The Egyptian market has shown a lot of resilience, particularly in prices, during the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, according to Heike Harmgart, Managing Director for the Southern and Eastern Mediterranean Region, European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD).
Harmgart’s remarks came ahead of The BIG 5 Construct Egypt conference, which is set to take place at the Cairo International Convention Centre (CICC) on 26-29 June.
Speaking to Daily News Egypt, she said that Egypt is one of only very few countries and the only country in the Middle East where the bank works that had positive growth in 2020.
Harmgart also noted that the country is projected to grow this year, and whilst affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, prices have shown much resilience. Some of this has come from the construction sector, particularly due to the new cities being constructed around Egypt. These feature a lot of construction activities, which form part of the backbone of growth in the country.
Regarding its role in reconstruction in some countries, the EBRD has provided support for the private sector, along with investment in the public sector. The key strategic focus for the bank is its desire to support the green economy that will help in terms of energy consumption.
This will also see the EBRD take part in renewable energy generation projects, such as the Benban Solar Park in Aswan among other projects. This ensures that green projects are one of the main priorities for the bank, with priority also given to inclusion.
“We want to ensure that our investments benefit as many people as possible, as we want to make sure that women have a good opportunity to benefit and support female entrepreneurs, as well as people outside Cairo and young people,” Harmgart noted, “The third priority [for the EBRD] is digitalisation, as we support countries like Egypt to become more digital.”
Harmgart noted, “We support many countries in the Middle East, such as Egypt, Jordan, Gaza, the West Bank, and Lebanon, and we are looking to expand to Algeria, Libya, and potentially Iraq.”
She added that Egypt remains one of the most important countries for the bank, and is usually foremost among the EBRD’s global investments in 38 countries.
Regarding the bank’s funds to the region, Harmgart pointed out that in 2020, the EBRD has invested €2.2bn in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region. The majority of the financing went towards the private sector, and over €1bn was allocated to Egypt.
“However, we think that this year will be better than last year, and we are optimistic that we can invest more than €1bn in Egypt in 2021,” Harmgart said, “Our core business is to match foreign and domestic businesses and how companies expand internationally.”
She added, “Amid the pandemic, Egypt showed resilience in dealing with the crisis and also tried to leave the economy open and minimise the restrictions of the pandemic.”
The country has also had to invest in health infrastructure, and that is very important amid the pandemic period, Harmgart said.
She added that Egypt has undertaken many reforms in the past, which were very important, including macroeconomic reforms in partnership with the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
Nevertheless, there are always things to be done to make it easy for foreign investors to enter into the local market, such as making the procedures faster and easier.
Harmgart said that the next phase of Egyptian reforms should focus mainly on digitalisation, because it is easy to apply for licences and tenders, as well as get the information digitally, if the process is online.
She also said that, from a construction perspective, new cities are very important as they will ease pressure on traffic systems, and create easier access to services and digital services. They are also likely to be hubs of innovation.