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Monday, 8 May 2017

The Investment Act has passed the House

At last, we have a new Investment Act: After months of debate and herding of cats, the House of Representatives’ general assembly passed yesterday the Ismail government’s Investment Act in a plenary session, Al Borsa reports. President Abdel Fattah El Sisi still has to sign off on the law and its executive regulations — which Sahar Nasr had said would take no more than a month to draft after the bill passed — must be issued before it comes into full effect.

The law will offer a range of investment incentives including tax breaks as high as 50% for investments in under-developed areas, rebates on land acquisition costs provided factories begin operations within two years, and infrastructure subsidies to connect investments to utility grids. It will also bring back private-sector run free zones.

The executive regulations are where the rubber meets the road: The law creates a framework under which the state may promote investment, but the real test will be the executive regulations, which will turn broad statements in the law into more concrete statements. To over-simplify it: The text of the law might read, “The government may offer incentives to promote investment.” The executive regulations would in turn specify — or point to a policy that specifies — that “investors in sectors X, Y and Z will be entitled to an xx-year tax holiday, an xx% rebate on capital equipment and the import without customs duties of production inputs for an xx-year period.”

Why are we dwelling on this? Because it seems Investment Minister Sahar Nasr — the architect of the Investment Act — won’t be the primary “holder of the pen” on the executive regulations. For a week now, there have been rumors of discord around the cabinet table after Nasr reportedly signed off on amendments to the act proposed by the House Economics Committee, including allowing the return of private-sector-run free zones. Prime Minister Sherif Ismail and House Speaker Ali Abdel Aal reportedly had to sort things out, as we noted yesterday. Against that background, MPs agreed yesterday to the government’s request that Ismail run point on the executive regulations.

Speaking of private-sector-run free zones, Finance Minister Amr El Garhy said on Sunday that the government intends to conduct a comprehensive review of the budgets and financial statements of companies operating in private free zones to make sure they’re actually exporting. Strict regulations will also be issued to govern the establishment of new zones, which will now have to pay a 2% levy on revenues that the finance and investment ministries will be splitting evenly.

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