Bahrain’s minister of industry and commerce has said his country is ready to move the Abraham Accords from a government initiative to a partnership between people.
“We firmly believe that the success of the Abraham Accords will be celebrated in economic prosperity,” Minister Zayed Bin Rashid Al Zayani told The Jerusalem Post on Sunday. “The right people to promote that prosperity and to sustain it are in the private sector,” he said.
“We have laid the groundwork and opened the door; now it is the challenge of the private sector in Israel and Bahrain to create these opportunities.”
Al Zayani is in Israel this week on a five-day economic mission along with 52 members of Bahrain’s business community. The delegation is the largest official economic delegation since the signing of the Abraham Accords in September 2020.
“I find Israelis straight to the point, which I like because it saves time and energy. They definitely drive a hard bargain, so we have to match that as well.”Minister Zayed Bin Rashid Al Zayani
The mission aims to deepen economic ties between the countries and strengthen bilateral trade. The group met with President Isaac Herzog, Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman and Economy and Industry Minister Orna Barbivay. On Sunday, two memorandums of understanding were signed between economic organizations from Bahrain and Israel in the fields of trade and fin-tech at a day-long conference in Tel Aviv.
Al Zayani recalled how, at the beginning of 2019, he was called to join the task force that planned the Peace to Prosperity workshop in Manama that June.
“The aim was to bring Israelis [and] Arabs – including Palestinians – together with the oversight of the US administration and to promote joint projects and economic prosperity,” he said. “My first reaction was, ‘Wow, this is something new.’ But it was a positive reaction, and within a few months we went from planning to executing. It was a good conference, and we believe that it planted the seeds for the Abraham Accords.”
Small but promising start
Two years later, trade between Israel and Bahrain is growing, but remains much lower than trade between Israel and the United Arab Emirates or Morocco, the two other countries that signed the accords.
In 2021, there was $6.5 million in trade between the countries, compared to $1.15 billion between Israel and the UAE and $41.6m. with Morocco.
However, this year is already proving to be more fruitful. For the first seven months of 2022, bilateral trade reached $6.2m., up from $3m. in the first seven months of last year.
“It is very modest, but you have to start somewhere,” the minister said.
He added that the first two years of the accords were tainted by COVID-19 and complicated by multiple Israeli elections.
“That is why I want to push for movement from politics to business,” Al Zayani explained. “Business will continue regardless of who is in office.”
There were other successes over the past two years, such as the launching of three direct flights a week between Israel and Bahrain. Al Zayani said the aim is to scale up to daily flights soon. As an example of how well relations are going, he keeps a photo on his phone of a Bahraini cargo truck loading tons of steel onto an Israeli truck to be sold in the Jewish state.
The industry and commerce minister said the two countries are working toward a free trade agreement that they hope to sign by the end of the year.
“By this time next year, I expect the numbers to look dramatically different,” Al Zayani told the Post.
The Bahrain economy has already largely recovered from the pandemic, with numbers in many cases exceeding pre-COVID levels. The government now focuses on six key sectors: financial services, manufacturing, telecommunications/IT/digital, tourism, logistics and oil/gas. Al Zayani said he believes there could be synergy between Israel and Bahrain in most of these areas.
Does he enjoy working with Israelis?
“I find Israelis straight to the point, which I like because it saves time and energy,” he said with a smile. “They definitely drive a hard bargain, so we have to match that as well.”