Egypt eyeing larger economic presence in Africa
New partnerships. Egyptian Minister of International Cooperation Sahar Nasr speaks during the closing session of the Africa 2017 Forum in Sharm el-Sheikh, on December 8. (AFP)
2017/12/17 Issue: 136 Page: 18
The Arab Weekly
Cairo - Egypt signed deals and memoranda of understanding with African governments during the Africa 2017 Forum: Business for Africa, Egypt and the World to ease trade and open the door for investing.
“The event gave us a good chance to give information to African businessmen about investment opportunities available in our country,” said Egyptian Investment and International Cooperation Minister Sahar Nasr. “It also helped African government officials attending to bring to light sectors crying for investment in their countries.”
The conference at Sharm el- Sheikh, which was sponsored by Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al- Sisi, allowed the exchange of expertise and the initiating of investment partnerships.
“Africa is badly in need of investments and trade,” said Rashad Abdo, an economics professor at Helwan University. “These are the two things that will enable the Africans to move ahead with development and make the best use of their economic capacities.”
Most of the deals signed during the conference focused on easing trade between African countries. The African Export-Import Bank (AFREXIMBANK) and the Attijariwafa Bank signed an agreement to encourage trade between African countries and finance development projects in Africa. The Egyptian Export Development Bank and AFREXIMBANK signed an agreement to support the export of Egyptian goods to African markets.
In 2016, Egypt’s trade with Africa amounted to $5.4 billion, including $2.9 billion in Egyptian exports to African countries.
The Africa 2017 Forum took place as Egypt demonstrates growing interest in strengthening economic ties with the continent. Cairo is moving away from strategies in which Africa was at the bottom of the list of geographic zones for promoting business.
“Egypt’s economic strategies were focused on Europe, the United States and the Arab world for many decades in the past,” said Farag Abdel Fattah, an economics professor at Cairo University. “It has, however, realised that dropping Africa off the economic priority list was not a correct decision.”
Egypt has paid dearly, on both economic and political levels, for neglecting ties with Africa. Its absence occurred while regional political and economic rivals, including Turkey, Iran, Qatar and Israel, gained influence.
Egypt expressed concern it could lose some rights, including to a fixed share of Nile River resources, the primary source of water for its population. When Ethiopia began construction of a multibillion-dollar hydroelectric dam on the Nile in 2011, a project that will significantly reduce the water flow into Egypt, few African countries were ready to back Egypt in its opposition to the project.
“This experience has taught us that we can run at even more catastrophic losses if we do not mend fences with the Africans,” said writer Sakina Fouad. “Egypt enjoys a lot of advantages that make its rapprochement with fellow African countries rewarding to all sides.”
Even with Ethiopia, the country with which Egypt is locked in what appears to be unending and unfruitful negotiations, Cairo wants to expand economic cooperation.
During the conference, African government officials visited major Egyptian industrial projects, including ceramic and textile factories. African government officials were shown tourist projects in Sharm el- Sheikh.
Egypt has been trying to claim an influential position on the African economic stage since 2015 when it united Africa’s main economic and trading blocs, namely the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa, the Southern African Development Community and the East African Community.
The 26 members of the blocs have a combined gross domestic product of $1.2 trillion and markets that contain 620 million consumers.
These are the consumers Egypt has an eye on as it tries to gain access to African markets, economists said. Sisi has been trying to convince African leaders to develop a modern road network between African countries to ease the movement of people and goods.
Rampant unrest, the lack of the infrastructure and the primitive nature of economic systems in some countries remain major stumbling blocks as Egypt tries to increase business on the continent, economists said.
“This is why events that bring Egyptian and African businessmen together are important,” Abdo said. “They help local businessmen test the waters before investing in African countries.”