With the aim of promoting economic cooperation through establishing channels of dialogue between investors, international financial organisations and government officials from across the region and the US, the American Chamber of Commerce in Egypt is hosting the MENA Regional Council Annual Conference.
During their speeches, government representatives from Egypt and Arab nations emphasised the need for enhancing economic trade links within the region and working towards regional market integration to achieve sustainable economic growth.
In her opening remarks, American ambassador to Egypt, Anne Patterson, remarked that despite “political uncertainty in the region, investment and commercial opportunities abound,” calling on attendees to “take advantage of the US government and the wealth of other experts” present in the conference.
The Egyptian Minister of Industry and Foreign Trade, Osama Saleh, underlined the private sector’s dire need for finance in a tone of acknowledgment unheard from him in previous speeches. He added that biggest challenge to a vibrant private sector was not finance, but rather the market fragmentation.
“There is limited economic linkage between Arab markets and our trade agreements have not been fully utilised,” noted Saleh, adding, “Without market fragmentation, the Arab world is positioned to be a global hub for trade.”
Lebanese Minister of Economy and Trade, Nicolas Nahas, highlighted the urgent need for political stability, dubbing it “the cradle for investment.” He spoke of the investment prerequisites seldom referred to by Egyptian officials, such as innovation, development capabilities and adequate management of natural resources.
“Globalisation has shifted the market from local to global, so the trend must be to think locally and act globally,” added Nahas.
Despite the comforting statements from Egyptian government officials, which Prime Minister Hesham Qandil decorated with his familiar platitudes on the government’s relentless efforts to achieve social justice, secure women’s rights, equal representation and equitable distribution of wealth, the spirit of optimism amongst attendees remained tentative to say the least.
President of the American Chamber of Commerce in Egypt, Gamal Moharam, told Daily News Egypt: “The verbal assurances provided by the government are not sufficient to comfort investors, but we must understand that its not only the government that has to work, also the people, NGOs and civil society organisation have to collaborate with the government. Economic revival is a team effort that requires everyone to pitch in.
“If the government can achieve its promises, of course that would be great but if they cannot, that would of course be a serious problem.”
Investors shared the same sentiment. Coca-Cola’s MENA Director of Public Affairs and Communication, Hamish Banks, told Daily News Egypt: “The need to create an environment where investment can flourish is exactly the right message that needs to be sent, but what we need to see are the actions that support it.
“At the same time there is an acknowledgment that change and transition take time and one of the hardest things is to be patient at a time like this, but we’re prepared to be patient as long as the right signals are coming through.”