Op-Ed By Justin Siberell, U.S. Ambassador to the Kingdom of Bahrain
Everyone knows that Christopher Columbus discovered the Americas by accident. But there is nothing accidental about Discover America Week in Bahrain from October 24 to November 1. The US Embassy and our partners in the Bahraini and American business community have planned a series of activities aimed at highlighting the prosperity and opportunity generated by our enduring ties.
By any measure, commerce, investment and trade between our countries have never been better. Exchange of goods and services continues to soar. Since the U.S.-Bahrain Free Trade Agreement (FTA) came into effect in 2006, two-way trade of goods and services has tripled, from $782 million in 2005 to over $3 billion in 2018. This has benefitted both of our economies: over that time period, Bahrain’s exports to the United States more than doubled, reaching $991 million in 2018. Under the FTA, Bahrain exports a variety of products to the United States, including textiles, aluminum, glass and plastics.
Locally, the number of American companies choosing to do business in Bahrain continues to increase, with over 200 U.S. firms at present doing business on the island. The new, unconventional offshore find announced in April 2018, as well as other deep gas reserves recently uncovered onshore, have the potential to further deepen the U.S.-Bahrain economic relationship.
Nor is it only about the energy industry. Information technology and data processing are new sources of wealth in the global economy, and I am excited to see an increasing number of U.S. companies partnering with Bahrain to grow this important sector. Undergirding our growing ties in this sector are our abiding educational ties cultivated through partnerships and exchanges between Bahraini and American educational institutions. One standout is the new Amazon Web Service’s Bachelor’s degree program in cloud computing, which is to be offered in partnership with the University of Bahrain.
One of the important factors behind this impressive growth has been the excellent cooperation we have enjoyed with our Bahraini partners. A great example was the official trip to Washington, D.C. by His Royal Highness Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa, where he met with President Trump and signed an agreement with Vice President Pence to acquire advanced equipment to support the security of Bahrain.
Discover America Week to Highlight Growing U.S.-Bahrain Ties
Everything begins with the exchange of ideas. So we will kick off Discover America Week with a luncheon, hosted by the American Chamber of Commerce that features American business woman Ingrid Vanderveidt, Founder and CEO of “Empowering a Billion Women by 2020.” Ms. Vanderveidt will speak on “Making the Impossible, Possible: Technology as the Great Equalizer and Enabler to Global Business Success”.
Then I will visit some of the key examples of Bahraini-American cooperation. We will visit a Gulf Air Boeing 787 Dreamliner built out of composite materials – a quieter, more fuel-efficient plane than its predecessors, and a key component of Gulf Air’s new rate and service network. We will look at projects such as the Diyyar al Muharraq Development carried out by AECOM and Parsons and Great Lakes Dredge and Dock Company GLDD – a model new residential development that epitomizes excellence in design and construction. I will visit the Al Moayyad Showroom for the launch of a new U.S. vehicle, and I will highlight U.S. products at the Al Jazeera and Lulu Supermarkets as well as some of the American franchise hotels such as the Meridien and the Westin. And we wrap up the week with some great music, courtesy of the U.S. Grammy-award winning artist Spirogyra Band at JazzFest Bahrain.
Though we hope the week will be full of new discoveries about America for our Bahraini friends, there is nothing like the feet-on-the-ground experience. We hope to raise the number of over 5,000 Bahraini citizens, who visit the Embassy Consular Section to pursue the educational, tourist, and business opportunities that await them in the United States. We now feature an interview waiver program that allows some Bahraini visa applicants to renew their visas without even setting foot in our Embassy. And we are working on extending the validity of U.S. visas for Bahrainis from five to ten years. Finally, to boost our shared prosperity, we are supporting efforts to reestablish a direct air link between Manama and ports of entry in the United States.
I encourage you to please take a moment to find out what we are doing on the U.S. Embassy website at https://bh.usembassy.gov and follow our Discover America Week activities on Twitter (@USEmbassyManama), Instagram (@usembassybahrain), and Facebook (U.S. Embassy Manama). I hope you will join me in celebrating Discover America Week and look forward to welcoming you all to our exciting events!