INTERVIEW: Switzerland is an old ally of Egyptian economic reform programme, says Swiss Ambassador to Cairo

Ghada El Sharkawy , Sunday 30 Jul 2023

Egypt and Switzerland have a long-standing diplomatic relationship dating back to the 19th century, characterized by mutual understanding and agreement on most issues.

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As Switzerland's largest trading partner in Africa, Egypt is also a significant investment destination, with Switzerland ranking seventh among the countries investing in Egypt for FY 2021/22.

 Approximately 100 Swiss companies operate in various sectors within the Egyptian market, including the food and pharmaceutical industries, offering about 25,000 job opportunities. The Swiss Confederation's largely neutral voting pattern at the United Nations aligns with Egypt's on a considerable number of issues.

Swiss Ambassador to Cairo Yvonne Baumann highlighted to Ahram Online that Switzerland and Egypt have established strong economic, political, and cultural ties dating back to the 19th century when Swiss entrepreneurs and merchants began their businesses in Egypt.

She emphasized that Egypt is an important country, not only for peace and stability in the region but also for consultations on regional issues and collaborations in promoting peace and preventing conflicts, especially through multilateral mechanisms. Switzerland encourages and supports peaceful solutions through dialogue and is now a non-permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, prioritizing building sustainable peace and protecting civilians for two years.

Ahram Online: What are the developments of the Swiss cooperation programme in Egypt, which covers the period between 2021-2024, to deepen the partnership between the two countries?
 
Yvonne Baumann: The cooperation programme 2021-24 is a continuation of over 40 years of partnership between Egypt and Switzerland. We work aligned with the Egyptian Government towards reaching the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals and implementing Egypt’s Vision 2030. This partnership ranges from human rights and governance to green growth, through water and waste management as well as the protection of vulnerable populations. Switzerland has provided Egypt with roughly $64 million in grants for cooperation projects since 2021.

In the area of business and entrepreneurship, we work towards improving the business environment and the access to finance for micro, small and medium enterprises (MSME). We supported Banque Misr in developing and launching Egypt's first financial products tailored to women. Over 300'000 women have benefitted to date. 
 
The Embassy's Office for International Cooperation has collaborated closely with Egypt on waste management, including solid waste, hospital waste, and e-waste. Waste management departments in Qena, Assuit, Kafr El-Sheikh, and Gharbeya have been established, and workers have received training on integrated waste management. Eighteen waste management companies, four of which are women-led, have expanded their businesses.

Switzerland has been financing innovation in rural economies in Egypt for over a decade, creating thousands of employment opportunities for farmers, fishermen, entrepreneurs, women, and youth, with a focus on green growth. In terms of governance, rule of law, and human rights, Switzerland is supporting dialogue platforms and a child-friendly justice system.

Switzerland is also supporting the Egyptian Government in protecting and integrating refugees and migrants, as well as providing them with access to basic social services. Acknowledging the great challenge this poses for Egypt, particularly in the current economic situation, Switzerland has provided support to over 100,000 refugees, migrants, and vulnerable Egyptians in the past two years. Thousands of beneficiaries have engaged in skills development and job coaching, while 20 community-based organizations have improved their capacities to provide better services in their communities. 

AO: How is Switzerland currently helping Egypt to support the economic reform programme? 

YB: As a longstanding ally of Egypt's economic reform programme, Switzerland applauds Egypt's efforts in creating a level playing field and creating more opportunities for private sector growth through the State Ownership Policy. Through partnerships with international financial institutions, Switzerland has supported projects such as program-based budgeting, which links the government's strategic priorities to its spending plans. Switzerland was also involved in Egypt's journey towards issuing the region's first green bond, positioning the country as a pioneer in green investment.

AO: What is the volume of trade exchange between the two countries and the most important Swiss investment projects in Egypt? 

YB: Egypt remains Switzerland's top export destination in Africa, with total trade volume reaching $1.5 billion in 2022. Chemical products and pharmaceuticals are among Egypt's main imports from Switzerland, while textile products and agricultural commodities account for 40 percent of Egyptian exports to Switzerland. In order to enhance the competitiveness of the Egyptian cotton textile sector, Swiss companies and Egypt signed a 260 million euro deal for the delivery of Swiss spinning machines.

Switzerland has been among the top 10 sources of foreign direct investment (FDI) in Egypt in recent years, with capital inflows of $649 million, ranking seventh in FY 2021/22. Nearly 100 Swiss companies operate in various sectors, contributing to an estimated 25,000 jobs. Egypt is regarded as a regional hub and gateway to Africa, with several Swiss companies located here and exporting to other African and Middle Eastern countries, as well as other regions. Agreements have been signed between Swiss and Egyptian pharmaceutical companies to localize production, export pharmaceutical products, and strengthen research. More Swiss businesses are looking to expand their presence in Egypt, with further opportunities identified in the textile, food, agriculture, and pharmaceutical industries, as well as in the cleantech, infrastructure, and energy sectors.

AO: How does Switzerland cooperate with Egypt in the fight against terrorism and illegal immigration?  

 YB: Both Switzerland and Egypt are founding members of the Global Counterterrorism Forum, and Switzerland's Ministry of Foreign Affairs participated in the last meeting of the Forum hosted in Cairo last May. Egypt is a distinguished partner and key to stability in the region.

Switzerland's global vision is to focus on poverty reduction and addressing root causes to prevent irregular migration and human trafficking.

In Egypt, Switzerland helps improve access to basic services such as health and education for women, children, and youth, regardless of their nationality or status as migrants or forcibly displaced individuals. Additionally, working with the Cairo International Center for Conflict Resolution, Peacekeeping, and Peacebuilding (CCCPA), Switzerland has contributed to building capacities in African countries to combat human trafficking and smuggling of migrants.

This is particularly important as many African countries are facing unprecedented challenges related to migration, internal displacement, and human trafficking. 

AO: How does Switzerland support Egypt with regard to refugees and migrants, also in relation to the impact of the ongoing crisis in Sudan?

YB: Egypt has played a significant role in migration issues, and Switzerland is cooperating with the Egyptian Government, UN agencies, and civil society to support access to services such as education, health, psychological support, housing solutions, and skills development for migrants, refugees, and Egyptians, with a focus on the most vulnerable groups, including women, children, and youth. For instance, Switzerland has established women's safe spaces at youth centres in areas where many people newly arrived from Sudan.

In response to the Sudan crisis, Switzerland has adapted some projects to meet the needs of Sudanese refugees at the border and in Aswan. Collaborating with the Egyptian Red Crescent, UN agencies, and other organizations. Switzerland provides humanitarian aid, food, primary health care, and training for young people while protecting women and children by distributing food and cash assistance. Since the start of the war, Switzerland has provided over $870,000 in new funding for Egypt and will reallocate over $2.3 million in the coming months. 

AO: Can you, Madam Ambassador, reveal to us the horizon of cultural and educational cooperation between the two countries? Especially in the field of technical education?

YB: There is a lively cultural exchange between Switzerland and Egypt in various areas, including music, visual arts, theatre, and film. The Swiss Arts Council Pro Helvetia, responsible for promoting Swiss arts and culture, has a regional office in Cairo that focuses on collaboration between Swiss and Egyptian artists. Egypt is also a priority country for grants to preserve movable cultural heritage, and Switzerland has returned around 70 Egyptian artefacts in recent years.

There is a rich Swiss-Egyptian collaboration between universities and research institutions in Egyptology and other fields. Along with the Swiss Institute of Egyptian Architectural and Archaeological Research on Ancient Egypt, established in Cairo in 1949, universities in Basel, Geneva, Zurich, and others are involved in various projects.

Recognizing the importance of technical education in supplying the labour market with qualified and skilled workers, Switzerland supports the Egyptian government in implementing its Technical Education Reform Strategy. This includes promoting the apprenticeship model, improving curricula and teaching quality, and working with Swiss companies and other private sector actors. Technical Vocational Education and Training (TVET) is designed to benefit youth, women, and migrants, with a focus on 'green skills' such as knowledge in sustainable energy, clean production, and recycling. This engagement complements Switzerland's work on strengthening the private sector and creating jobs. 

AO:  Can the ambassador talk to us about the details of Switzerland’s support in the green sector, including the comprehensive green growth project funded by Switzerland?

YB: Switzerland is contributing to Egypt's environmental initiatives and strategy, allocating over 30 percent of its current cooperation budget to promote a greener economy and urban development. This work has improved access to clean drinking water for more than 600,000 people and helped develop strategies to increase climate resilience in cities and among Egyptian smallholder farmers.

Switzerland has also promoted green business opportunities to micro, small, and medium-sized enterprises in the agriculture and textile sectors. These businesses are bringing innovative and sustainable solutions to the market, such as shifting to solar energy and alternative fuels and using water, energy, and other resources more efficiently. These efforts contribute to water, energy, and food security, climate resilience, local economic development, and job creation. 

AO: Are there programmes between Egypt and Switzerland for debt settlement or debt swap?

 
YB: Established in the late 90s, the Egyptian Swiss Development Fund (ESDF) was created by an agreement between the Government of Egypt and the Swiss Confederation to reduce external debts through a debt swap.

The ESDF's goal was to improve living conditions for poor communities by financing development projects. It completed over 80 successful projects worth $150 million before concluding its mandate in December 2009. Since 2010, Switzerland has provided technical and financial cooperation and humanitarian aid through grants only.

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