CAIRO: In an effort to boost bilateral trade, two leading partners in the Egypt-European Union trade relationship gathered Monday to sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) and announce the funding of several new investment projects.
The General Authority for Investment and Free Zones (GAFI) and the Confederation of Egyptian European Business Associations (CEEBA), the two signers, sent high-ranking delegations to the event which took place at the GAFI offices in Nasr City.
One, Best Med, seeks “to promote eco-sustainable tourism in the Mediterranean. Another, Invest in Med, is a project to create an investor’s reference book for the Mediterranean region.
Assem Ragab, chairman of GAFI, hosted the event and said he signed MOUs like this one with the strategy of “positioning Egypt as a leader in the region.
“We strongly believe in this union, echoed CEEBA Chairman Sherif Abdel Latif. “Though we’ve been experiencing different economic times in the last six months, there is still opportunity.
Participants agreed that meetings and agreements must be followed up with action and oversight. To that extent, the parties signed off on a proposal that would fund six bilateral trade projects.
Most of the projects that the group had agreed to finance were aimed at fostering further regional investment.
Klaus Ebermann, EU ambassador to Egypt, noted at the meeting that the MOU and the projects it funded, were aimed at creating investment opportunities on both sides of the Mediterranean and promoting public-private partnerships.
He also touted the importance of small and medium enterprises (SMEs) to the bilateral trade relationship.
“SMEs have been the driving force, in our experience, of creating jobs and also in bringing innovation, he said.
Ebermann touted the EU-Egyptian trade relationship as one of the longest and strongest in the EU’s history.
“Those who come late, he quipped, “will be punished by history. And Egypt came early.
The trading partners also agreed that they would not limit their trade pursuits to a strictly bilateral arrangement. The parties involved with the MOU agreed that they wanted to include the entire region in trade growth.
“It’s not only the EU, we’re looking at the whole Mediterranean region, said Alaa Ezz, the secretary general of CEEBA.
Ezz, who presented the assembled parties with a presentation on the trade relationship, noted that CEEBA sought to encourage bilateral cooperation through three means: road shows, inbound delegations, and technical assistance.
Wrapping up the meeting, Ragab assessed the status of Egypt as a viable international trade partner and touched on steps the country must still take to make itself a trade leader.
“This is the time when countries reassess their investment strategies, he said. It has become increasingly clear over the past several months that the Egyptian government has quickly moved to reposition itself to attract foreign direct investment (FDI).
The hope is that when the international credit markets loosen and trade begins flowing, Egypt’s trade regulations will make it more competitive internationally.
The country is also hoping to promote investment in sectors that do not currently enjoy high rates of FDI.
As it stands now, industry makes up 39.7 percent of FDI in Egypt, the financial sector accounts for 29.7 percent, services amount to 12.9 percent, and tourism equals 7.2 percent of all FDI.
Ragab announced that GAFI would make a push to increase investment in IT, financial services, Bio and Nano technologies, education, logistics, and transportation.
GAFI’s involvement in the signing of this MOU is, in itself, emblematic of changing times in Egypt. Ragab, who said during the conference that one of his chief obligations at GAFI was “to make Egypt a less bureaucratic country than it used to be perceived, argued that he has been working to affect more fundamental changes.
GAFI has long been viewed as a “corporate regulator, he said. The new GAFI, he announced, was a “business enabler.