Egypt and Ukraine will celebrate on 25 January the 30th anniversary of the establishment of bilateral diplomatic relations, which began in 1992.
On this occasion, Daily News Egypt interviewed the Chargé d’affaires of Ukraine in Cairo, Ruslan Nechai, to discuss aspects of the relations between the two countries.
As we are celebrating 30 years since the establishment of diplomatic ties between Ukraine and Egypt, how do you see the bilateral relations at the present time?
As a diplomat, I have spent almost 15 years in Egypt across different periods since the 1990s. From my experience, I can affirm that despite the creeping coronavirus pandemic, since 2019, bilateral political relations between our countries have reached a qualitatively new level.
I am convinced that the revival of political dialogue was facilitated by friendly personal relations established between the leaders of our states, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi, during their first meeting in New York on 25 September 2019, on the sidelines of the 74th session of the UN General Assembly. The presidents later reaffirmed the high status of bilateral relations during telephone conversations in July 2020 and September 2021.
Political relations are also actively developing between the Ministries of Foreign Affairs of our countries. The visit of the former minister of foreign affairs of Ukraine Pavlo Klimkin to Egypt in April 2018, in which he had meaningful meetings with the prime minister, the minister of foreign affairs, the speaker of parliament, and the secretary-general of Arab League, was of key importance in this context.
Since 2020, our foreign ministers have significantly intensified bilateral contacts, including three telephone conversations between Dmytro Kuleba and Sameh Shoukry on 29 July 2020, 25 February 2021, and 23 May 2021, as well as their meeting in New York last September.
Moreover, in 2021, Cairo hosted successful and meaningful political consultations at the level of the deputy foreign ministers of both countries.
I am pleased to note that Sameh Shoukry has accepted the invitation of his Ukrainian counterpart to visit Ukraine in early 2022. I am confident that this long-awaited and necessary visit will lay the foundations for dialogue at the highest level, including the exchange of visits between the Presidents of the two countries.
Al-Sisi also extended an invitation to Ukrainian President Zelenskyy to visit Cairo, and I have hope that this visit may take place this year after the coordination of all protocol and diplomatic aspects of the foreign ministries of both countries.
What distinguishes the political relations between Egypt and Ukraine?
A characteristic feature of our relations with Egypt is a full understanding and consensus on the vast majority of issues of the international agenda, and awareness of the responsibility for maintaining peace and security around the world in general and in the Middle East in particular.
In the context of the ongoing Russian aggression, the Ukrainian side highly appreciates the official position of Cairo on Ukraine’s territorial integrity, independence, and sovereignty within its internationally recognised borders. I am confident that Egypt will continue to support the universally recognised principles of international law, particularly in the international arena, reaffirming its leading role in the Arab and Muslim worlds.
Ukraine considers Egypt a key country in maintaining peace and stability in Africa and the Middle East. As a country suffering from acts of terror and great losses, we fully agree with the government of Egypt on its decisive action against violent extremism and terrorism, and its aim to completely eradicate this evil that threatens today’s world order.
We fully share the Egyptian approach to the fight against terrorism based on the principle of zero tolerance. An effective response to terrorism must be comprehensive. And here it does not matter whether such terrorists operate in North Sinai, in the eastern regions of Ukraine, or in other parts of the world.
How do you evaluate the bilateral trade exchange during 2021?
The basis of active Ukrainian-Egyptian relations is trade and economic cooperation. Egypt is our largest trading partner in Africa and the Arab world.
The largest trade turnover between our countries in the last 5 years was in 2019 — $2.6bn. The main items of Ukrainian exports are grain, metallurgical products, mineral products, engineering products, wood and paper, agricultural and food products (fats and oils of animal or vegetable origin, poultry). The main products of Egyptian imports are vegetables and fruits, mostly citrus (up to 50%), and petroleum products.
We expect that in 2021, the total volume of trade in goods and services between our countries will exceed $2bn, which is 10% higher than the previous year.
Could you reveal how much wheat did Ukraine export to Egypt in 2021?
In 2021, Ukraine exported 3.3 million tonnes of wheat and 2.2 million tonnes of corn to Egypt, up from 2020’s 3 million of wheat and 2 million of corn.
Could you elaborate on the volume of Ukrainian foreign direct investment (FDI) in Egypt and in what sectors are those investments focused? And what are the promising sectors in Egypt?
Let’s focus on one sector as an example. Since 2007, Naftogaz of Ukraine has been implementing its largest investment project abroad, which is in Egypt. If I was to reveal the volume of this investment, I would say it is far over $500m.
Currently, Naftogaz of Ukraine is involved in two concession projects in Egypt. In 2021, the Board and Supervisory Board of Naftogaz of Ukraine decided to further develop assets in Egypt, and one of the priorities was to improve the financial and economic performance of existing projects.
It is also worth pointing out that recently Egypt has moved from natural gas importers to producers and exporters due to the discovery of gas fields on the Egyptian Mediterranean shelf. Therefore, one of the promising areas of cooperation is the export of Egyptian liquefied natural gas to Ukraine, which, at the same time, needs careful expertise.
In mid-December 2021, Ukraine managed to hold the eighth meeting of the Intergovernmental Joint Commission on Economic and Scientific-Technical Cooperation between Ukraine and Egypt in Cairo, could we talk in depth about this?
Despite viral restrictions, in mid-December 2021, we managed to hold the eighth meeting of the Intergovernmental Joint Commission on Economic and Scientific-Technical Cooperation between Ukraine and Egypt in Cairo.
The agenda of the commission was extremely rich, which was to discuss issues of bilateral trade, cooperation in the field of investment, cooperation in the fields of space, information technology and communications, transport, energy, tourism, etc.
In the context of integration processes taking place on the African continent, in particular within the African Continental Free Trade Area and other integration associations, the issues of transferring production or partial production of Ukrainian industrial goods and attracting Ukrainian technological processes to Egypt were discussed. This would provide Ukrainian companies with a market access of 1.3 billion consumers and a combined GDP of more than $3.4trn.
One of the Ukrainian Embassy’s priority tracks in the trade and economic field today is the launch of negotiations on trade liberalisation, which will not only reduce tariff and non-tariff barriers, but also provide an opportunity to coordinate investment positions, unify investment standards, and create a more favourable investment climate.
How many Ukrainian tourists did visit Egypt during 2021?
Ukraine has always been and remains a reliable and predictable partner of Egypt in all areas, including tourism. We have never stopped air travel to the resorts of Egypt as some countries did in 2015.
It was a plane carrying Ukrainians that was the first to land at Sharm El-Sheikh airport when Egypt resumed tourist and air services on 1 July 2020.
For the past two years, Ukrainians have taken first place among all tourists in the world who have visited Egypt, helping the Egyptian tourism industry.
I am sure that reliable friends are known during difficult trials and challenges!
Ukraine has a lot of experience in the field of implementing infrastructure projects, such as railways. How can Egypt cooperate with Ukraine in this field?
We are interested in Egypt not only in terms of trade. Ukrainian companies are implementing a number of extremely interesting and large-scale projects in Egypt.
In February 2017, the Ukrainian company Tatra-Yug won the tender announced by the Alexandria Public Transport Administration for the supply of 15 trams. A project of this scale was the first for Ukrainian tram car manufacturers in the Middle East and North Africa since Ukraine’s Independence.
In 2021, the contract was completed, all 15 trams were delivered to Alexandria. Tatra-Yug plans to take part in other projects and is interested in increasing the supply of tram cars to Egypt.
The embassy also provides political and diplomatic support to the Ukrainian corporation Vazhmashimpex, which is participating in several international projects being implemented in Egypt, such as the modernisation of the coke oven battery, the iron ore beneficiation project, and the ilmenite and titanium-magnetite concentrates processing project.
Naftogaz’ investment project in Egypt to produce hydrocarbons on two concession sites is Ukraine’s largest abroad.
Ukraine has leadership experience in the digital transformation, so how could Egypt benefit from Ukraine in this field?
This summer, I have had very promising discussions with representatives of the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology of the ARE. We have parties focused on the prospects of establishing bilateral cooperation between Ukraine and Egypt in IT as well as artificial intelligence.
So, indeed, we have plans and we also have positive developments. In December 2021, Deputy Minister of Digital Transformation for IT Development Oleksandr Borniakov visited Cairo within the Ukrainian delegation of the Intergovernmental Joint Commission on Economic and Scientific-Technical Cooperation between Ukraine and Egypt.
We arranged a comprehensive presentation of Ukraine’s IT potential for representatives of the Egyptian government and also for the members of the Egyptian Ukrainian business council.
I expect to see new developments soon as we are working very hard to boost IT cooperation with Egypt.