Multilateralism key to contain global coronavirus impacts: Egypt's Int'l cooperation minister

Doaa A.Moneim , Wednesday 29 Apr 2020

A still photo of Egypt’s Minister of International Cooperation Rania Al-Mashat during the webinar
The economic fallout of the coronavirus crisis opens the door for more multilateralism to introduce a global solution to tackle the repercussions of the pandemic, Egypt’s Minister of International Cooperation Rania Al-Mashat said. 
Al-Mashat made the comments at a webinar held by the American Chamber of Commerce in Egypt on Tuesday on the imminent opportunity that the COVID-19 pandemic introduces for multilateralism.
The outbreak, said Al-Mashat, has strengthened Egypt’s relations with international institutions, private sector and civil society and merged their efforts to lay out plans for the survival and development of the healthcare and economic sectors.
Egypt has stepped up its precautionary measures against the virus and identified alternative mechanisms to battle coronavirus, drawing praise from the World Health Organisation (WHO) which said Egypt has a“strong disease surveillance system” and a real opportunity to curb the spread of the virus. 
Al-Mashat said Egypt had had strong foreign reserves from remittances from Egyptians working abroad, tourism and Suez Canal revenues pre-coronavirus.
But with the slowdown caused by the crisis, remittances, which account for 10 percent of GDP, particularly those coming from Gulf countries, could be affected by the drop in oil prices and lay-offs, while domestic tourism revenues dropped by 80 percent in the first quarter of the year compared to the same period of 2019, according to Al-Mashat.
In a presentation at the webinar, Al-Mashat said the decline in global trade transportation could have a negative effect on Suez Canal revenues, which recorded $5.9 billion in 2019, while the ongoing oil war has led to a sharp drop in international oil prices, exacerbated by the collapse in global demand, which may affect the oil and energy sectors in Egypt.
She reviewed Egypt’s policy responses to contain the economic implications of the COVID-19, including mandatory and fiscal policies, to deal with the crisis and support the private sector.
President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi ordered the allocation of EGP 100 billion to support efforts against COVID-19 outbreak, of which EGP 88 million were given to the health ministry. 
EGP 50 billion ($3.2 billion) were allocated for tourism initiatives, EGP 50 billion were appropriated for real-estate development for middle-income groups, EGP 20 billion ($1.27 billion) were funnelled to support the stock exchange, and EGP 4 billion ($253 million) were allocated for financing labour tax, said Al-Mashat.
Moreover, EGP 1 billion ($63.5 million) were allocated for a plan to support the health sector, EGP 15 billion ($952 million) to support the agriculture sector, EGP 8.7 billion ($553 million) to boost urgent commodities and services, and EGP 4 billion ($253 million) for sectorial support, Al-Mashat said.
She tackled measures adopted to support trade and export services, including lowering the price of gas to $4.5 per million Btu in March 2020, down from $6 per million Btu in 2014, in addition to providing export subsidies of EGP 1 billion to exporters in March and April.
On gender parity, Al-Mashat said that Egypt is the first country to issue a policy paper that addresses responsive policies and programmes developed to monitor and document measures and policies and support these policies with solid programmes and initiatives.
Meanwhile, Egypt is the first country in the Middle East and Africa to launch the “Closing the Gender Gap Accelerator,” which is a model designed to take protective action to advance women’s economic empowerment.
Egypt was also the first country in the region to put a strategy to deal with the COVID-19 crisis.
Al-Mashat stressed that international cooperation is necessary in fighting the COVID-19 outbreak, especially that every country is not exempt from its repercussions. 
Al-Mashat noted the silver lining lies in dealing with the immediate socioeconomic challenges and mitigating impacts on the seasonal labour force and merging the informal and formal sectors. 
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