Washington DC – The American Chamber of Commerce in Egypt (AmCham)’s door-knock campaign, which includes 35 companies this year, begins its annual mission on Monday for five days in Washington DC to promote investment in Egypt through intensive meetings with a number of American companies, members of the US Congress, and five research centres.
The campaign aims to convey a real and detailed picture of the Egyptian economic reform programme, according to head of the AmCham, Tarek Tawfik, at a press briefing before the mission. This mission comes at the perfect time: the successive US administration officials’ visits to Egypt since the beginning of this year, and the administration in Washington’s actions that followed these visits, confirm that the United States appreciates Egypt’s role in the region, and highlight the support of its fight against terrorism, Tawfik said.
Before departing Egypt, members of the mission met with many members of the government, including the ministers of defence, interior, and foreign affairs, as well as the economic group ministers, such as finance, trade and industry, investment, and planning, along with the governor of the Central Bank of Egypt.
“The door-knock mission is not a commercial mission looking to sign deals, nor a government mission speaking on behalf of the government,” he said. “It is, rather, a group of AmCham’s member companies that work on strengthening cooperation in general and opening a dialogue with US decision-makers to explain the real situation in Egypt and correct the false images that may be transmitted by some media in the West.”
The 41st mission will conduct a series of meetings with decision-makers and officials of various US bodies such as the Departments of Trade, Foreign Affairs, and Defence, although the meetings will be more concentrated this year on members of the US Congress and research centres, as they are the pillars of decision-making in the United States.
“The visit will not be easy with regard to members of Congress and research centres, especially with the poor relationship between these two bodies and the US administration, which we pay the price for because of the improved relationship between the Egyptian and US administrations,” said Egypt-US Business Council Chairperson Omar Mohanna.
He explained that countries such as Turkey and Qatar have exploited this critical situation and spent large sums to support research centres, prompting some traditional think tanks, which are known to be unbiased, to change their attitude towards Egypt.
Mohanna noted that the date of the visit, before April and the holiday season, was to ensure that all members of Congress are present to hold as many meetings as possible. He explained that the main axis of the visit is economic, although he is aware that it will certainly be punctuated by some of the debates that relate to some other points, such as the issue of non-governmental organisations and their funding and security approvals, which are still suspended, along with human rights concerns.
“There is a real success story in the field of energy, next to the economic reform programme,” he said, adding that the gas agreement with Israel is changing the nature of the relationship between the two countries and turning Egypt into an energy hub, which boosts its economic value. He added that there is large potential to increase economic ties between the two countries.
Mohanna said that the US Trade Representative, concerned with free trade agreements, confirmed that the US is focused on Africa, and even if the US does not tend to sign multilateral trade agreements, it does not mind signing a bilateral agreement with an African country that will enable it to gain access to the African market. “We have learned that the US administration is negotiating with four countries to sign a bilateral trade agreement: Egypt, South Africa, Nigeria, and Ethiopia,” he said.
Mohanna added that the US administration will send a request to Congress in April this year to adopt a fast track for free trade agreements, which would save many procedures and discussions. This same path was followed when signing trade agreements with other Arab countries, such as Morocco and Jordan.
“Yes, Egypt needs to sign a free trade agreement with America,” he noted. “All the studies we have prepared confirm this.”
He pointed out that Egypt’s readiness to sign these agreement is not a source of concern, as they do not take place over night, but bilateral relations between both parties can take time to be formulated for the benefit of both parties, as the quality of Egyptian products improves. He stressed that signing a free trade agreement with the US would change how the world sees Egypt and support its economic situation by reflecting a type of important strategic relation.
“There is no need to worry about this agreement, Egypt has regulated its imports and succeeded in reducing its imports from the European Union by EGP 20bn in one year, despite the agreements,” he explained. Mohanna believes that Egypt has strong potential among the four countries to sign the free trade agreement with the US, which will make this one of the important issue to be addressed during the visit.
According to the AmCham, the volume of trade exchange between Egypt and the United States in 2017 amounted to $5.6bn, up from $4.9bn in 2016, an increase of 13%.
US investments in Egypt are currently at $2.4bn in 1,222 projects across the fields of industry, services, construction, finance, agriculture, telecommunications, and information technology, and represents about $35.4bn of US direct investments in Egypt and 4.2% of US investments in the Middle East, making Egypt the largest recipient of US investments on the African continent and second in the Middle East.
As for Qualifying Industrial Zones, Mohanna explained that the US has not yet responsed regarding the reduction of the percentage of Israeli components or increase in the number of eligible areas, without being informed a reason, as reducing the Israeli components ratio from 10.5% to 8.75% will only cost $20m. “But there is hope as many files between the two countries have been settled, such as the Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA) and the Operation Bright Star joint military exercises.
With regard to US aid to Egypt, Mohanna said the economic aid is only symbolic, currently at $75m, but still proves political goodwill. He added that the aid is not expected to change.