The first Gulf state to discover oil, Bahrain's reserves are expected to run out in 10-15 years. Accordingly, Bahrain has worked to diversify its economy over the past decade and continues to grow its oil production to 100,000 barrels per day over the next five years. It currently operates at approximately 42,000 barrels per day. Revenues from oil and natural gas currently account for approximately 25% of GDP yet currently provide about 76% of government income. The state-owned Bahrain Petroleum Company refinery built in 1935, the first in the Gulf, has a capacity of about 260,000 b/d. Saudi Arabia provides most of the crude for refinery operation via pipeline. Through an agreement with Saudi Arabia, Bahrain also receives half of the net output and revenues from Saudi Arabia's Abu Saafa offshore oilfield.
The Bahrain National Gas Company operates a gas liquefaction plant that utilizes gas piped directly from Bahrain's oilfields. Gas reserves should last about 50 years at present rates of consumption. However, rising domestic demand spurred by a recent development boom has highlighted the need to increase gas supplies. The Gulf Petrochemical Industries Company is a joint venture of the petrochemical industries of Kuwait, the Saudi Basic Industries Corporation, and the Government of Bahrain. The plant, completed in 1985, produces ammonia and methanol for export. Growth in the hydrocarbons sector will be contingent upon new discoveries -- Bahrain awarded exploration rights to Malaysia's Petronas and the U.S.'s Chevron Texaco after the resolution of Bahrain's long-standing territorial dispute with Qatar, but no meaningful finds have been announced to date. Bahrain's other industries include the majority state-owned Aluminum Bahrain (Alba) --which operates the largest aluminum smelter in the world outside Eastern Europe with an annual production of about 870,000 metric tons (mt) after the completion of an expansion program -- and related factories, such as the Aluminum Extrusion Company and the Gulf Aluminum Rolling Mill. Other plants include the Gulf Industrial Investment Company's iron ore pelletizing plant (11 million tons annually) and a shipbuilding and repair yard.
Bahrain's development as a major financial center has been the most widely heralded aspect of its diversification effort. Bahrain is a regional financial and business center; international financial institutions operate in Bahrain, both offshore and onshore, without impediments, and the financial sector is currently the largest contributor to GDP at 23% in 2010. Between 2002 and 2010, the industry tripled in size to $224 billion. With over 13,000 people employed in this sector, financial services remain a pillar of Bahrain’s economy. Over 152 offshore banking units and representative offices are located in Bahrain, as well as 65 American firms. Bahrain has also made a concerted effort to become the leading Islamic finance center in the Arab world, standardizing regulations of the Islamic banking industry. It currently has 26 Islamic commercial, investment and leasing banks as well as Islamic insurance (takaful) companies -- the largest concentration of Islamic financial institutions in the Middle East.
Bahrain is working to develop other service industries such as information technology, healthcare, and education. The government has used its oil revenues to build an advanced infrastructure in transportation and telecommunications. The state monopoly -- Batelco -- was broken in April 2003 following the establishment of the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA). Since that time, the TRA has granted some 171 licenses although market access continues to be limited.
Bahrain plans to expand its airport, one of the busiest in the Gulf. More than 8.8 million passengers transited Bahrain International Airport in 2010. A modern, busy port offers direct and frequent cargo shipping connections to the U.S., Europe, and the Far East. To boost its competitiveness as a regional center, Bahrain is building a new port and has privatized port operations.
The government of Bahrain moved toward privatizing the production of electricity and water by licensing Al Ezzal to construct an independent power plant at a cost of $500 million. The company commenced operations in May 2006. In January 2006, the government announced the sale of the Al Hidd Power Plant for $738 million to Hidd Power Company, a consortium of British, Japanese, and Belgian companies.
Regional tourism is also a significant source of income. The government continues to favor large-scale tourism projects. It opened the only Formula One race track in the Middle East in 2004, and has awarded tenders for several tourist complexes. New hotel and spa projects are progressing within the context of broader real estate development, much of which is geared toward attracting increased tourism. Tourism declined following the 2008 global financial crisis and further suffered during the spring 2011 unrest.
Government revenues continue to be largely dependent on the oil industry. Bahrain has received significant budgetary support and project grants from Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and the United Arab Emirates. Social program spending, namely housing, continues to be a priority for Bahrain. High oil prices continue to provide sufficient funding for these programs in the short term, though Bahrain ran a deficit in their 2011 budget of $3.1 million.
The government has also started to extend protections to workers. Private sector employees won permission to form unions in late 2002; King Hamad has given his tentative approval for the formation of unions in government departments. In June 2006, Bahrain passed laws legalizing the existence of multiple trade federations and codifying several protections for workers engaged in union activity, which is the in the process of being further amended to allow the Ministry of Labor to determine which federation would represent Bahrain in international forums. As part of the government's labor reform program, it has formed a Labor Market Regulatory Authority and established a fund to support the training of Bahraini workers.
In 2006, bilateral trade exceeded $1 billion for the first time, representing almost 50% growth over 2005. U.S.-Bahrain Free Trade Agreement took effect on August 1, 2006 and is generating increased U.S. commercial interest in Bahrain. Bilateral trade between the U.S. and Bahrain has increased each since the signing of the FTA, reaching nearly $830 million USD in 2010.
Sources:CIA World Factbook (January 2012)
U.S. Dept. of State Country Background Notes ( January 2012)