The establishment of the Belarusian-Egyptian Joint Business Council is being finalised, said Sergei Rachkov, ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Belarus to Egypt, adding that the Joint Intergovernmental Commission for Trade has been established and operates successfully.
“Joint commission’s latest meeting was held in May 2017 in Minsk. Issues of bilateral cooperation in the field of economy, trade, investments, industry, agriculture, transport, small and medium enterprises, science, education, sports and tourism, interaction between the chambers of commerce of the two countries were discussed. We hope to hold the next, fifth meeting of the Joint Commission in Cairo until the end of 2018,” noted the ambassador.
Daily News Egypt interviewed ambassador of Rachkov, the transcript of the interview is below, lightly edited for clarity:
Initially, let us begin with a general question which is how do you assess the investment climate in Egypt? What problems still face doing business in Egypt?
We notice the activity of the Egyptian Government, including the Ministry of Trade and Industry, the Ministry of Investments and International Cooperation aimed at the creation of more favourable investment climate in the country. The New Investment Law of Egypt, which was adopted in June 2017, provided additional guarantees for foreign investors and opened new opportunities of working in the Egyptian market.
The Comprehensive Investment Map, as well as the Industrial Investment Map developed by the Egyptian authorities provide an opportunity to be familiar with investment projects of all the regions of the country. In my opinion, in particular there is a considerable investment potential in the fields of industrial development, agriculture, water resources, mining, construction, tourism in the governorates of Central and Upper Egypt, such as El Wadi El Gedid, Qena, Beni Suef and others. Belarus is ready to assist in the implementation of such investment projects by transferring technologies, training specialists, developing project design and documentation, supplying the necessary high-tech equipment.
I believe that in order to intensify business activity it is necessary to carry out further work to remove the barriers that are still present in the bilateral trade. In this regard the Belarusian side supports efforts aimed at the preparation of a Free Trade Agreement between Egypt and the Eurasian Economic Union, given that Belarus is a member of this union.
What are your expectations for the trade exchange between both countries by the end of 2018? What about latest statistics for the first months of the current year? Main commodities? Exports and imports?
Expansion of bilateral trade and economic cooperation is one of the main priorities of the embassy’s work. The growth of volume of bilateral trade is by all means facilitated by mutual visits at the highest and high level.
In particular, in 2017 following the visit of the president of Belarus to Egypt, bilateral trade increased by 68.5% compared to 2016 and amounted to $97.5m. In the period from January to July 2018 bilateral trade turnover reached $73m, which is 49.3% more than within the same period of last year. We hope that by the end of 2018 the volume of our bilateral trade will exceed $100m.
Belarus exports to Egypt tractors, trucks, tires, metal products, optical goods, pumps, X-ray equipment, petrochemical and woodworking products.
The main imports from Egypt are citrus fruit, fresh, frozen and canned vegetables and fruits, medicines, plants used in perfumery and pharmaceuticals, tea and coffee, clothes, and textiles.
We note the appearance of such industrial products as household electric heaters, electric stoves, lighting equipment, plastic products, paints and varnishes, furniture in the structure of Egyptian exports to Belarus, which demonstrates the growth of Egypt’s industrial potential and diversification of its exports thanks to the efforts undertaken by the Egyptian Government in this direction.
What about the next joint commission meeting? What are the future business missions between both countries?
In 2017, the first half of 2018 more than 65 mutual visits were organised between Belarus and Egypt at the high and expert levels, including visits of business delegations.
In particular, over the past year and a half Ministers of Industry, Agriculture, and Food, Natural Resources and Environmental Protection, as well as delegations of the Ministry of Transport, the Ministry of Industry, the National Bank, the National Academy of Sciences of Belarus, the leadership and specialists of a number of Belarusian industrial enterprises visited Cairo.
At the same time the ministers of foreign affairs, trade and industry, transport, the minister of state for military production, delegations from the Ministry of Military Production and the Ministry of Environment, the Arab Organisation for Industrialisation, as well as representatives from Egyptian enterprises and business community visited Minsk.
Among the most significant business visits I would like to point out to the visit of the delegation of the Chamber of Woodworking and Furniture Industries of Egypt along with representatives of big Egyptian furniture producing companies to Minsk, as well as a reciprocal visit of the delegation of the Belarusian state concern of timber, woodworking and pulp and paper industry «Bellesbumprom» to Egypt in 2017. These visits allowed both sides to familiarise with the potential of woodworking and furniture sectors of both countries, as well as to discuss opportunities of participation of the Belarusian side in Damietta Furniture City project. Currently a possibility of arranging training courses for Egyptian specialists in the field of furniture design by the Belarusian side is considered.
In September 2018 Belarusian enterprises took an active part in the 31st International Agricultural Exhibition Sahara 2018, in cooperation with the Egyptian Company for Agricultural and Rural Development. Within the framework of the exhibition various models of tractors produced by
JSC (Minsk Tractor Works), balers and other trailed equipment of JSC (Bobruiskagromash) were demonstrated.
For the first time a harvester of JSC (Gomselmash), loaders of JSC (Amkodor), small-size tractors of JSC (Bobruisk Plant of Tractor Parts and Units), hydraulic products of (Saleo Holding) were presented.
Business forums are held regularly under the auspices of the Belarusian Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the Federation of Egyptian Chambers of Commerce. The creation of the Belarusian-Egyptian Joint Business Council is at the final stage.
The Belarusian-Egyptian Joint Intergovernmental Commission for Trade has been established and operates successfully. Its latest meeting was held in May 2017 in Minsk. Issues of bilateral cooperation in the field of economy, trade, investments, industry, agriculture, transport, small and medium enterprises, science, education, sports and tourism, interaction between the chambers of commerce of the two countries were discussed. We hope to hold the next, fifth meeting of the Joint Commission in Cairo until the end of 2018.
I would like to highlight the active and constructive position of Egyptian government agencies, enterprises, organisations, private companies towards the development of Belarusian-Egyptian trade and economic cooperation and, in particular, the coordinating and guiding role of the Ministry of Trade and Industry and the Ministry of Military Production in this regard.
For tourism, what about the number of tourists who come to Egypt from Belarus annually?
Belarusian citizens like to spend their vacation in Egypt. Every year Egypt becomes one of the most popular places of recreation for the Belarusian people.
In order to increase the flow of Belarusian tourists to Egypt a memorandum of cooperation (MoC) was signed between Minsk region of Belarus and the governorate of South Sinai at the end of 2016, and consequently the executive programme to implement this MoC was inked between the two sides in early 2017. An exchange of delegations took place, negotiations were held with influential Egyptian businesspersons in the tourism sector.
As a result of this work the numbers of Belarusian tourists who visit Egypt have increased significantly. In 2017, according to official statistics, a record number of Belarusian citizens—123,000 people—visited Egypt. But I think that the real figure is even higher, as some Belarusian citizens choose to fly to Egyptian resorts using airlines of other countries, which get additional preferences from the Egyptian Side according to aviation incentive programme.
Let me note that the Belarusian national airline “Belavia” has been carrying out charter flights to popular Egyptian resorts for more than 20 years and has established itself as a reliable and trustworthy partner. Belarus did not impose any restrictions on charter flights to the resorts of the Red Sea in Hurghada and Sharm El Sheikh.
I believe that if the Belarusian airline Belavia is awarded by incentives of the Egyptian side, similar to those that are applied to the airlines of other countries, the number of Belarusian tourists who spend their vacation in Egypt will further increase.
What about the embassy’s programmes to boost bilateral cooperation in all aspects of investments, trade, culture, and tourism?
The embassy of Belarus applies a project approach to the development of trade, economic, and investment cooperation. According to the instructions of the presidents of the two countries, a roadmap for the development of cooperation in all fields has been prepared, which comprises specific steps aimed at the expansion of cooperation in various fields.
Namely, 19 joint projects are currently under consideration and implementation in the fields of industry, science, education. Thus, in February 2018, a joint production of MAZ vehicles was launched at Helwan Machinery and Equipment Company. Projects of joint production of diesel engines; agricultural equipment; loaders and road-building machinery; compressors for refrigerators; grain, rice, cotton, potato harvesters in Egypt are being considered in cooperation with the Ministry of Military Production of Egypt.
The embassy is constantly searching for new promising areas of bilateral cooperation. In particular, in July 2018 a delegation of JSC “Belkommunmash”, the leading Belarusian producer of city electric transport, such as electric buses, trolleybuses, trams, visited Egypt. During the visit consideration of supply and joint production of electric buses in Egypt was started.
In fiscal year 2017/2018 a joint engineering faculty for undergraduate students was opened and the Belarusian-Egyptian Centre for Consulting in the field of education, industry, and trade started its work. Four joint projects in the field of science and research were implemented.
A promising area of cooperation is information technology. Belarus occupies one of the leading places in our region in the field of software development. Such directions of cooperation as exchange of experience in the field of e-government, digital transformation, training of IT-personnel have good perspectives. In order to discuss these areas of cooperation, the Minister of Communications and Informatization of Belarus Sergei Popkov, along with the Rector of the Belarusian State Academy of Communications visited Cairo in April 2018. A reciprocal visit of the delegation of the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology of Egypt to Minsk took place in May 2018.
Considerable attention is paid by the embassy to the development of cultural cooperation, which plays an important role in strengthening of mutual understanding between the people of the two countries. “Evenings of the Belarusian documentary films” are held in Cairo on a regular basis. In July 2017 and July 2018 soloists of Cairo Opera House represented Egypt at one of the largest international festival of arts “Slavianski Bazaar” in Vitebsk, Belarus.
As for the development of tourism cooperation, the embassy is considering a possibility of organising a press-tour of a film crew of the Belarusian television to Sharm El-Sheikh, in order to make a presentation film about tourist potential of South Sinai.