CAIRO: After several days of meetings, the US-Egypt Business Leaders Forum, along with Minister of Trade Rachid Mohamed Rachid and US Ambassador to Egypt Margaret Scobey, signed an agreement to support a new entrepreneurship program to benefit both Egypt and the US.
Taher Helmy, co-chairman of the Business Leaders Forum and partner in the Helmy, Hamza and Partners/Baker and McKenzie international law firm, explained, “We decided to establish a fund to inject our own money from the private sector on both the US and Egypt side .
He added that the Forum had sought and gained support from both governments for the entrepreneurship program, in keeping with both President Barack Obama and President Hosni Mubarak’s commitment to strengthening economic growth.
The program will provide monetary and network support for entrepreneurs, Helmy explained, as well as training to “develop Egypt’s human capital . to be globally competitive . [and] active members of a market economy . Training will focus on business start-up and management practices, as well as general skill development.
Helmy stated that while identifying, training and supporting entrepreneurs represents the primary goal of the program, it considers education and vocational training a necessary component of the process. He mentioned that the fund will also provide scholarships for Egyptians to come to the US and for Americans to come to Egypt.
The US Egypt Business Leaders Forum – the latest manifestation of a bilateral private sector partnership that has existed under various titles since the Clinton administration – was signed into its current manifestation last May. During Obama’s subsequent visit to Cairo in June, the US president spoke of an entrepreneurship summit for Muslim majority countries (MMCs), as well as enhancing efforts to support economic growth and opportunity for the burgeoning youth in countries such as Egypt.
The Entrepreneurship Summit, to which Egypt will bring the largest national delegation as one of the “pilot projects receiving this entrepreneurial support, will be held in Washington DC on April 26-27. Indonesia, the other country chosen as a pilot for entrepreneurial support initiatives, will host President Obama in June for a follow-up speech to his Cairo address.
While extolling the American entrepreneurial spirit that launched such legends as Microsoft and Boeing, Helmy pointed out that Egypt has already demonstrated significant success in the areas of telecom, real estate, food production and tourism.
“We have succeeded in economic reform over the past 10 years, especially in the past six years [since the establishment of the ‘business-friendly cabinet’ that includes Minister Rachid], Helmy said, confidently affirming Egypt’s sometimes controversial efforts to reform its economic and financial structure. He warned however, that reforms cannot generate sustainable economic benefit if the population is ill-equipped to take advantage of opportunity.
Helmy credited the efforts of Minister Rachid in promoting the Forum’s past efforts for trade and reform, as well as his support for this latest initiative.
US Ambassador to Egypt Margaret Scobey also acknowledged the determination of Minister Rachid to strengthen economic ties with the US. She laughed, “Within hours of the inauguration [of President Obama], Rachid told me, ‘We’ve got to get a trade dialogue going’. Although our governments enjoy an open dialogue, it is a dialogue assisted by input from the private sector.
G. Steven Farris, CEO of the Apache Corporation, a petroleum company and the largest American investor in Egypt, as well as the co-chairperson of the US-Egypt Business Leaders Forum, emphasized the more traditional role of the Forum: to promote investment and bilateral trade.
While Helmy politely congratulated the US for long providing an environment conducive to entrepreneurial activity and success, Farris mentioned the domestic and economic difficulties currently concerning the US, while acknowledging Egypt’s concerted efforts at economic reform.
“There is a lot of work to do in the US: healthcare, climate change, economic . Those kind of reforms are constant. But Egypt has done an outstanding job to open up markets and increase trade, he said, complimenting Minister Rachid on successfully doubling Egypt’s exports to the US in the preceding five years.
“Your Minister of Trade has set a lofty goal [to again double exports to the US], and the US has a similar goal.
His comment that, “This is the start of real friendship between the US and Egypt on the business side highlighted the alteration of a relationship which previously consisted more of aid and military funding flowing into Egypt. Egypt remains the largest recipient of US Foreign Aid after Israel.
Minister Rachid deflected questions of how the changing relationship between the US and Egypt would affect aid monies to Egypt, saying that USAID did not come under the scope of the Forum. Helmy responded to a question on agribusiness, citing Egypt’s urgent need for better water management and the agricultural technologies available in the US, hinting at greater opportunities for Egypt to gain access to such technology. Farris answered a question on the US sharing nuclear energy technology, corroborating the need for nuclear energy while reaffirming the primacy of petroleum as “the fuel of the future . He spoke admiringly of Egypt’s wind power potential.