The American Chamber of Commerce in Bahrain (AmCham) is a non-profit organisation that promotes trade and commerce between the two countries. This month we spoke to Deputy President of AmCham Bahrain and Vice Chairman of JP Morgan Chase Bank, Ali Moosa, who gave us an insight into AmCham’s role in bolstering ties, the benefits of the US-Bahrain Free Trade Agreement and more.
Could you please give us a summary of your career to date?
I joined the firm back in March, 1993. At the time, the bank was operating in the Kingdom under the Chase Manhattan bank which was rebranded to JP Morgan Chase Bank post the merger in 1999.
Over the past 29 years with the firm, I have had various responsibilities and covered many markets. Since I started, I covered Financial Institutions and Public Sector entities in the GCC. My coverage was subsequently expanded to the MENA region and for the last 10 years, I have been responsible for Central Eastern Europe, Middle East and Africa (CEEMEA Region) for Financial Institution, Corporates and Public Sector for the Transactional Banking business.
More recently in 2020, I was nominated to be Global Head of business in New York to become the first Global Vice Chairman for Payments businesses in addition to my Chief Officer responsibility for Bahrain, Lebanon and Egypt.
Today, I have three key senior responsibilities: the first one is Vice Chairman for Global Payments within Corporate and Investment Bank, CEEMEA Regional Executive for Transactional Banking Business, and Chief Country Officer, Bahrain, Egypt and Lebanon. I am also serving my country by being on the board of multiple corporates and government entities, including Bahrain EDB, Future Generation Fund, AmCham, Bahrain Associations of Banks and Gulf Air.
How did you become involved with AmCham?
JP Morgan has been an active member of AmCham for many years. AmCham has provided us with an excellent platform to engage with both, the US business community in Bahrain and the international finance community. Pre-COVID, JP Morgan sponsored an annual luncheon with AmCham that brought together the leaders of the financial community and we look forward to resuming this again.
What are your specific roles and responsibilities as AmCham Deputy President?
As Deputy President of AmCham I support the President and fill in when he is not available. In addition, along with the rest of our committed board members, I contribute to the vision and mission of AmCham.
Recently I led the AmCham Bahrain delegation to the AmCham MENA regional forum in Amman Jordan. This was the first in-person regional forum since COVID and it was an important and successful opportunity to reestablish our partnership with the 12 participating AmChams. Most people just think of America and Bahrain but AmCham connects its members to a regional network of business leaders. This regional community of AmChams is a useful benefit for members expanding our network far beyond Bahrain’s borders.
How do you feel AmCham has bolstered relations between Bahrain and the USA?
AmCham has provided an excellent forum for US businesses in Bahrain to have a collective voice for suggested solutions on issues that impact business to both, the US and Bahraini governments. AmCham provides a direct link to the largest and most powerful business associations in the world – the US Chamber of Commerce in Washington DC. I believe that in the coming months we will be focusing on sponsoring and conducting more trips to the US for relevant entities from Bahrain to meet with the US Chamber of Commerce, but most importantly, to meet US investors that are interested to do business in Bahrain.
What events does AmCham organise in order to boost networking and business?
AmCham is very active and offers on average about 25 to 30 events a year for its members – including business networking luncheons with high level government and industry speakers, roundtable discussions with visiting VIPs on current topics of interest, business tours and more.
Since in-person events are critical for AmCham, we are very happy that we have resumed in-person events where everybody can participate, and appreciate the networking and dialogue achieved at these events.
What is the status of the US and Bahrain’s Free Trade Agreement at the moment? Has this been a successful element of the relationship between the two countries and for Bahraini exporters in particular?
Absolutely. The US-Bahrain FTA came into force in 2006 and it is alive and well in 2022. It does not expire and both Bahraini and US companies alike have benefitted from the FTA over the years.
It has also enhanced the total export and import of goods between the countries. There is very good news on Bahraini exports of goods to the United States – which totalled USD1.23 billion in 2021, surpassing pre-COVID levels and up 285 percent from 2005 (pre-FTA). US exports to Bahrain totalled USD934 million in 2021, remaining behind pre-COVID trade. This is a trade balance of USD297 million in Bahrain’s favour, which shows Bahrain is certainly benefitting from the FTA.
The purpose of the FTA is to increase trade and economic opportunities for both countries. Under the FTA, both governments removed tariffs and duties on all traded consumer, agricultural, and industrial products, and liberalised the market for services. The FTA also supports bilateral investment, facilitating job creation in both countries.
Has your accomplished career in banking and finance helped you in any specific way for your role at AmCham?
As I get closer to the 30-year milestone with the corporate and investment bank, the in-depth international banking experiences in multiple jurisdictions and the diversity of banking products and services, managing critical roles and leadership positions within the firm was truly invaluable.
Without a doubt, my extensive career in Banking with JPMorgan has brought a huge wealth of experience to the table in order to drive and take AmCham’s priorities forward but I must also give credit to the Kingdom of Bahrain. The dynamics of this country are truly unique and the leadership of this great country recognises and embraces talent and encourages Bahrainis to become successful in their respective industries to ensure that such contributions of successful Bahrainis are recognised on an international level.
How healthy is the banking and finance sector in Bahrain right now? Does the economic crisis worldwide have a bearing on the economy here?
Bahrain naturally cannot ignore what is happening on the international stage - all countries globally are facing the same economic challenges. When speaking about the banking sector in Bahrain in particular, the Central Bank’s balanced regulatory measures continue to support and protect the sector in facing such challenges while providing an environment that supports innovation and new banking solutions.
Bahrain dynamics are unique in terms of its ability to be nimble, versatile and adapt in order to protect its economy. A prime example was the leadership’s hugely successful management of the pandemic. The ability to adapt and protect nationals and residents of the Kingdom with a massive contribution by the banking sector when it comes to deferred loans during this period of need. That said, there is still an opportunity for banks in the country to further optimise and increase their balance sheet efficiency through several initiatives.
In terms of inflation, the global economy is already facing record inflation levels– the global economy today is highly interconnected such that inflation in the US/Europe will ultimately have an impact on the global community.
How attractive is Bahrain and the GCC region to American investors currently and why?
Since Bahrain is small, it can be overlooked at times – even within the region. However, once investors learn about Bahrain and what it has to offer as a business-friendly hub with its well-prepared workforce, excellent infrastructure and high-quality of life, it is seen as an attractive prospect by investors.
Bahrain’s 22 FTAs and now the two new GCC FTAs with UK and India being negotiated make Bahrain a tremendous location to establish a manufacturing hub that leverage these FTAs.
Do you have anything more to add?
Most recently, Bahrain launched the US Trade Zone which is a very interesting model to attract US Investors to further leverage the FTA. This will further solidify Bahrain’s position as the US trade gateway to the other regional markets.
AmCham reaffirms the continued strategic importance of the cooperation and sees positive signs - and continues to support bilateral cooperation. In fact, earlier this year, Amcham moderated a fireside chat and dialogue between Ambassador of the Kingdom of Bahrain to the US, HE Shaikh Abdulla bin Rashid Al Khalifa, and Ambassador of the US to the Kingdom of Bahrain, HE Steven Bondy.