MANAMA: A Bahraini-Thai Business Council has been formed to explore ways of bolstering bilateral investment and partnerships. The council was established during a visit to Thailand by a 13-member delegation from the Bahrain Chamber of Commerce and Industry (BCCI)
The Bahrain co-chairman is BCCI board member Jawad Al Hawaj, who is also co-chairman of the Bahrain-Filipino Business Council. The BCCI delegation included BCCI chairman Dr Essam Fakhro and AMA University chairman Dr Amble R Aguiluz.
During the three-day visit to Thailand, the delegation held meetings with its counterparts and business leaders to discuss areas for co-operation and partnership.
Prior to Thailand, the delegation spent three-days in the Philippines to build on existing business ties and to explore new ventures between the two countries. The group met the Bahrain-Filipino Business Council, Philippines Chamber of Commerce and one-to-one business meetings to discuss investment opportunities in agriculture, food sector, construction and tourism.
Mr Al Hawaj said in the Philippines they discussed the possibility of forming a Bahrain-Philippines Islamic bank. He added that it was currently under study and details would be announced soon.
"We believe there are many opportunities for investment in Thailand and Philippines and for both countries in Bahrain," he told the GDN. "Food security is one area we are trying to emphasise. We had discussions in planting and growing bananas and rice in both countries."
Mr Al Hawaj said Bahraini investments in shrimp and aqua farms in the Philippines and Thailand were discussed. "We believe it is a good step taken and we will now have a study and see if it is feasible for Bahrain," he said.
Mr Al Hawaj said the BCCI welcomed the recent signing of the GCC-Association of Southeast Asia Nations (Asean) memorandum of understanding. "We believe there is big opportunity to improve the relationship between the two countries, especially with the GCC-Asean agreement," Mr Al Hawaj said. "We have many areas to do business together, and Bahrain will now draw an action plan to see which areas to give priority. "The possibility of a GCC-Asean Free Trade Agreement is something we have been discussing for many years and we are supporting this."
Mr Al Hawaj said earlier that there was huge scope for growth in bilateral trade between Bahrain and the Philippines, as well as with Thailand.
He said the annual volume of non-oil trade with the Philippines stood at about $40 million (BD15.1m), growing at an annual 10 per cent.
Non-oil trade with Thailand was around $350m a year, growing at a similar rate.
The GDN reported prior to the BCCI delegation's trade visits to Thailand and Philippines had not been deterred by Bangkok Post comments last month which quoted Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva ruling out foreign investment in his country's rice farming and livestock businesses.
He added the Thai government welcomed investment in processing agricultural products and in businesses that upgraded food and agricultural technology, but foreigners were only permitted to invest in joint-venture farm businesses in which Thais own a minimum stake of 51 per cent.
The delegation was also unfazed by comments by UN food security expert Olivier de Schutter, who was reportedly calling for a code of conduct to regulate the purchase of farmland across Africa, Asia and Latin America by Gulf states and private businesses.
The Bangkok Post also quoted Thai trade representative Kiat Sittheeamorn as saying the country was closely engaged in trade talks with Bahrain on government-to-government deals, particularly for rice.
He added they were talking about the possibility of using Bahrain as a springboard to supply rice to the GCC.
Mr Al Hawaj told the GDN at the time that several Filipino officials had expressed a desire to partner with Bahraini investors in setting up plantation ventures.
Meanwhile, Thai Ambassador Suphat Chitranukroh told the GDN earlier that Bahrain was being lined up as a hub for the distribution of Thai food across the GCC.
He said plans were underway to build a Thai food distribution centre in the Bahrain Logistics Zone, at the Shaikh Khalifa Port.He added that the food would be scientifically tested to prove it was halal, adding Thailand had agreed in principle to guarantee the food supply of the Gulf. The plan, he said, was to increase trade between Thailand and the GCC by 60 to 80pc in the next three years. During the First GCC-Asean Ministerial Meeting in Bahrain last week Thai Foreign Affairs Minister and Asean chairman Kasit Piromya said Thailand could supply the GCC with the food it needed for the next 10 years. He said Thailand and Vietnam exported about 24 billion tonnes of rice worldwide and about 40m tonnes in the GCC.