Inter-Gulf Business? Not a chance!

8 Sep, '03

Amazing.

All the Arab countries in general and the Gulf countries in particular do NOT want any business done between them. It is probably much easier doing business with even Israel (no we can’t) and Bahrain than Bahrain and Saudi. So much for the GCC Customs Union, the WTO negotiations, monetary union and what every other instrument that would help (read hinder) trade between us and our neighbours.

Why am I ranting about this? PERSONAL EXPERIENCE! Here’s the story:

Most of my business is with Saudi and Kuwaiti companies. Bahraini companies in my field are typically backward and stupidly price conscious – as in “we’ll only go for the lowest common denominator, and if we can steal it, pirate it, get it for free we’ll get it.” Another thing that Bahraini companies like to do is buy direct from Europe and the States. Even if the product is sold locally at the same or even lower price! But that’s a different story…

As most of my business is with Saudi and Kuwait, and the GCC Customs Union came into effect on 1st January 2003, I thought great! At last I can import the equipment into Bahrain, pay the customs duties here, take my time really integrating, installing, testing the equipment and then simply package them up and take them across the causeway, show the officials that I’ve indeed paid the duties and everything is in order and they’ll say “thank you for promoting trade between our countries” and away I go to deliver to another happy customer.

The reality is different from that dream.

So we ordered stuff from three companies, paid the customs and got the stuff delivered to our office in Bahrain. It took us a couple of days to integrate and test everything. Packaged everything up, made sure that we have all the papers that we were told to have (customs receipts, bills of entry, etc) and off our guy went through the Bahrain-Saudi Causeway to the Bahraini customs so they can stamp all the papers proving that the customs duties have been collected in Bahrain and then he would drive to Saudi to make the delivery after passing through their customs who theoretically should just take copies of the papers and let him through.

No chance. Some customs guy in Bahrain didn’t use the correct rubber-stamp. One day completely wasted as by that time their “shift” has ended. Back to base.

With all intentions that we’re going to finish the process today, off the guy went to the Bahraini Customs again. BIG PROBLEM. It appears that the rubber-stamp that was needed also meant finding a competent person (not many) that has done this operation before and has a couple of brain cells to rub together. We found one, but it was clearly the first time that they deal with a “problem” like ours. The problem was that we received a couple of shipments through DHL who have a special arrangement with the Bahraini Customs, hence, they don’t need to raise a declaration form, customs receipt, and other documents so that they can deliver the shipments to their destinations faster (which is a good thing) but because of the so called Customs Union, those papers were needed. It took about 3 hours this morning to find the “big boss” who in turned called DHL to find out if this is true and if it was alright to use DHL’s declaration form numbers rather than the government’s! Finally, after a long struggle he gave his go ahead.

It took the supervisor assigned to rubber stamp the documents more than 30 minutes just to produce the bloody rubber stamp, photocopy some papers, and fill in the spaces in that rubber stamp!

Ok, that was done, off we go to the Saudi side.. no chance. Although the papers are now complete, the company we were delivering to has its own clearer who MUST be used at all times to clear their particular shipments. And it would take 7 – 10 days to get the approval to use their clearer!

Back to Bahrain for another try tomorrow.

Bottom line. If you don’t know how to be a crook and stick by the book, don’t go into business and most certainly don’t even CONSIDER doing business with your neighbouring countries who claim to want integration, customs union and single currency!

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