Following a recent magazine survey listing Bahrain among the world's top trading zones, Bahraini observers said the country has the potential to act as a convergence point between the Middle East and other world regions.
The Global Free Zones Rankings report, published in June by Foreign Direct Investment magazine, included three Bahraini sites among the top 20 special economic zones in the world.
The sites were chosen based upon their attractiveness to investors, economic development and the expanding scope of future business operations.
The report evaluated 150 free zones and special economic zones worldwide. Bahrain International Investment Park ranked 15th, Khalifa bin Salman Port ranked 16th, and Bahrain International Airport ranked 19th.
More than 600 economic zones participated in the magazine survey. The Dubai Airport Free Zone ranked first overall.
"Bahrain is better equipped than ever before to serve as a pivotal maritime gateway between the Gulf and Middle East ports, particularly to Iraq, the Levant and North Africa," said Faisal Rahma, former president of the Bahraini Customs Clearance Association and owner of a maritime transport company.
"Khalifa bin Salman Port's ranking is evidence that Bahrain is on the right track to become a seaport of regional prominence, especially with the availability of human resources and the most advanced logistical services in the region following the recent inauguration of Khalifa Port, which superseded the old Mina Salman Port," Rahma said.
Ali al-Musallim, a member of Bahrain Air's board of directors, said, "The airport's high ranking should not be cause for complacency in efforts to expand and develop it because it still lags behind airports in neighbouring Gulf countries."
"Bahrain's airport was the Gulf region's first and would be expected to remain at the forefront, but our neighbours have surpassed us," he said. "The airport is in need of real focused attention so it can achieve higher performance and acceptance levels."
Al-Musallim said Bahrain has an adequate labour pool of air logistics specialists who can meet international standards, but it is lagging in the development of ground and transit service, which precludes it from attracting a larger number of tourists.
"Improving ground services and opening new runways will pave the way to attract more visitors and increase economic activity in duty free shops and hospitality facilities," he said.
"The exodus of international airlines to nearby airports underscores the fact that the airport no longer has a competitive edge, and that's because it has limited space and a lack of available logistical services," al-Musallim added.
Dr. Akbar Jafari, a productivity improvement expert, said Bahrain International Investment Park's ranking was expected because it offers the business community opportunities that are unique to the region and international markets.
"The park has become a vivid example of how to attract direct foreign investment while offering high added value to the local economy and serving as a customs duty free gateway to all GCC countries," he said.
"The exclusive services the park offers complete the logistical pyramid of land, sea and air services offered at one strategic location in the north of Bahrain, thus establishing an unprecedented business services platform and a direct link between the markets in the six Gulf States," Jafari said.
"These accumulated achievements do not mean Bahrain can stand idly by, however, while fierce competition rages between the Gulf States to leap to the forefront of the logistics sector, especially land logistics," he said.