Season of migration to the south?
Southern African countries are reaching for more economic cooperation with their northern neighbours, Sherine Nasr
A wealth of natural resources; gold, iron, copper, uranium, oil and gas, excessive water resources and huge stretches of arable lands, you name it, southern Africa has it.
However, very little has been done so far for Egypt to engage in fruitful economic relations with African partners in the south.
Although this may be a long road ahead, some steps have already been taken in the right direction.
Last week, a senior delegation representing the Southern African Development Community (SADC) ambassadors in Cairo took an ambitious initiative by convening with members of the Egyptian Businessmen's Association (EBA) to discuss means to encourage more trade and investment between the community and Egypt.
"SADC can not exist in isolation. Its success depends largely on cooperating with non-SADC countries," said Cecil A Holmes, ambassador of the Republic of Zambia to Egypt during a press conference held last week at the EBA's main office.
Rich in resources and lacking in many trade and investment fundamentals, the SADC group is geared towards attracting more investment flows into vital sectors in their region.
"We invite Egypt and the Arab world at large to come and invest in SADC countries," said Holmes who added that the community is open to find common grounds with other regional groupings such as the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA).
"Africa can grow into a bloc of great significance to the whole world," said A Maboyi-Ncube, ambassador of Zimbabwe to Egypt who added that the black continent is a treasure of natural resources, "we need to add value to those natural resources."
SADC is an African regional grouping, which was formed in 1992. The grouping has been in existence since 1980, when it was formed as a loose alliance. At present, SADC consists of 14 member states from the Sub-Sahara region including Angola, Botswana, Congo, Malawi, Zambia, Zimbabwe and South Africa to name some.
The major objectives of the community is to promote regional economic integration, to create intra-governmental policies and to sustain full utilisation of the region's resources.
Although SADC members are aware of the fact that it will not be a paved way before Egyptian businessmen venture into the region, yet the grouping has lately managed to take some concrete measures to facilitate the flow of trade and investment within the region and with other countries.
In order for the group to ensure further liberalisation of intra-regional trade, a Free Trade Area will be established in 2008 and a full customs union will be in place in 2010.
Further, a common SADC visa will soon be launched to sustain the easy mobility of persons within the SADC countries.
On the macro-economic front, the SADC region has sustained positive economic growth rates. According to Holmes, the combined GDP was approximately $330.1 billion in 2005. An average growth rate of 5.7 per cent during the same year compared to 4.1 per cent in the previous year was recorded.
"Indications are that with the consolidation of peace and stability in the SADC region, higher than average growth rates will continue to be recorded," said Holmes.
Nevertheless, there remain other major issues to be handled by SADC countries in order to attract more investment. For example, integrating transportation and infrastructure services within SADC countries has been underlined as a prerequisite for all other activities in the region.
"Rehabilitation of railway lines, roads and ports is most badly needed," said R Soobadar, ambassador of Mauritius. With a common passport of the SADC countries to be issued in 2008, transfer of labour and tourists will be much easier.
However, transfer of capital will remain a big issue. "Except for Mauritius where foreign capital can move in and out freely and at any amount, capital transfer is still a major predicament in most of the SADC countries," said Soobadar.
While working hard to integrate their region with other non-SADC countries, lack of information about the SADC grouping and their potentials remain a main constraint before Egyptian businesses.
"While we are very anxious to do business with SADC countries, lack of data about the region stand as a main obstacle before concerned businessmen," said Adel Gazarin, chairman of EBA, who added that a rush by other Asian countries to come and invest in southern African has been noticed lately.
"Egypt can provide technical assistance to SADC countries in many areas. We would like to have our fair share of developing the natural resources in this region."
One issue of vital importance to Egypt is water resources.
"It would be surprising to know that 1,600 billion cubic metres of water is being wasted annually by water-rich African nations while water-scarce Egypt's annual quota does not exceed 55.5 billion cubic metres. This is one vital area where integration is most badly needed," commented Ali El-Korey, an EBA board member.
According to Geoffrey Mvula, ambassador of Malawi to Egypt, SADC can also benefit from Egypt's advanced water irrigation systems to reduce the amount of wasted water in the region.
"In fact, the spheres for cooperation between Egypt the SADC region are countless. And this is just the beginning," concluded Gazarin.