Al-Ahram Weekly Online   18 - 24 November 2004
Issue No. 717
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

Japan and Egypt open up

Egypt is planning to be a very active participant in the 2005 World Exposition in Japan. Gamal Essam El-Din reports from Aichi

The ministries of industry and trade, investment, foreign affairs and supply are busy preparing for a major Egyptian presence at the 2005 World Exposition scheduled for 25 March to 25 September, 2005 in Japan's Aichi prefecture.

The event is expected to draw participants from 125 countries (12 Arab states amongst them), as well as representatives from international non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and some of the world's major corporations. The World Exposition, held every five years, last took place in Hanover, Germany. Its 2010 round is scheduled for Shanghai, China.

Expo 2005 -- the 21st century's first international exposition -- will focus on globalisation's new challenges, including the dangers of environmental degradation, global warming and the energy crisis. In fact, the expo's main theme will be "Nature's Wisdom". Attempts will be made to stress the importance of achieving sustainable development in harmony with nature.

The expo's Japanese zone will include a theme park featuring some of Japan's cutting-edge technology, including a driverless vehicle that emits no harmful gases, a household robot that talks and is capable of extremely precise movements, as well as a linear motor car that floats above rails using magnets, runs very quietly and emits no carbon dioxide or harmful pollutants.

The 172,000 square metres of exhibition space will include six major pavilions accommodating participants from the globe's six continents. Although the African pavilion will feature booths from 29 sub-Saharan African countries, Egypt and South Africa are the only African nations that will be given a separate pavilion each.

Hisham Badr, Egypt's ambassador to Japan said Egypt's participation in the expo would not be confined to exhibiting locally manufactured products. Egyptian officials, Badr said, would also be making use of the world's greatest exposition to promote Egyptian tourism and reinforce trade and investment cooperation with the world's most advanced and industrialised nations, especially Japan. "Expo 2005 offers Egyptian participants a great opportunity to take note of the world's future technology products coming from Japan and elsewhere," Badr said.

The expo would also emphasise the robust economic cooperation between Egypt and Japan. Japanese foreign ministry officials told Al-Ahram Weekly that Japan firmly believes that Egypt is the most important country in the Arab world, Africa and the Middle East. "I know that economic and business relations do not go in parallel with political relations, but the Japanese government is always making sure that economic and political relations with Egypt remain very strong," said Takeshi Okubo of the ministry's Middle East and Egypt affairs department. According to Okubo, Japan considers Egypt its main diplomatic partner in the Arab world, the Middle East and Africa. "This is clear in the fact that Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi singled out Egypt and Saudi Arabia as the only two countries to visit during his May 2003 Middle East tour." Okubo also said that, "President Hosni Mubarak visited Japan four times, and this might be the largest number of visits an Egyptian president paid to an Asian country."

Egypt also receives much financial and technical assistance from Japan. From 1998 to the end of 2002, Egypt received $3.5 billion in Japanese loans, grants and technical assistance, thus topping the list of nations receiving economic assistance from Japan.

Egypt has also always been the biggest beneficiary of Japan Foundation programmes in the Middle East. A striking example is Cairo's Opera House, built in 1988 with a Japanese grant totalling 6.5 billion yen. Japan has also provided Egypt with substantial assistance in eradicating poliomyelitis, building the Ferdan bridge linking Africa with Asia across the Suez Canal, developing water supply projects in the Sharqiya governorate, and establishing the Zafarana Wind Power Plant project. Two weeks ago, Japan's new ambassador to Egypt, Kunihiko Makita, met with Transport Minister Essam Sharaf to probe Japan's participation in upgrading Egypt's maritime transport sector.

Commercial exchange between Egypt and Japan, however, does not reflect the strong political and diplomatic relations between the two countries. In 2002, Japan's exports to Egypt topped $500 million, while Egyptian exports to Japan were stuck at $69 million. Most Japanese exports to Egypt are in the realm of electronic products, cars and machinery.

Its imports from Egypt include cotton, oil and textiles. Okubo believes that the government's recent economic reforms aimed at reducing customs and taxes will boost commercial exchange between Egypt and Japan.

Private Japanese investments in Egypt, meanwhile, do not exceed $180 million. "Most of the private Japanese investments go to Gulf countries such as Saudi Arabia, Dubai and Kuwait," Okubo said. There are about 25 private Japanese companies currently operating in Egypt. Several giant Japanese electronic companies, such as Panasonic, currently assemble their products in Egypt. Maki Nakatani of Panasonic's Corporate Management Division for the Middle East and Africa, said Egypt was very important for Panasonic products because it is a huge consumer market, and "because its customs measures are far less stringent than other North African Arab countries such as Tunisia or Morocco".

Earlier this year, one of Japan's major automakers (Nissan) announced that it was investing $350 million in Egypt.

Japanese firms are also bidding to build Cairo third metro line.

Egypt and Japan's strong diplomatic relations hit a new high when Koizumi's May 2003 Egypt visit ended with an agreement on rebuilding Iraq. As a result, the two countries launched the Japan-Egypt Medical Technical Cooperation for Iraq, which has provided medical training for a total of 125 Iraqi doctors and nurses at Cairo University Hospital in emergency, cardiology, pediatrics, nursing and primary health care. "This programme is designed on a long-term basis. Japan and Egypt started with providing training to 100 Iraqi doctors last March at Cairo University, and it was the second round that ended on 3 November," Okubo said. The training is implemented as part of the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA)'s programmes.

Although the barbaric killing of Japanese national Shosei Koda in Iraq shocked the Japanese public, Prime Minister Koizumi vowed to remain committed to Japan's development projects in Iraq.

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