Egypt and Norway working together

Ahmed Kotb , Tuesday 10 Oct 2023

Norwegian Ambassador to Egypt Hilde Klemetsdal talks about relations between Egypt and Norway, increasing investment in green energy, growing cultural cooperation, and efforts to achieve greater stability in the region to Ahmed Kotb



In a wide-ranging interview with Al-Ahram Weekly, conducted on 21 September, Norway’s Ambassador to Egypt Hilde Klemetsdal explained the aims of growing Norwegian-Egyptian cooperation. 


How do you evaluate current relations between Egypt and Norway?

The bilateral relations between our two countries are very strong and positive. Egypt’s and Norway’s foreign ministers met last month in New York for the High-level Week of the UN General Assembly, and they also talked during the summer, discussing regional issues.

Norway’s Foreign Minister Anniken Huitfeldt has praised Egypt for the support it gave to Libya after the tragic events that took place there during last month’s storm. This is in addition to discussions about Palestine, Israel, and the Middle East Peace Process, where we share a lot of the same aspirations trying to find a political way forward. 

Huitfeldt places a high value on Egypt’s role in the region, particularly when it comes to Palestine, Israel, Sudan, and Libya. The role that Egypt plays is a strong part of our bilateral relations. In discussion with Egypt’s Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukri, she also talked about renewable energy and the green transition and the Norwegian companies in Egypt that are helping with this.

There are ongoing discussions between the two sides, especially about regional peace and the two-state solution between the Palestinians and Israelis. Egypt is a very important dialogue partner in terms of looking critically at what can be done and how we can support finding durable solutions. 


How are Norwegian companies investing in renewable energy and the green economy in Egypt? 

During the UN COP27 Climate Change Conference in Sharm El-Sheikh last year, Egypt’s President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi and Norwegian Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Støre launched the first-ever project for green hydrogen in Egypt and the region, and there are already Norwegian companies engaged in the green and renewable energy sector in Egypt.

Norway’s leading renewable energy company Scatec is one of the top investors as well as a pioneer contributor to this field in Egypt. It is carrying out various green projects nationwide. Egypt’s Ministry of Electricity and Renewable Energy recently signed a $5 billion agreement with Scatec to develop a 5 GW wind power plant and allocated land for the facility in West Sohag. The project will create 8,000 job opportunities and will support Egypt in meeting its goal of having renewable energy account for 42 per cent of its overall energy needs by 2030. 

Moreover, in May this year Scatec signed a $450 million green methanol production project to be built in the port of Damietta jointly with Egypt’s Alexandria National Refining and Petrochemical Company. It is the first of its kind bio-methanol project in the region and the continent, and it makes Egypt a frontrunner in the green fuel transition, positioning it as a possible key bunkering location in the green corridors that are now under development globally.

In addition to being the largest contributor to Egypt’s Benban Solar Park, which is the world’s largest with a 1.5 GW capacity, Scatec is also leading the studies on the connectivity of Egypt’s energy grid to Europe in order to export electricity via Italy with a capacity of around 3 GW.

Scatec is also bolstering Egypt’s green hydrogen plans by developing a green hydrogen production project in Ain Sokhna, as well as two green ammonia production projects in the Suez Canal Economic Zone and Damietta. These ventures are expected to attract investments totalling $6 billion and $870 million, respectively, furthering Egypt’s commitment to sustainable energy solutions. 

There are also other Norwegian companies investing in renewable energy and partnering with Egyptian actors such as Empower New Energy, which is collaborating with Engazaat, an Egyptian solar-water developer, to provide desalinated water to Egyptian farmers through the use of solar panels.

There are also potential projects for the production of the green methanol used by ships, and this is a great opportunity for Egypt as well because of the opportunity to make the Suez Canal a green shipping corridor, with Egypt having access to the cheap wind and sun power needed for such projects. This is a very promising industry, and this project, still in the governmental discussion phase, would be groundbreaking. 

We also have companies that are engaged in the production of solar panels working with many Egyptian counterparts to promote the use of solar energy in farming. Additionally, Norwegian companies are working in Egypt to help strengthen green energy usage in fish farming, with a good potential to grow in this field.


What are the other Norwegian companies and investments in Egypt?

There are many high-quality Norwegian companies active in Egypt (around 76), such as Scatec, DNV (maritime warranty surveyor), Jotun (paint and chemicals), Yara (fertilisers), Sterner (aquaculture), Skretting (fish feed solutions and aquaculture), Leth, Höeg LNG (oil and gas), Ennetek Power (power technology and telecommunications solutions), and Wilhelmsen Ships Service (maritime), to mention a few.

Norway has expertise, experience, and high-quality green tech and environmentally sustainable solutions to offer Egypt. Some key areas are solar panels, batteries, wind power, green hydrogen, fertilisers, shipping, waste management and recycling, and desalination, as well as fish farming and aquaculture. Recycling and waste management has a particularly huge potential.


What are the current bilateral trade volumes between the two countries? Are there plans to increase them?

There is a lot of potential for increased trade opportunities and expanding the existing trade exchange between Egypt and Norway. 

Currently, the trade between our two countries is limited, with the balance very much in Norway’s favour. In 2022, Egypt’s total exports to Norway were worth around $11 million. On the other hand, Norway’s total exports to Egypt amounted to over $359 million. 

The main product exported from Egypt to Norway is food, while Norway’s exports to Egypt are mainly seafood, fertilisers, minerals, and machinery and means of transport. Egypt is one of the biggest markets globally for Norwegian herrings.


What are the obstacles preventing increased Norwegian investments in Egypt and greater trade exchanges?

As a result of the current economic situation, there is the issue of hard-currency availability, which makes it harder to pay in dollars or import parts needed for production. That is certainly a challenge, but hopefully the situation will improve soon, and businesses will be able to work their way out of this situation.

Some very positive steps have been taken by the Egyptian Government to attract more investors in terms of offering incentives, but I think there’s also a lot more that can be done to make it easier for potential investors to enter and operate in the Egyptian market. This includes removing more administrative hurdles, increasing transparency, and promoting a level playing field. 

But the Egyptian market has a lot of positive sides to it. It’s a big market, with a good location, cheap labour, access to energy, and a good infrastructure in place. 


What about cultural exchange and tourism?

That is something that has strengthened recently, with Norwegian authors visiting the Cairo International Book Fair last year. Next January, Norway will be the guest of honour at the fair. Many authors, translators, and publishers are expected to visit Egypt and participate in the fair and build on this event for more cooperation in the future as well. 

Both Norway and Egypt are working on increasing the flow of tourists. There is one direct flight now and the increase in direct flights will lead to an increase in the number of Norwegian tourists already interested in visitng Egypt. 

Norwegians want to go to warmer places in the winter, and it is on their bucket list to visit the Pyramids and experience Egypt’s amazing history, as well as its beautiful beaches. Urban tourism in Egypt with its rich history is something that I think should be developed further.

* A version of this article appears in print in the 12 October, 2023 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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