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Published Jan. 14th, 2009   

Yemeni Envoy Got Start in Canadian Oil Company
by Michelle Collins

New Yemeni Ambassador Khaled
Mahfoodh Bahah was a senior
official in energy company
Canadian Nexen Petroleum

With a career rooted in the corporate and government affairs of his country's oil industry and its strong Canadian links, new Yemeni, Ambassador Khaled Mahfoodh Bahah says he now wants to see bilateral relations expand beyond just the petrol sector.

Mr. Bahah, who says he was pleasantly surprised to be appointed ambassador to Canada late last year, got his first real exposure to Canada when he joined energy company Canadian Nexen Petroleum Yemen in 1992. Working in human resources, general accounting, planning and joint venture, Mr. Bahah rose to senior positions in the company until he was appointed a government minister in 2005.

As minister of oil and minerals for the Republic of Yemen, Mr. Bahah visited Canada in May 2007 to attend a forum with Calgary's Petroleum Club and "opened the door for these oil companies to come," which he is confident will yield results.

Mr. Bahah says the Alberta trip, one of the most important he made as minister, was part of Yemen's efforts to recruit international companies to help boost the non-OPEC country's production capacity.

"I believe economics leads to politics, so the economic relationship with Canada now has opened the political relations between the two countries," Mr. Bahah says, noting economic relations first got off the ground in 1987 when Nexen established itself in Yemen. Since then, both Petro-Canada and Calvalley Petroleum have also looked into exploration activities in Yemen, and this has led to improved political relations.

But as one of the poorest countries of the Middle East, Mr. Bahah says he would like to see more activity on the ground from the Canadian International Development Agency. The ambassador says he will appeal to the Canadian government to make Yemen a development partner.

"It's not a matter of getting money, it can be in supporting any sector whether it's the health sector or education sector, it's through sending experts there," Mr. Bahah says. "So I don't think it's a cash requirement, but the Canadian know-how, experience, that's what's required."

To truly enhance bilateral relations and ensure they are continuous rather than circumstantial, Mr. Bahah says he hopes Canada will open an embassy in Yemen within the next two years. He says there had been plans for Canada to open a mission in the country in 2008, but that there were likely security restraints that delayed this. Currently, the Canadian embassy in Riyadh oversees relations with Yemen.

"We will work very closely with the Canadian government to continue the momentum of our previous ambassador's to achieve this goal of opening an embassy in Yemen," Mr. Bahah says He says having an embassy in Canada would be particularly helpful for Canadian companies operating there.

"I believe the Canadian embassy will work very closely in strengthening political relations and for travel of Yemenis coming here, whether for immigration, or on business, or as a student," Mr. Bahah says.

The new ambassador says he also has high hopes to push the commercial ties between the two countries into new sectors. In particular, Mr. Bahah says there is great opportunity for Canadian medical companies to establish in Yemen's health sector.

The sole medical venture from Canada to Yemen is made up of a group of doctors from London, Ont., who travel to Yemen every year to help set up medical centres and clinics across the country. The delegation's annual visit is co-ordinated with the help of Yemen's ministry of oil and Nexen.

Increasing the number of Yemeni students who take up studies in Canada is another priority, Mr. Bahah says. Around 500 students come from Yemen to Canada every year, a number that Mr. Bahah says is "very small." He adds, however, that barriers such as language skills remain a problem for Yemeni students wanting to study in Canada.

Most important to achieving these goals will be working closely with the communities of Yemeni ex-patriates in Canada. The embassy estimates there are approximately 4,000 Yemenis across the country, with most living in Ottawa, Toronto, Halifax and Montreal.

Mr. Bahah arrived in Ottawa in early January and will present his credentials on Jan. 21. He is joined by his wife Reema Al'skkaf and their three-year-old son, Mahfoudh.


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