A delegation from the US Chamber of Commerce and the US-Egypt Business Council led by the US Secretary for Commerce for International Trade Marisa Lago visited Egypt last week to attend the inaugural meeting of the US-Egypt Joint Economic Commission (JEC).
The JEC was the brainchild of the US-Egypt Strategic Dialogue held on 8-9 November 2021 in Washington with the mission of boosting economic ties between the two countries.
According to Vice President of Middle East Affairs at the US Chamber of Commerce Steve Lutes, the JEC demonstrates a long-term commitment to working in partnership to grow economic ties between Egypt and the US.
“For several years, we have advocated that our two governments establish an official platform to ensure there is a sustained focus on the bilateral economic relationship and how we should collaborate to deepen and grow trade and investment,” Lutes told Al-Ahram Weekly, adding that he has also worked on laying the groundwork for a major visit to Egypt by Suzanne P Clark, president and CEO of the US Chamber, in December.
Clark will lead a large business delegation, and a US-Egypt Business Policy Leaders Forum will be organised.
Lutes’ visit to Egypt last week coincided with the announcement of more than 20 decisions intended to boost private-sector participation and make Egypt’s economy more competitive.
“Creating a business-friendly policy, legal, and regulatory environment that attracts investment and innovation by the private sector takes time. These reforms are certainly positive, and I know the government is also aware of the importance of tackling structural issues that impact the economy and investment, such as the availability of foreign exchange and protecting intellectual property,” Lutes, who also manages the Egypt-US Business Council, said.
Shortages of foreign currency and soaring inflation and higher commodity prices are major challenges Egypt has been struggling with. The greater participation of the private sector in the economy is a key element in Egypt’s $3 billion loan deal with the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
“It is an important signal that Egypt is working to open its economy through the privatisation programme and stimulate the private sector,” Lutes said.
He added that while there will always be some focus on immediate issues affecting the Egyptian and US economies as well as regulatory concerns, it is important for business and government leaders to think strategically about the challenges of tomorrow and how global issues weigh on the bilateral relationship.
There be a focus on topics such as food and water security, improving the healthcare ecosystem and ensuring access to new medicines and technologies, developing a policy framework that drives innovation and investment in digital technologies and AI, and investing in training and education to develop a workforce prepared for the jobs in growth areas in the market, he said.
According to Lutes, there continues to be strong interest in the Egyptian market by US companies. “We are starting with a solid base — more than 1,000 US companies operating in Egypt. While I understand the desire to attract new investment by new businesses, I think the most important thing that can be done is to ensure existing investors are happy and to address any issues they may be facing,” he said.
He said it was far easier for a company with a presence in Egypt already to invest more or expand its operations than it is to attract a company to set up a presence and invest for the first time. US investments in Egypt amounted to $11 billion in 2019 according to the Office of the US Trade Representative.
There will continue to be a strong interest in areas which have seen long-standing participation by US companies, he said, including the energy sector, oil and gas as well as solar and wind energy, and other areas like hydrogen and carbon capture, usage and storage (CCUS) projects.
Lutes added that opportunities in information and communication technology and healthcare remain durable, as do transportation and logistics, agriculture and food, finance, and manufacturing. Moreover, hospitality and tourism remain a key feature of the Egyptian economy, he said.
He pointed out that many US companies in Egypt are doing far more than just running their businesses. “They are investing in local communities and contributing to Egypt’s future through a range of socially impactful programmes. These range from education and healthcare to clean water and many other types of initiatives,” he said.
In its first meeting last week, the US and Egyptian delegations at the JEC discussed promoting economic and commercial ties, facilitating investment and entrepreneurship, and encouraging private-sector involvement in economic development.
* A version of this article appears in print in the 25 May, 2023 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly