AmCham wraps up “easiest” Doorknock mission in DC
AmCham wraps up its “easiest” annual Doorknock mission in Washington, DC: After holding 89 meetings with US administration officials, members of Congress and staffers, international financial institutions and think tanks, AmCham President Tarek Tawfik described the mission as “the easiest compared of all the past years because a leap has taken place on many aspects which was widely accepted and helped ease concerns.”
Key messages from the mission to the US: The delegation relayed Egypt’s growing political role in the region, its soft power and influence, and success stories — including the economic reform program, our emergence as a regional gas hub, and the maintenance of friendly relations with Israel.
Key messages from the US to Egypt: Human rights and the proposed constitutional amendments remain a concern for Democrats in Congress — but not so much for the Trump administration. Critics of the proposed changes to the constitution expressed concern that the judiciary’s independence would be undermined. Corporate America is also welcoming of a US-Egypt trade agreement, which Egypt-US Business Council Chairman Omar Mohanna said could come to fruition under the current US administration.
Egypt needs to “retell its story” to improve its image in Washington, Republican Congressman Jeff Fortenberry told reporters during the mission. Egypt-US relations have been “outsourced” to military brass on both sides — which has come at the expense of other aspects, including cultural and media cooperation, Fortenberry said. Egypt must do a better job of highlighting its efforts to create conditions for stability and promote healthy nationalism, he added. Everyone should be made aware of the “incalculable” consequences of Egypt’s stability being shaken, but “Egypt has to get over its entitlement mindset that it deserves to be the leader of the Arab world and has to go re-earn that position,” he said.
At the World Bank, there is nothing but love for Egypt: Egypt’s position in the Doing Business Report is expected to improve this year as we push ahead with “the first reform program that Egypt completes successfully,” Alternate Executive at the Board of the World Bank Ragui El Etreby told reporters. Our risk conditions are improving, but the ballooning population remains a point of concern, El Etreby said. Executive Director Merza Hasan was also full of praise for Egypt’s “smart” use of debt to build infrastructure and improve the business environment.
Speaking of debt: The issue of rising levels of global debt is expected to feature heavily on the World Bank’s agenda during its upcoming spring meetings, Hasan said. The bank is also set to discuss a new strategy to give more loans to more vulnerable countries or those in conflict and incorporating women and immigrants while keeping in mind climate change in the projects and financing they provide.
Newly-elected World Bank President David Malpass could pay us a visit soon, particularly as he has singled out Egypt as a “priority country” with which he wants to strengthen the bank’s relationship, El Etreby said.
Egypt and the WB are also in talks for a digital infrastructure development loan, and should reach an agreement this year, El Etreby said, without disclosing the size of the facility. A separate USD 200 mn could also make its way to Egypt to support SMEs, but the government has yet to request any loans to plug the state budget financing gap.
Key takeaways from a panel held by the Middle East Institute on the Egyptian economy, which featured AmCham President Tarek Tawfik, Shahid Law Firm Managing Partner Girgis Abdel Shahid, CID Consulting Chairman Dalia Wahba, and ECOnsult Architecture Chairman Sarah El Battouty:
- Implementation of regulatory reforms and getting rid of red tape are the biggest challenges facing the economy;
- The private sector’s contribution to the economy should eventually grow to 70% of GDP from 45% today;
- The military is not crowding out the private sector and its involvement in the economy is to fulfill infrastructure needs at a high speed;
- The natural gas and railway monopolies are slowly being undone;
- Efforts are needed to enhance women’s employment and stymie the brain drain;
- Egypt is the hub for startups in the Middle East but needs to be more accommodating to remain competitive;
- Liberalizing electricity and gas, the Industrial Permits Act and the Cyber Crimes Act are key to the transformation of Egypt’s business environment;
- The cost and speed of law enforcement are key concerns with the judicial system.