Egyptian ambassador to South Africa Sherif Eissa has called for more bilateral trade and investment between his country and South Africa, as well as closer political cooperation. He was addressing the recent South African Chamber of Commerce and Industry and Federation of Egyptian Industries (FEI) Trade and Investment Forum in Johannesburg. “We have big economies – we can work together,” he pointed out. “Why should we see such a small volume of trade between our two countries? . . . We have never seen Egyptian investment in South Africa.” (And South African investment in Egypt was minimal.)
“Egypt is moving forward – sometimes with difficulty.” He expressed the hope that this would result in a bright outcome for the people of Egypt and, indeed, also for all of Africa. “We’re working for all of Africa, not just for Egypt.”
Addressing the same forum, FEI African Cooperation Committee chairperson Dr Sherif El Gabaly (and FEI delegation head) affirmed that his federation was in full support of the policy of Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi to strengthen the country’s relations with the rest of Africa. “As a business community, we will endorse our government’s role in Africa . . . Our main task is to develop our relations with different African countries . . . We’re giving South Africa great importance . . . We have a great role to play in Africa.”
Close relations between the two countries had not previously been the case. “On the whole, we did not have enough contacts between the two biggest economies in Africa,” he noted. While accepting that the structures of the economies of the two countries were similar, he argued that there were also synergies between them.
“Since 2013, Egypt has embarked on a very huge development programme – megaprojects,” he highlighted. “Egypt is building 20 new, fourth-generation cities. Twenty!” highlighted Eissa. “Seven are almost complete.” One of these cities was a new administrative capital (still unnamed) for the country, located between the Nile and the Suez Canal, some 45 km east of the present capital, Cairo. (Government departments would start moving to the new city during this year.) The Suez Canal has already been upgraded, increasing its capacity by almost 100%.
“Egypt is very strong in chemical industries,” including fertilisers and petrochemicals, reported El Gabaly. “We have discovered big gasfields [in the Mediterranean Sea]. Egypt is becoming a hub of energy in the Middle East today.”
But South African companies had hardly been involved in these and other major Egyptian programmes. “We have the potential; we need to have the will,” affirmed Eissa. “Let’s urge the businessmen in Egypt, and in South Africa – this is an opportunity.”
The lack of contact between the two countries had resulted in a very low level of bilateral trade. Currently, this amounted to just $300-million. In her presentation, South African Department of Trade and Industry Trade Invest Africa chief director Zanele Sanni pointed out that South African trade with the entire North African region amounted to just 1.6% of total South African trade with the whole of Africa.
“At the moment, South Africa does enjoy a trade surplus [with Egypt],” she observed. “Most of the trade between our two countries is value-added products.”