Peter Linford Interview: There is still room for growth

Sarah El Sirgany
9 Min Read

Austrade s Peter Linford discusses the office s strategy for the next year, dismisses long term effect of Israeli-Lebanese conflict

CAIRO: With the Israeli offensive in Lebanon, political and economical instability mark the region. Financial growth that was achieved in the past year is now jeopardized. But according to Peter Linford, after assessing the work of the Austrade Cairo office over the last year and surveying the regional conflict, economic growth (the type that attracts exporters and investors) is still on the table.

It s certainly disheartening and it s very troubling to see what s happening to the Lebanese, but . Egypt s [economic] performance over the last four to five years economically has been quite extraordinary, explains Linford, the Australian Senior Trade Commissioner and Consul General, leads Austrade’s team of export and investment facilitation staff. Based in Dubai, he has responsibility for the Middle East.

We measure our performance based on the number of Australian companies that had export success in the markets that we target. . We measure the value of their export sales. We measure the level of satisfaction with our service and we also measure if there are new companies, Linford told The Daily Star Egypt during his visit to the country last week. On a trip to assess Austrade s work in Egypt and co-plan the strategy for next year, Linford says the growth in this market has been quite extraordinary.

Jumping from 10 Australian companies exporting to Egypt, the office now overlooks 58, with an approximate of 20 companies more than last year. He expects the figure to reach 100 by next July. Regional wise, the number jumped from 180 to 760 in five years.

Egyptian Australian cooperation in the Sokhna Port and the sizeable Aussie investment in Egypt Magnesium is proof of the successes this relation could lead to.

There is, however, a brief set back in Australia s main exports to Egypt: The food industry. Few months back, Australian exporters of live cattle froze their business with the Egyptian buyers after complaints that the cattle were maltreated. The issue is handled by our department of agriculture and it is more protocol issue rather than export issue, Linford says. There seems to be progress in that regard.

When I first came to Egypt I had a very nice experience in terms of visiting this country, he notes, But at the time I didn t see that we would have the multiple growth that has been achieved in the last four years . Five years ago I wasn t too confident to encourage Australian companies to try and do business in Egypt. It was quite difficult, with the currency valuations and other issues that were here. But now we see a lot of positive demand coming from Egypt.

He explains that there is an increase in the opportunity drive. We are seeing more Egyptian companies and more companies from the Middle East asking us to find companies who can supply. That s a very positive indication of the economy. It s also positive indication that there is increasing awareness and interest in Australia.

The same is happening on the other side of the globe as well. In a recent road show throughout Australia that sought to introduce Egypt and the region to the Aussie business community, about 660 companies attended. There are plans to get Egyptian-Australians more engaged in the in bilateral relations. I don t have to explain to the Egyptian Australians about Egypt. And they don t have this fear of the anxiety of the region and they would be immediately excited to help their country and their family and their friends.

As for the war and its effect on the local and regional economy – Cairo stock market has just recovered from a severe decline caused by the escalation of violence in the region – Linford keeps a positive perspective regarding the future.

It s perfectly understandable for there to be a spike reaction to what s happening in Lebanon, he explains. I spoke to an Australian who is working with one of the leading international banks and they have plans to establish a branch office in Beirut. And I asked him subject to what s happened will they continue with that plan, he said, Yes, absolutely. They had no doubt that they will continue with their plan.

Even Linford s initial expectations to have 100 Australian companies exporting to Egypt haven t been effected by the recent regional violence. I think it would be easier without the conflict in the region but I think the conflict in the region doesn t affect the Egyptian market so much for Australian companies.

Linford says the problem so far is in the way Australians perceive the Middle East. It is not so much what s happening itself but the awareness the perception of what s happening, says Linford explaining that many Australians think of the Middle East as one region; if it is happening in Lebanon then Egypt must be part of it.

He says his team is working on eliminating such perceptions. While it s a challenge, he continues, Dubai is making a progress that s having its positive effect on other countries in the region. Dubai, where I m based, is helping us, Linford explains, It has the most positive image and it gets a lot of publicity in terms of what s happening there. People want to see that.

So if we can get them to come to Dubai, the next step for us is to get them to come to Egypt and to Libya and to Saudi Arabia and to other countries. Dubai trade exhibitions are usually a venue for Australians to meet with the Egyptian buyers and understand more about local and regional economy.

There are different fields for growth and cooperation with Egypt being a gate to European and Mediterranean markets topping the list.

If we invest into Egypt to develop agriculture and farming across different levels, our capability to export into Europe and to other markets is increased, says Linford. Noting the importance of free zones in attracting investors, manufactures and exporters, he explains that collaboration between Australian exporters and Egyptian manufacturers to value add the Aussie exports prepares them for sale in local and European markets.

We are excluded by not being a member of the European Union. But from Egypt, the proximity is cheap, the labor is cheap and access into the market – although not a member of the EU there are significant number of FTA – is very good, he explains.

He adds, Egypt Wins and Australia gains.

But it is not just Europe; Linford hopes to cover more African countries through the Cairo office, specifically Sudan and the African Horn. After covering North Africa, a Libya office was established and the Cairo team is now free to focus on the country and its other African neighbors.

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