Business Sweden, a public-private export promotion organisation, will set up an office in Egypt at the end of 2018, said Swedish Ambassador to Egypt Jan Thesleff, clarifying that the aim of establishing the Egypt office is to encourage trade of goods and services, including Swedish exports and Egyptian imports, as well as investments.
Thesleff told Daily News Egypt that the presence of Business Sweden in Egypt is a sign of the great attention Sweden pays to the Egyptian market.
“We see that Egypt, with its diversified economy, large domestic market, a tradition of education, strategic geographical location, and now with a reform agenda focused on private sector growth, provides highly interesting opportunities for Swedish and international enterprises,” noted the ambassador.
“From my perspective, Egypt is well suited to be the next major regional manufacturing hub. Trade figures will certainly have significantly improved when looking back at 2018,” added Thesleff.
Thesleff sat down with DNE for an interview to explore the business relationship between his country and Egypt, the transcript for which is below, lightly edited for clarity.
What are the latest trade figures between Sweden and Egypt?
The latest trade figures show that trade between our two countries is strong. Notwithstanding the economic stagnation immediately after the devaluation, the figures were good for 2017, and Egypt is now our second market in both Africa and the Middle East.
The main commodities Sweden exports to Egypt are raw materials. Timber in the form of sawn softwood, as well as iron ore, represent over 50% of our exports. Egypt is Sweden’s second biggest market worldwide in terms of wood export. This sector is a perfect example of the symbiosis between quality Swedish raw materials, and Egyptian industrial production.
The materials are being used in the Egyptian market in, for example, the construction industry, furniture industry, and steel industry. These quality materials are being finished for use by domestic consumers, or exported as refined goods, which generates export income for Egypt.
Electrical generation, transmission, and automation are other key areas with global companies, such as ABB at the forefront. ICT, telecommunications, and the Internet of Things are others, with Ericsson, in close liaison with Egyptian partners, bringing about smart solutions and smart societies for smart people. In both areas, Egypt is set to become a regional leader.
In addition, large portions of our exports are made up of transport equipment, such as trucks, cars, construction equipment (examples: Volvo and Scania), telecommunications equipment (example: Ericsson), and paper and carton (example: Tetra Pak and SCA).
I also see great opportunities in other areas of strength for Swedish technology and business. Sustainable green tech solutions, solid waste handling, and water technology are such examples. Life science is another important area, as is education and R&D. These will be focus areas for us.
The main commodities being imported from Egypt are agricultural goods and textiles. It is encouraging to see that Egyptian exports to Sweden sharply increased by 10% in 2017.
What are the plans for upcoming official visits between both countries and trade missions?
We have had an intensive last six months since I returned to Egypt after being away for 20 years, with regards to visits to Egypt from Sweden. In February, Minister of Trade and EU Affairs Ann Linde and a major trade delegation visited Egypt and met with several ministers, including the prime minister. In November, we had our State Secretary for Policy Coordination and Energy Emil Högberg visiting Egypt.
The CEO of the ABB Group Dr Ulrich Spiesshofer was moreover received by the President of Egypt Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi on 24 April, underscoring the importance of our energy cooperation. The ambition of Egypt to become an energy hub is fast becoming a reality.
It is worth noting that Thesleff told Daily News Egypt in April that Central Bank of Egypt Governor Tarek Amer will head to Sweden in May accompanied by a delegation of Egyptian e-payments companies.
What is your view of the Egyptian reforms and business climate?
The economic reform programme has so far been a success, if we look at the current macroeconomic figures, with a current growth rate of around 5%, and higher projections going forward. We are supporting the IMF programme, and we take note of the praise that Egypt has received from the IMF and the World Bank for the implementation of the reforms.
Egypt is a very important trading partner for Sweden; our economic ties stretches far back. Many of the Swedish enterprises present in Egypt have been here for as long as 100 years and have established state of the art factories and employ thousands of Egyptians. Electrolux and ABB are examples of such companies. In later years, Swedish presence in the retail sector has also increased. Household names such as IKEA, Oriflame, H&M, and Max Burgers are now well positioned in the Egyptian market and hiring Egyptian talent. Stable and investment-friendly policies, as laid out in the new Investment Law, will further improve investment predictability and make Egypt a business destination of choice.
Women’s participation in the economy, creation of innovation hubs, stimulating entrepreneurship, rural development, but also increased value—added through design and marketing tools—are important future ingredients. I am encouraged by what I see and we stand ready to support young Egyptians in their endeavours.
Have there been meetings with Swedish investors who are interested in investing in the Egyptian market?
In fact, we see an increased interest from Swedish companies looking at the Egyptian market. The Egyptian-Swedish Business Association is thriving and meeting on a monthly basis. The association is a very important vehicle when it comes to finding synergies and promoting Swedish business in Egypt.
Sweden is a strong proponent of global free trade; around 50% of our GDP comes from trade. We see trade as an important enabler for development for spreading Swedish values, including when it comes to responsible enterprise, decent work, and human rights in general.
What are the main attractive economic sectors for Swedish companies?
Sweden has a broad diversified palette of areas of interest. From the embassy’s side, we have focused on two sides when it comes to economic promotional activities in Egypt based on our appreciation of the market. Firstly, almost all major Swedish companies are present in Egypt and we support them in developing their business domestically and regionally. Secondly, we actively support sectors and new businesses that are currently trending in Sweden and globally, such as tech and services.
The Egyptian entrepreneurship ecosystem has great potential to grow. Sweden, being a global leader in innovation, startups and tech, wants to be a part of your innovative and entrepreneurial journey. We encourage Swedish investments in Egyptian startups and we arrange delegation visits as well as participate in the RiseUp Summit held in Cairo each year. The results are already tangible, and more is to come.
Thesleff said in April that bilateral trade exchange was at €850m and there are about 70 Swedish companies investing in Egypt.
What about the cooperation with Egypt in cultural aspects? What are the programmes that the embassy implements?
The embassy works on a number of cultural projects. We have been active partners with the Panorama Festival of European Film, which is held in Cairo, Alexandria, and other locations in Egypt every year. Last year, we partnered with Panorama to screen the Swedish film that won the Golden Palm Award at the Cannes Festival. This year, we are very excited to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Sweden’s most famous director—Ingmar Bergman. We are working with El Gouna Film Festival to have a retrospective on his films, including an exhibition. We will also be working with Panorama to bring the films to audiences in Cairo.
The Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida) supports cultural programmes through funding of the Downtown Contemporary Arts Festival, D-CAF. D-CAF has programmes mainly targeting young artists, helping to strengthen their technical and artistic capabilities (directing, cinematography, etc). Tamasi is a collective established in 2008 to promote excellence in the performing arts at the local, regional, and international levels. It consists of 11 performing arts organisations from Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, and Palestine accomplished in the field of performing arts. We promote and support their activities
Could you tell me more about supporting Egyptian women, and the efforts exerted in that regard?
Equality between women and men is a key goal for Sweden, nationally, and it is also an integrated part of our foreign policy. Sweden adopted the world’s first feminist foreign policy in 2014, putting gender equality and women’s participation at the centre of all our work, both foreign and domestic. Only a few weeks ago, Sweden hosted the Stockholm Forum on Gender Equality—a global meeting, with participation also from Egypt.
Sida is proud to support Egyptian ministries and authorities, UN agencies, and civil society actors in setting up and implementing an integrated programme on social, economic, and legal empowerment of Egyptian women. The objective is to strengthen the role of women, as well as to increase their participation in politics, business, and society.
Through the programme, some 42,000 women had national ID cards issued in 2016, and 490,000 cases were processed in 2016 through the legal aid offices in Assiut, Al-Arish, and Minya (access to justice). One of the components of the programme includes the “Taa Marbouta” campaign, which was launched in October 2016, and has since developed into the biggest campaign in Egypt for women’s empowerment. By allowing equal access and possibilities in the economy for both women and men, the full economic potential of society is utilised. A society where half of the population is barred from economic activity will not be as productive as it could be.
With Swedish support, the regional campaign “Because I am a man” was launched, starting with Egypt in 2017. The main objectives of the campaign are raising awareness on the positive role of men in achieving gender equality and in promoting women empowerment, changing the negative stereotypes related to gender roles, fatherhood, violence against women, and employment. This campaign is part of a four-year regional UN Women programme, funded by Sweden.
In Egypt, the campaign has been endorsed by public figures including Mohamed Salah; Zap Tharwat (a rapper), Mohamed Hefzy (a producer and scriptwriter), Osama Kamal (a TV anchor/media figure), Careem (a ride-hailing app), and Aly Mazhar (an athlete and founder of BeFit Egypt).
This summer we will also be organising an exhibition that highlights the important role of fathers in the family. We hope to be able to celebrate active fathers through this exhibition which will include photos of Swedish and Egyptian dads.
What about tourism statistics and other areas of exchange?
I would especially like to mention the boom of Swedish travellers that Egypt has recently experienced. After a downturn in 2011 and the years that followed, we see greatly improved figures for 2017/2018. We are not yet back at the record figures of 2010, when 210,000 Swedes travelled to Egypt, but the trend is distinct and positive.