Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky is keen to strengthen the relationship of true partnership and friendship with his Egyptian counterpart Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi. This is why intensifying cooperation with Egypt in all fields of mutual interest is among the top priorities for Ukraine’s foreign policy in the Middle East and Africa (MEA) region, according to Dmytro Senik, Deputy Foreign Minister for economics and digital transformation.
Senik’s remarks came in his interview with Daily News Egypt during his official visit to Egypt on 5-6 April. The interview touched on the reasons and results of the visit, in addition to all the aspects of cooperation between the two countries.
Firstly, welcome to Egypt! Let’s talk about the purpose of this visit?
Thank you! I had a very warm welcome in Cairo. By the way, it is not my first visit to Egypt. Many years ago, my wife and I visited Sharm El-Sheikh and Cairo for our honeymoon, and we still recall very warmly the time we spent in Egypt.
Taking into account the current developments regarding the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and all the respective restrictions, the readiness of Egypt’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs to receive me to hold political consultations in Cairo is a clear sign of mutual interest to advance our cooperation.
President [Volodymyr] Zelensky is keen to strengthen the relationship of true partnership and friendship with President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi.
This is why intensification of cooperation with Egypt in all fields of mutual interest is among the top priorities for Ukraine’s foreign policy in the Middle East and Africa.
We had a fruitful session with Egypt’s Deputy Foreign Minister for European Affairs Ambassador Badr Abdel Aaty, and I am glad to note that we are on the same page on every point of our bilateral agenda.
In your opinion, what distinguishes Egypt in its relation with Ukraine?
The political dialogue between Ukraine and Egypt has significantly advanced over the last two years, and we consider Egypt as our reliable and important partner in the Arab world and Africa.
The historic meeting on the sidelines of the 74th session of the UN General Assembly between Presidents Zelensky and Al-Sisi in 2019, as well as their telephone conversation in July 2020, paved the way for further strengthening of relations between Ukraine and Egypt.
One important detail which clearly demonstrates the growing interest to shift our relations to the next gear is that the two leaders agreed to exchange visits in the near future.
Ukrainian investments in the Egyptian economy include the fields of industry, extraction of natural resources, technologies, and infrastructure and tourism development.
Recent examples include fulfilling the latest contract between the Ukrainian manufacturer, Tatra-Yug, and the city of Alexandria. As of December 2020, all 15 tramcars by Tatra-Yug have been delivered to Egypt’s second largest city.
One of our biggest state enterprises, Naftogaz, recently decided to bring new investments, and start developing more concession areas in Egypt. Ukraine is one of the main steel suppliers for Egypt’s construction projects.
I cannot help but also mention that for many Ukrainians, Egypt is the number one travel destination, making famous Egyptian resorts as a second home. Here, I would like to invite Egyptians to visit Ukraine.
Rest assured, we will reciprocate the hospitality and warm welcome that Ukrainians receive in Egypt. For more information about what Ukraine can offer as a tourist destination please visit our website “Ukraine.UA”
What are Ukraine’s priority files in terms of its diplomatic relations with Egypt? What are the cooperation files that need to be enhanced?
We have strong cooperation in every field, whether it is trade and economy or tourism and education. Ukraine encourages more contacts on the expert level and we do our best to provide a better climate for people-to-people contacts, including trade and investment cooperation.
Such a climate does not come without good political will from both sides. That is why we do our best with our Egyptian partners to create the best cooperation environment for the benefit of our friendly peoples.
In this context, high level visits are highly anticipated. They will also serve to take stock of our current agenda, in particular those related to the promising projects in space, high-tech, IT, and heavy and light industry.
Ukraine also gives priority to the localization of joint ventures in Egypt’s free zones. For example, we are looking for reliable partners who are ready to participate in local manufacturing of modern machinery, like tramcars, and agricultural equipment.
Trade exchange and investments
How do you assess the Egypt-Ukraine trade exchange during the first quarter of 2021? What are the targets by the end of the year, and how can the two countries achieve a balance in trade exchange?
Egypt is Ukraine’s key economic partner on the African continent. In 2020, the total volume of trade in goods and services between Ukraine and Egypt reached $1.8bn, and the first quarter (Q1) of 2021 gives a promising figure of $320m.
However, I believe we have immense opportunities to boost trade cooperation, given Egypt’s strategic location and connections with African countries. We see immense opportunities for collaboration and joint projects in African countries, such as food security, infrastructure projects.
How much wheat did Ukraine export to Egypt in the last quarter?
Egypt is among the top five countries importing Ukrainian agricultural products. Last year, we exported more than 3 million tonnes of wheat and about 3 million tonnes of yellow corn to Egypt.
I would like to underline that Ukraine is a reliable partner to Egypt in providing its food security. This includes grains, oils, poultry, eggs, meat products, confectionery, and milk powder, among other products.
Could you elaborate on the volume of Ukrainian foreign direct investment (FDI) in Egypt, and which sectors those investments are focused in?
The Ukrainian company Naftogaz has invested more than $500m in its projects in Egypt, and there plans to expand cooperation.
Ukrainian corporation, Vazhmashimpex, is participating in a number of international projects implemented in Egypt, such as the project to reconstruct the coke oven battery No 3, iron ore enrichment, and others.
Given that Egypt is strengthening its role as a trade hub for Africa, we see enormous opportunities to work together with our Egyptian partners in accessing the African markets.
What are the main challenges that still prevent Ukrainian companies and private sector entities from investing in Egypt? What are your recommendations for Egypt to attract more Ukrainian companies?
Ukraine attaches great importance to increasing exports of Ukrainian goods with added value, energy equipment, high-tech products of aviation, and space industries.
The Exporters and Investors Council under Ukraine’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs is a platform where the Ministry accumulates information on investment and trade opportunities. This is in addition to business matchmaking possibilities from around the world. It is a good tool to help Ukrainian companies explore new markets.
How could Egypt benefit from Ukrainian expertise in railways?
In my opinion, Egypt will benefit from the experience, equipment, and expertise that Ukrainian companies have in successfully implementing infrastructure projects, but this is not limited to railways by the way. We consider options to supply trams, platforms, and spare parts, as well as provide modernisation and renovation of the current fleet of locomotives and trains.
What is the Ukrainian Government’s strategy on digitalisation?
The Ukrainian government keeps implementing our digitalisation strategy. Our ambitious goal is to have a 100% paperless government, offering our citizens government services online.
Just one example of this came last week, when Ukraine became the first country in the world to officially introduce digital passports as a legal document that many of our citizens already carry on their smartphones.
The Parliament’s adoption of the law on digital passports made digital biometric passports and ID cards available on the Ukrainian mobile app “DIIA”, which is legally equivalent to ordinary passports.
At the Foreign Ministry, our goal is to provide consular services to Ukrainian and foreign nationals online. Another project is development of a special app that Ukrainians will use when they are abroad which will ensure fast communication between a citizen and our consular officers in case of emergency.
Heavy military industries put Ukraine at the forefront of military industrialisation. How could Egypt benefit from the Ukrainian expertise in this field?
Both countries have vast opportunities for cooperation in the fields of aerospace industry, energy sector, agriculture, logistics, and port infrastructure. In addition to agricultural and metallurgical products, Ukraine is interested to boost its exports of value added products, including machinery.
Ukraine’s great industrial, agricultural, and technological potential can be used for the development of Egypt’s large-scale projects in various spheres.
Is Ukraine planning to participate in Egypt Defence Expo 2021? If yes, what are the weapons that you will present?
Yes, we will attend. We will present advanced equipment and cutting-edge defence technology.
Ukraine is one of the most important countries exporting tourists to Egypt. How many tourists visited Egypt during the first three months of 2021?
In 2020, 727,000 Ukrainian tourists visited Egypt, topping the list of the overall number of foreign tourists (about 22%). The year 2021 demonstrates even better dynamics. With proper efforts to fight the COVID-19 pandemic worldwide, we will have an impressive figure. People want to finally take a break, and Egypt is the best destination
Culture is pivotal in strengthening ties between the two counties. What is your plan to enhance the cultural exchange between the two countries?
Educational and tourist exchanges have formed the basis of cultural and humanitarian cooperation with Egypt for more than three decades. Ukraine currently has about 3,500 Egyptian students enrolled at its educational institutions.
In recent years, Ukraine has provided between 10% and 22% of all foreign tourists visiting Egypt. Annually, groups of Ukrainian Arabic language students and professors come to improve their knowledge and skills at Cairo University. There is space and high potential for expansion and diversification.
In the cultural sphere, the Egyptian side is interested in developing cooperation in book publishing, television and radio, classical and modern music, opera and ballet, and projects for children and youth.
Ukraine has become a world hub for international film and video production. Also, popular Ukrainian TV shows love to film some of their scenes in Egypt.
There are many examples of positive experience of Ukrainian-Egyptian cooperation. Before the pandemic Luxor hosted an international production of Verdi’s opera Aida, conducted by globally acclaimed star Oksana Lyniv, with the participation of 150 musicians from Ukraine.