Exploring The Possibilities

by BTM

Thu, 01 July 2021

american chamber of commerce

Bahrain This Month’s Farah Baig chats with Mary McGinnis, the Executive Director of AmCham Bahrain,
about the FTA, benefits of being a member and more.

Having joined the American Chamber of Commerce in Bahrain (AmCham Bahrain) in 2013, Mary McGinnis has a highly significant role as she directs all AmCham departments including membership, advocacy, sponsorship and consultancy services. With over 20 years of experience in the non-profit sector, she has successfully utilised her past experience to facilitate the growth of member companies in Bahrain.

AmCham Bahrain has been in existence since 2006 when the Free Trade Agreement (FTA) between the Kingdom of Bahrain and the United States came into effect for the purpose of helping businesses in Bahrain make use of the FTA. “AmCham does that in various ways - we create a platform for business leaders to come together, network, share knowledge, learn and have access to resources,” explains Ms. McGinnis. 

There are currently around 200 AmCham members which includes iconic global Fortune 500 companies, SMEs, non-profits and individual entrepreneurs. “We’re certainly the most active business association dedicated to relations between Bahrain and the US,” she says.

Around 30 AmCham Bahrain events, which are instrumental for networking and knowledge sharing, and often feature highly-experienced topic speakers, are held every year. “We’ve collaborated with regional AmChams, during COVID, and had 75 virtual events which gives our members a rich opportunity to choose from a range of topics and experts in the GCC, MENA region and the United States,” says Ms. McGinnis.

AmCham also provides members with advocacy services when faced with local or international issues which affect their business. “We go to the right body of people who can help resolve that, whether that’s in Washington DC or in Bahrain,” she explains, adding that the organisation then links members to resources which can open doors.

“We also do introductions, certainly within our membership and other AmChams, and with companies in the United States. So, if a member is trying to expand their business that’s something we help them with – finding a partner,” she adds.

“It’s one of the most common questions we get, and it really depends on what the business is,” she says.

Consultancy services at AmCham are instrumental for companies that are trying to determine their eligibility. “People believe if they could crack the secret of the FTA, their business would expand easily, but expanding your business, with or without the FTA, is challenging,” she explains, adding that businesses must understand the market, rules and regulations, and supply chain of the country they wish to expand to.

“The FTA doesn’t make any of that, any easier; what it does is make it more competitive by taking away all tariffs for 98% of all goods and services that are created in Bahrain or in the US for bilateral trade,” she explains.

In order to be eligible for the FTA, 35% of the good’s value has to be created either in the US or Bahrain. “This is because the purpose of the FTA is to help local economies through the creation of jobs and more. Since Bahrain doesn’t have a lot of natural resources, the 35% is often created through the labour of putting things together and transforming them into something new and unique. So, we help companies figure out whether their goods meet the requirements,” she says. 

Companies also have to be established in Bahrain and follow the requirements for exporting to the US to make use of the FTA. “An undersold aspect of the FTA opportunity in Bahrain is that companies from all over the world could come and set up here to manufacture and ship to the United States. Given its business-friendly environment, low cost of living and other advantages, Bahrain is an ideal location to reach the MENA and Asia market,” she says.

In 2013, AmCham’s membership was below 50 members and has now grown to over 200. The organisation has grown during the pandemic, and has attracted a good number of global and local companies. “I think businesses realised that belonging to a group that can help promote them, raise their visibility and connect them to clients and resources is a good investment,” she says.

Ms. McGinnis has travelled and worked in countries including India, Thailand, Italy and more and offers a cross-cultural perspective to her work. “Since Bahrain is so multicultural, as is AmCham, it allows me to connect, appreciate and support our members in an even better way. This is not only because I may have a story to tell of an experience in their country, but from a perspective of understanding how they may see the world in a different way - their perceptions and practices may be a little bit different. So, I can adapt my communication and what I’m offering to support that,” she explains.

She also had the opportunity to live and work in different parts of the United States including San Francisco, New York, Boston, Washington, and Alabama. “That has further helped me have a better sense of the cultures and markets business-wise to help our reach into the United States for our members,” she says.

Having been with AmCham for eight years, Ms. McGinnis has had several memorable experiences within the organisation. “I was very honoured to plan and lead the trade mission for the Minister of Oil and Gas back to Houston, Texas and Washington DC two years ago, soon after the new oil and gas fields were found. The Bahrain government is very interested in using US technology and expertise in developing those fields, so we met with the industry leaders in Houston,” she says.

In the last five years, AmCham Bahrain has grown its network of affiliations and is now a member of over 120 AmChams across the world, including the GCC and MENA AmChams. “I’d like to encourage people to attend our events, talk to me about membership and how we could specifically support their business,” she says.

“We are also a part of the US Chamber of Commerce in Washington, DC, which is the world’s largest business chamber with over three and a half million members. We can introduce you to a regional, global or American company that can help you expand your business. The possibilities are endless,” she concludes.