandemic conditions?
The consular services essential to our community are ongoing, in fact just the other week I held a marriage service in compliance with all the preventative provisions on social distancing. For the moment, we operate strictly by appointment, but there is a 24-hour, seven-day-a-week emergency telephone line available. We recommend that all Italian travellers frequently visit our website and the dedicated page of the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs for detailed information on travel advice. We also ensure that our community has the relevant updates on the official preventative measures adopted by Bahrain. 

In which sectors are they engaged?
The Italian community in Bahrain is a very active and well-integrated part of society that offers a valuable and professional contribution to major sectors, including energy, sustainability, infrastructure, engineering, architecture and interior design, food, business consultation, academia, culture and art. We share strategic ideas and projects on how to further develop and strengthen bilateral, economic and trade cooperation. One of the priorities is to expand and strengthen the involvement of several Italian companies that are interested in establishing their own presence in Bahrain through the excellent quality of products and services they provide. Italian companies with the ‘Made in Italy’ trademark can also rely on this support.  

What are their major concerns?
The main concerns are health and safety and restrictions on travel. The very nature of the effects of the virus have a profound impact on sectors that are interconnected globally and, therefore, the recommendations must constantly evolve. 

Aside from the pandemic, how are relations generally with Bahrain – what are the current trade figures between the two countries and is there scope for improvement on this?
Over the past year, Italy has seen further developments in its excellent bilateral relations with Bahrain. The Kingdom is an important political partner for Italy as well as a key regional actor. The inauguration of the Bahraini Embassy in Rome by HRH the Crown Prince, in February this year, provides tangible proof of the growing political cooperation between our two countries and is a valuable platform for further strengthening economic and trade ties. Coming to numbers: the Italy-Bahrain exchange reached USD451 million in 2019 and more growth is expected. More and more Italian companies are eager to enhance economic and commercial cooperation with Bahrain. The Kingdom presents many opportunities: a competitive customs regime, skilled labour, important growth support structures, these are the best incentives for Italian companies. The meeting between HRH the Crown Prince and Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte has further fuelled the dialogue between our governments and represented a significant path for the intensification of bilateral ties. The agreements signed during the important visit marked a milestone in our bilateral relations. Greater cooperation is expected in key sectors such as energy, defence, infrastructure and transport, manufacturing, food, agro-business, pharmaceuticals and health, but also financial services, information technology and mutual investment.

If yes, how can this be achieved?
We are working on the followup envisaged by the agreements and I am in contact with both the Italian and Bahraini companies and associations. For the time being, we must limit ourselves to video conferencing and I remain confident that when we are able to do so, we will schedule further bilateral meetings and organise trade fairs and other events that will help facilitate interaction amongst the Italian and Bahraini business communities. 

Can you tell us a bit about the range of agreements that was signed between Bahrain and Italian entities in Rome earlier this year?
Agreements worth USD360 million were signed between Italian companies and Bahraini counterparts. Among these were agreements between: Tatweer Petroleum and Ente Nazionale Idrocarburi (ENI) Bahrain, Alba and Fluorsid S.p.A, Alba and FATA S.p.A, Alba and Techmo Car S.P.C, Al Salam Bank and OMP Racing S.p.A, GPIC and Saipem/Snamprogetti S.p.A (ENI Group). Memoranda of Understanding were also signed between ICE (Italian Trade Commission) and Bahrain’s Economic Development Board and SACE S.p.A (Export Credit Agency) and the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Tourism, as well as a Joint Declaration on Tourism between the Ministers of Tourism. An agreement has also been signed between our two governments for the exemption from the visa requirement for holders of diplomatic, special or service passports. The event attracted great interest from Italian companies, which also participated in large numbers.

When is the anticipated Italian Trade Agency to open in Bahrain?
Provided everything runs smoothly, the ICE office, hosted at the embassy, will open very soon, in the coming weeks. The long-awaited desk office will facilitate economic interest, providing assistance and information to Italian and Bahraini companies, both in Italy and Bahrain. The services available will be very extensive and will be complemented by numerous and diverse promotional events to increase Italy’s offer in Bahrain and promote a more widespread bilateral business partnership.

Are there any more business developments or high-level visits on the horizon?
The official meetings in Rome proved to be a qualitative leap forward in bilateral relations, deepening and expanding the fields of cooperation to new sectors, as shown by the agreements on cultural, educational, scientific, technological and information cooperation, air services, health and medical science, as well as the letter of intent between the National Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency on cooperation for civil purposes. Italy is a great productive and technological power, we export machinery and excel in science and innovation, as well as in the defence sector. In this regard, a paradigmatic example is offered by the activity and the extraordinary quality of production of Fincantieri S.p.A, also present here in the GCC, which is a global player in the field of civil and military shipbuilding.

On the cultural side, there has long been a history of exchange and cultural tours between the two countries. Is there anything planned for the future?
The bilateral agreement signed on cultural, educational, scientific, technological and informational cooperation will definitely open greater possibilities for the future. It is my priority to share more of our culture with Bahrain. I am very keen on seeing ongoing collaboration between museums, art galleries, and more promotion of the Italian language as well as encouraging an appreciation for opera, an extraordinary form of art that I am passionate about. Opera was born in Italy and is a unique heritage: music, singing and acting merge to form extraordinary stories that have always fascinated me.