President Mohamed Mursi headed for the continent yesterday. Amani Maged finds out what's on his agenda
In keeping with the new role of Egypt's political leadership after the 25 January Revolution, President Mohamed Mursi begins a significant visit to Europe where he will visit Belgium and Italy with the aim of attracting more investments to revive the Egyptian economy. The European Union (EU) is Egypt's biggest trading partner with bilateral trade in the range of 23 billion euro. But foreign direct inflows which stood at 4.8 billion euro in 2010 leave a lot to be desired of the 27-member bloc.
The visit, according to Yasser Ali, the official presidential spokesman, aims at attracting international investments to Egypt with the ultimate goal of creating jobs. He said that the president aims at reviving relations between Egypt and the EU and stressing the ability of the political administration to protect and facilitate investment.
The Egyptian delegation during its meetings with the European counterparts will review the steps that Egypt has taken in economic and administrative reform.
Mursi is keen on attracting domestic, other Arab and foreign investment to the Egyptian market to provide job opportunities for new entrants to the labour market as well as the backlog of unemployed youth. Egypt's unemployment rate now stands at around 12 per cent.
In Italy, immediately upon arrival, the president will hold talks with Prime Minister Mario Monti who will be holding a dinner in honour of the president and the accompanying delegation. The dinner will be attended by 80 Egyptian and Italian businessmen and industrialists. The following day Mursi will head a meeting of the Italian Business Council where he will be joined by 40 Egyptian businessmen. This is expected to boost cooperation between the two countries.
According to Mona Wahba, head of the Egyptian Commercial Service office in Rome, Italy's importance lies in the fact that it is Egypt's first trading partner with the EU and second trading partner worldwide. Trade between the two countries amounts to around five billion euro. Furthermore, despite Italy's economic slowdown, it still is keen on investing in Egypt. In fact investment in Egypt, said Wahba, is Italy's way of reviving its own economy.
"For Italian investors, especially the small and medium enterprises, Egypt is a cheap location where they can expand their business, especially since it is a market they are already familiar with," said Wahba adding, "the renewed political stability is now encouraging Italian investors to come back to Egypt."
Italian investment stands at 1.1 billion euro. According to Wahba, the coming period will see new investments between the two countries in renewable energy, technical training, tourism, industry and building materials, agricultural reclamation and the environment, in addition to pre-existing cooperation in agricultural exports. In this regard, Wahba said that the high-speed shipping line between Egyptian and Italian ports which had come to a halt following the revolution will be resumed.
Italy was one of the first countries to forgive Egypt's debt. Following the revolution in January 2011 it signed a debt swap agreement for the sum of 77 million euro.
Among the ideas that will be discussed in Italy and Belgium is the Renaissance Plan, which was an essential part of the president's electoral campaign. The plan involves the attraction of $200 billion in new investments to huge projects in the area of infrastructure and others.
Mursi's European visit follows in the footsteps of his trip to China and Iran, and earlier Ethiopia and his continuous meetings in Egypt with foreign investors, all with the aim of reviving the Egyptian economy which has been weighed down by a slowdown since the outbreak of the revolution in 2011. Egypt's economy grew at around two per cent in 2011/12.
Besides his travels President Mursi has been in and out of meetings for the past 10 days. This week he met with a 50-member strong Saudi business delegation to discuss new investments as well as resolving outstanding problems. He also met Qatari officials who have pledged investment in the range of $18 billion. And he met with a huge delegation of US investors to reassure them about Egypt's keenness on creating a suitable environment for the private sector.
And his visit to Ethiopia in mid-July revealed Egypt's keenness to improve ties with African countries that share Nile waters. In heading to China, the Egyptian leadership gave an unmistakable sign that the aim is to get the technology that can be useful to Egypt's economy and not to inundate the Egyptian market with low quality products or to open new channels of loans and grants.