For its vital and effective role in supporting Egypt’s development and progress, the current leadership represented in President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi is keen to enhance bilateral relations with Japan by exchanging expertise in different sectors.
For the sake of reaching a mutual understanding and increasing cooperation between both countries, Al-Sisi paid a four-day visit to Japan in February, which is considered the first visit to the country by an Egyptian president in 17 years. The visit resulted in the signing of multiple memoranda of understanding and loan agreements between both countries.
Japanese companies are set to take part in Egyptian projects worth $17.7bn in the electricity sector among others, according to media statements issued by Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe following his meeting with Al-Sisi in Tokyo.
Japan offered soft loans worth $500m to finance the construction of a passenger terminal at Borg Al-Arab Airport near Alexandria, at a cost of $152m.
The loans will carry an interest rate of 0.1-0.3% and are to be repaid over 40 years with a grace period of 10 years.
Daily News Egypt sat down for an interview with Kenichiro Mukai, chargé d’affaires and delegate minister at the Japanese Embassy in Cairo. Mukai first visited Egypt 20 years ago as a young diplomat and has become accustomed with Egyptian culture. In this interview, he explains in more detail about the execution of the aforementioned agreements and Japan’s contributions to support development in Egypt.
How have you found living in Egypt?
I first came to Egypt 20 years ago as a young diplomatic working at the Japanese Embassy in Cairo. Since my arrival I have felt the simplicity and goodness of Egyptians, especially where I was living in Dokki.
Egypt, as a nation, is open-minded to other cultures and any foreigner will remark on Egyptian’s warmth and hospitably as soon as he or she arrives.
President Al-Sisi’s recent visit to Japan was described as successful. Could you highlight the main fields of cooperation that were achieved?
The recent visit of President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi was considered a successful one that witnessed mutual cooperation agreements between Egypt and Japan in different fields such as education, economy, construction, and security. Fifteen memoranda of understanding were also signed in several fields such as energy and electricity.
Al-Sisi is the first leader in the Middle East who delivered a speech directed at the Japanese people through the Japanese lower house of parliament.
Regarding education, what can you tell us about Japanese-Egyptian cooperation in that department?
Japan is keen to enhance the quality of the Egyptian education system by promoting cooperation in the field of education. The recent agreement signed during Al-Sisi’s visit will see 2,500 Egyptian students and trainees dispatched to study in Japan over the next five years under a new bilateral education partnership.
Also, Japan is interested in applying its educational experiment on the Egyptian education system through a bilateral agreement to develop 10 schools according to the Japanese education system. This experiment is expected to be generalised across all Egyptian schools in the next five years.
How is Japan supporting higher education and scientific research in Egypt?
In 2010, Japan established the Egyptian-Japanese University for Science and Technology (EJUST) with the Egyptian government. This university is considered an excellent means through which Japan can support higher education and scientific research in Egypt.
We are working on developing it through the construction of the new campus and other facilities that are scheduled to be inaugurated in 2017.
The university does not only target excellent graduate students, but it will later also include undergraduate students.
Ahead of the investors’ conventions between both countries, what is your opinion about the investment environment in Egypt and its appeal to Japanese investors?
Regarding the investment environment in Egypt, there are some obstacles that could badly affect it, but through common work and committees with the Egyptian government, these obstacles are being discussed and solved.
Some obstacles and issues that were discussed by mutual business committees and officials from both countries included import and export restrictions and foreign currency issues.
Which fields in Egypt are Japanese companies interested in investing in?
Many Japanese companies are interested in projects in areas such as the power sector, renewable energy, oil, gas, water, the development of the Suez Canal region, and other projects.
How is Japan supporting Egypt in the fields of electricity and energy?
Some Japanese companies will participate in increasing the efficiency of Egypt’s electricity system by signing agreements with Egypt’s state-run electricity company. Japan is also participating in enhancing and establishing new power plants through soft loans introduced to the Egyptian government. Part of these loans will be used to fund the construction of a 20MW solar power plant in Hurghada.
Also, during Al-Sisi’s visit to Japan, an agreement was signed between the Egyptian government and the trading house Mitsubishi Corporation to explore the possibility of building natural gas-fired combined-cycle plants generating a 1.3m KW capacity.
Recently, the Nikkei Asian Review reported that Japanese trading house Marubeni may help build Egypt’s largest power plant, a project equivalent to a 10th of the country’s generating capacity and expected to cost more than $3.54bn.
What is the size of Japan’s investment in Egypt?
During the fiscal year (FY) of 2014/2015, Japan’s direct investment in Egypt reached $50.6m. Trade movement between Egypt and Japan has doubled over the past 10 years and in 2014 it reached $1.7bn.
How is Japan participating in developing Egypt’s infrastructure?
Japan will participate in the launch of Metro Line Four by manufacturing the cars and carriages to be used on the line. Japanese companies will be responsible for achieving this.
Our cooperation in launching this new line aims to ease traffic congestion in the capital by using state-of-the-art technology from Japan. Line Four will connect the centre of Cairo with Giza.
The tourism sector is suffering from several consecutive setbacks. How is Japan helping to revive tourism here?
Many Japanese people would like to visit Egypt at least once in their lifetime as Egypt is considered one of the most popular tourist destinations.
Japan is supporting the revival of Egyptian tourism through a number of projects that are being established to support tourism, such as the Grand Egyptian Museum. This project symbolises the very close cooperation between both countries, and construction is ongoing with the aim to inaugurate the museum in 2018
The dialogue between the Japanese and Egyptian governments about the peace process inside the Middle East is often described as positive. To what extent is this translated into actions from both sides?
Japan is supporting Egypt’s efforts to revive the peace process between Israel and Palestine, as the stability of the Middle East is vital to nations all over the world.