Bahraini King Pays First Visit to Astana, Political and Commercial Ties Expand

BahrainASTANA – King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa of Bahrain paid his first official visit to Kazakhstan on April 13-15.

Accompanied by a high-level delegation of more than 200 officials and business leaders, the King was welcomed on arrival in Astana by Kazakhstan’s Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Industry and New Technologies Asset Issekeshev and other senior officials.

President Nursultan Nazarbayev welcomed King Hamad in his Ak Orda residence on April 14 to discuss ways to strengthen bilateral relations. The two leaders also discussed trade and investment.

In his opening remarks, the President said Bahrain is one of the most important partners for Kazakhstan among the Arab states.

“During the short time Bahrain has turned into an advanced industrial state. Your country is known around the world as one of the biggest financial centers in the world and the homeland of the Islamic Bank,” the President said during the meeting.

The King underlined the importance of close cooperation with Kazakhstan and expressed his satisfaction with the signing of memoranda of understanding in the fields of diplomacy, food security, agriculture, finance, investment and education.

An important part of the talks was also easing the visa regime.

“Today we’ve discussed launching direct flights between our countries. King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa instructed to ease the visa regime for citizens of Kazakhstan,” the President said at a joint press conference after their meeting.

At the invitation of President Nazarbayev, the King took a sightseeing tour around Astana. During the day, King Hamad also met with Prime Minister Karim Massimov.

Meanwhile, the “Kazakhstan-Bahrain: Strategic Partnership” business forum took place in Astana on the sidelines of the royal visit to Kazakhstan. More than 40 biggest Bahraini companies working in banking, food, oil and gas, petrochemistry, metallurgy and aluminum production, engineering, transport and tourism fields participated in the forum.

The Kingdom of Bahrain is interested in expanding its presence in Central Asia, and since both Kazakhstan and Bahrain play key roles in their respective regions, the cooperation with Kazakhstan will be mutually beneficial, Minister of Transport and chief of the executive office of the Bahraini Council of Economic Development Kamal Muhammed Ahmed said at the opening of the forum.

He noted the similarities between the two countries, both being rich in natural resources, and the two governments’ similar desire to diversify their economies. The Bahraini official also stressed that the annual mutual trade worth $1 million was way too little and far from the true potential.

The business forum showed there are many common points of interest.

“We know extraction and processing of oil and gas, aluminum, as well as its financial and banking sector, agriculture, tourism and food industry are among the strongest sectors in Bahrain’s economy,” Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Industry and New Technologies Asset Issekeshev said at the forum. He added that Kazakhstan, in turn, has huge potential for exporting wheat, barley and forage wheat to Bahrain, as well as for establishing a joint halal meat production. Issekeshev believes these areas could be the foundation for the creation of joint enterprises, both in Kazakhstan and in Bahrain.

“In terms of processing aluminum, your experience in aluminum industry has real prospects in creating production that will be in demand domestically, both in the north, in Pavlodar, and in the south region of Kazakhstan,” Issekeshev said adding that Bahrain today processes around 800,000 tonnes of aluminum while Kazakhstan, with its vast ore reserves, processes only 25,000 tonnes.

“That is why we are ready to establish a special zone to process aluminum in Pavlodar to expand its extraction from 250,000 tonnes to 500,000 tonnes annually,” Issekeshev said.

There are also prospects for cooperation in oil and gas production and transportation, as well as in the banking sector, especially given that Bahrain is a financial centre in the Gulf and given that Kazakhstan would like to press ahead with the establishment of a regional hub of alternative financing.

“We would be very much interested in Manama’s systemic approach and successful experience as a regional Islamic finance centre,” Issekeshev said.

At the forum, Bahraini business people said consolidation of bilateral economic co-operation between Manama and Astana would provide the kingdom with many advantages such as boosting food security and benefiting from Kazakhstan’s abundant mineral wealth.

They expressed optimism regarding the outcome of the royal visit which was an exploratory trip for the delegation comprising businessmen and investors, especially as the Astana market is teeming with investment opportunities in all sectors. They said they also looked forward to attracting Kazakh investments into Bahrain.

According to Othman Sharif, Bahrain Chamber of Commerce and Industry’s (BCCI) first deputy chairman, the opening into Asian countries would give Bahrain an economic advantage especially as Asian countries have many positive positions on matters and issues of mutual interest that are in common with Bahrain.

As a result of the business forum, a memorandum of cooperation between the Kazakhstan’s Baiterek National Holding and Bahrain’s Mumtalakat Holding was signed.

The forum also saw the announcement of a Kazakhstan-Bahraini Business Council that will soon be established to facilitate commercial contacts between the two countries.

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