Egypt's industry faces up to the virus

Ahmed Kotb , Tuesday 7 Apr 2020

Egypt’s industrial sector is seeking urgent measures to help fight the effects of the coronavirus pandemic

photo: ILO

Industry got a helping hand this week when a decree issued by President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi postponed the deadline for companies to file and pay taxes by three months until 30 June without interest or fines.

The Export Support Fund will also disburse at least 30 per cent of money owed to exporters before the end of the current fiscal year. The decisions were part of a package intended to ease the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on the economy.

The presidential decree meets some of the demands that the Federation of Egyptian Industries (FEI) had included in a report last week on the urgent procedures needed to address the repercussions of the coronavirus outbreak on the economic and industrial levels.

More than 15 demands were highlighted by the report to support industry and enable it to continue production, especially by managing the liquidity needed for companies and enabling the industrial sector to provide the country’s needs for goods in order to maintain stability.

The demands include postponing filing tax returns for a period of three months until 30 June, exempting all companies for a period of three months from items such as social insurance to provide them with liquidity to meet their obligations such as wages, deducting 50 per cent of the road tolls imposed on trucks, and exemptions from fixed installments of electricity and gas bills.

The federation also called for accelerating the issuing of permits and licences and the allocation of land for industrial activity to accelerate new investments. Minister of Finance Mohamed Maait said in a statement on Monday that the proposals were under consideration and would be submitted to Prime Minister Mustafa Madbouli as some would require legislative amendments.

Khaled Abdel-Azim, head of the Federation of Egyptian Industries, stressed that safety procedures were being applied inside all industrial facilities to limit the spread of the virus. “The factories are in a good condition so far, and there has been no stoppage of production,” he said.

However, the number of administrative staff had been reduced and meetings canceled along with direct visits by clients or visitors to factories. All training activities had been stopped at the administrative level, he added.

Many factories have purchased thermometers to measure the temperatures of factory workers, and a medical examination is obligatory for anyone with suspected symptoms, he said.

He also said that there was a high level of awareness among workers, especially regarding personal and public hygiene. “Protective supplies have been provided to workers, and factories are being sterilised constantly,” he added.

Tarek Metwalli, a member of parliament’s industry committee, said in a press statement that there was a commitment in factories in all sectors to reduce the number of administrative workers whose physical presence is not required, as well as to use the sterilisation and disinfection tools available and test workers’ temperatures continuously.

But it was difficult to reduce employment in certain industries, including the manufacturing of medicines, medical supplies, and food products, he said. Egypt needed its factories, especially food factories, to work at full capacity to prevent supply problems, he added.

To help overcome this dilemma some have suggested that workers be quarantined at their factories for 14 days. The initiative entails that factory owners bear the expenses of the resing workers througout the 14 days.

Mohamed Shoukri, head of the Chamber of Food Industries at the FEI, said that food production was stable, and that the factories were operating two shifts.

“There are raw materials available to continue production for several months, and the market is operating normally,” he said. No factory had decided to reduce working hours, and production could continue normally for a period of six to nine months, he added.

The Customs Authority was working 24 hours a day to release any goods and production requirements needed by industry, but other bodies such as the Food Safety Authority and others should also work 24 hours a day as well in order not to slow down production efforts, Shoukri said.

He added that releasing exports and imports from the ports had been an important obstacle because it could be an expensive process and take up to 20 days. “We have been discussing this problem with the prime minister to find a solution because it reduces the competitiveness of Egyptian exports and is a deterrent to investments,” he said.

Minister of Manpower Mohamed Saafan announced last week that all governorates would launch follow-up campaigns and the inspections of factories, companies, and private-sector establishments to make sure environmental protection and health protection procedures are taken to protect workers from the coronavirus.

*A version of this article appears in print in the  9 April, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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