Conference in the making

Gamal Essam El-Din , Tuesday 20 Sep 2022

Prime Minister Mustafa Madbouli held two meetings this week to prepare for an economic conference at the end of this month.

Conference in the making

 

Cabinet Spokesperson Nader Saad said the meetings to plan for the economic conference followed directives of President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi who last week called for the event to be organised.

Saad indicated that the prime minister will hold more meetings within days with business leaders, investors, and industrialists to settle the agenda on the proposed conference.

Speaking during the inauguration of the Suez Canal Authority’s new martitime units on 8 September President Al-Sisi said that “there is a pressing need for an economic conference at which economic experts, business leaders, and investors can participate and exchange views.”

“The national dialogue has already formed a committee to discuss a host of economic issues, but as a state we are in need of a supplementary conference to discuss pressing economic issues.”

“I hope the government will use this conference… to find solutions for the problems facing industries and businesses which are losing millions of US dollars a day due to import restrictions.”

On Monday, Madbouli met with Minister of Industry Ahmed Samir, and representatives from the Federation of Egyptian Industries (FEI). He said that initial preparatory meetings had focused on supporting the manufacturing sector.

Madbouli argued that the economic crisis triggered by the war in Ukraine had underlined the importance of reducing Egypt’s dependency on imports and expanding local production to meet market needs. He said the government has already gone a long way to solving the problems facing manufacturers, including simplifying the procedures necessary to license new factories.

According to Saad, during the initial meeting industry representatives presented proposals to reduce imports and support local manufacturers. He also stressed that the proposed conference will not be confined to discussing industrial issues but will open to economic issues across the board. In this regard, Madbouli also met with Hassan Abdallah, governor of the Central Bank of Egypt (CBE). During the meeting the prime minister reviewed preparations for the event, including coordination among concerned bodies to set an agenda for the conference.

Madbouli highlighted the central role played by the CBE in streamlining procedures so that investors embark on more projects in the manufacturing, infrastructure, and energy sectors.

Saad stressed that the proposed economic conference will not conflict with the national dialogue which is expected to open this month. “While the national dialogue will discuss political, economic, and social issues, the conference will focus on problems facing industrialists and businessmen and draw up a new roadmap in this regard,” he said.

Minister of Industry Ahmed Samir said the meeting with Madbouli demonstrated the government’s commitment to boosting exports and reducing the import bill.

Head of the Federation of Egyptian Industries Mohamed Al-Sewidi said in a TV interview that industrialists had used their meeting with Madbouli to highlight the negative impact of the war in Ukraine on Egyptian businesses and industries.

“Policies adopted to absorb the shock of the war, such as restricting imports, have harmed industries which depend on imported raw materials,” said Al-Sewidi. He warned that “many factories and production lines face having to suspend operations if the authorities refuse to release shipments stuck at ports.”

Al-Sewidi explained that even before the war in Ukraine, the CBE had issued new import requirements.

“The CBE required the letter of credit system to be used instead of cash against documents, complicating import procedures. There is also a shortage of a number of key components, and the disruption in supply chains has led to a black market.”

Ali Ouf, chairman of the General Chamber of Commerce’s Drugs Department, said Egypt imports 60 per cent of anaesthetics used during medical and dental procedures and since the government imposed import restrictions to reduce demand for US dollars local producers have been unable to fill the gap in supplies, leading to the creation of a black market.

Alaa Al-Sabaa, a member of the board of the General Federation of Egyptian Chambers of Commerce’s General Automobile Division, says restricting imports has led to a reduction of finished goods reaching the market, and consequent price increases. He expects the crisis to continue until the last quarter of this year, and is hoping to see a breakthrough by the beginning of the first quarter of 2023 when, hopefully, the Ukrainian-Russian crisis subsides and world supply chains return to pre-pandemic stability.

Political parties, MPs, and economic experts have expressed their hopes that the proposed conference will help Egypt weather the global crises caused by the war in Ukraine.

Most political parties, including the opposition Wafd Party, issued statements in support of the conference. The majority Mostaqbal Watan Party issued a statement saying the economic conference is being called in difficult global economic conditions and reflects the determination of Egypt’s political leadership to do everything possible to develop the economy and shore up public finances.

Zeinab Nawar, a member of Mostaqbal Watan and professor of political economy at the British University in Cairo, is optimistic that the conference will result in new incentives to encourage export-focused investment and increase the production of strategic crops, particularly wheat.

Mohamed Abdel-Hamid, deputy chairman of the House of Representative’s Economic Committee, hopes the conference will provide an answer to “those who are sceptical about the ability of the Egyptian economy to withstand the global economic crisis.”

*A version of this article appears in print in the 15 September, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.

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