Al-Ahram Weekly Online   26 Dec. 2002 - 1 Jan. 2003
Issue No. 618
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Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875
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Exports duck despite laws

Laws, decrees, and funds galore, but, how to explain the lack of response at the bottom line?

Talk of the urgent need to encourage Egyptian exports, upgrade the quality of products, improve workforce skills and open up new markets never seems to cease. However, figures show that Egyptian exports during fiscal year 2001/2002, ending in June, have dropped slightly to approximately 6.5 billion compared to LE7.1 billion in 2000/2001, according to a recent report by the Ministry of Foreign Trade.

The current year has witnessed the issuing of a handful of laws and procedures aimed at promoting exports. The most important of these is perhaps the Export Promotion Law, issued in June, giving the minister of foreign trade full authority to take whatever measures deemed necessary to advance exports.

The prime minister has recently declared that all official bodies concerned with exports will come under the supervision of one authority, the General Authority for Supervising Exports and Imports.

Exporters welcomed the decision, anticipating an end to the conflict of interests that arose from having to deal with a number of different institutions.

An Export Promotion Fund was set up to increase exports, provide technical assistance to exporters, open up new markets and study the elimination of bureaucratic obstacles in collaboration with other concerned official bodies.

Another step in the right direction was the inauguration of the Regional Centre of Foreign Trade, established by a US/ Japanese grant, in addition to generous contributions from the private sector. The centre aims to build professional cadres and provide technical assistance to those in the export business.

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Foreign Trade is studying the possibility of establishing a number of central laboratories throughout the country mandated with issuing accredited certificates to local agricultural products that meet international specifications.

In the end, however, promoting exports remains a process of deeds rather than words. Laws, alone, cannot be the tools of change. Discussions held by the People's Assembly during its pervious session made clear there has always been scant response to previous efforts exerted to promote Egyptian exports. The latest strategy for promoting exports, laid out by the Ministry of Foreign Trade, identifies no targets for Egyptian exports, a People's Assembly report said. The strategy also concentrates solely on the production sector, while completely ignoring the service sector, in which Egypt has many comparative advantages.

The report also underlined the necessity to study foreign market demand.

Exporters have made it clear that complete co-operation and flexibility between the various official bodies involved in the business of exports must become a reality, or the many policies taken towards encouraging exports will be of little impact.

By Sherine Nasr

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