Interview with Hisham Fahmy, CEO of American Chamber of Commerce in Egypt (AmCham)
Let’s start with the general overview of the business environment. We have witnessed many changes since June 2014. Things are starting to move now. The Suez Canal development is dominating the headlines. What is your personal assessment of the atmosphere in Egypt right now?
The general atmosphere now is that of hope and optimism. The current government has sent out many messages of reassurance to investors. A series of significant reforms and national projects have been launched. The Suez Canal expansion and area development project launched by the government intends to transform the Suez Canal area into an economic international hub that is set to attract huge investments in many sectors.
These recent developments have restored the Egyptian’s sense of pride and hope for the future.
Let’s talk about Egypt’s competitiveness with respect to the industry and what it has to offer. What are Egypt’s key strong points?
I believe Egypt has several fundamentals in place that give it a competitive edge. First is its geography; and we call it the ‘genius of the location’; it is in Africa and in the Middle East; enjoying proximity to Asia and Europe, it’s on the Red Sea, the Mediterranean; has the Nile and the Suez Canal. Then you look at the trade agreements that Egypt has; the General Arab Free Trade Agreement (GAFTA), the EU partnership agreement and the COMESA with Eastern and Southern Africa trade agreements. Egypt is ideally suited to become a regional export hub for US and multinational companies.
Personally, I think the investment opportunity that is going to take the limelight is energy.
What is the role of the American Chamber of Commerce in Egypt (AmCham)? What is your mission here?
Our mission is to promote trade and investment between Egypt and the United States. That cascades into promoting a business friendly environment. Much of our advocacy work focuses on ensuring Egypt has the right set of laws and regulations that encourage investment. Our work for the past has focused on promoting policies for a market economy and ensuring a better business environment for all investors, including Egyptian, American and multinationals. Of course we concentrate on US investments and trade more than anything else.
What would you personally identify as the most lucrative investment opportunity right now?
There are so many investment opportunities in many sectors in Egypt - Agro industry, ICT, real estate, energy and many others. Personally, I think the one that is going to take the limelight is energy. Energy is very important and Egypt needs a lot of energy and there is a lot of appetite for investment in renewable energy, solar and wind. The Egyptian government has just approved a feed-in tariff setting guaranteed rates at which alternative energy producers can sell the electricity they generate to the grid. This move is seen as an incentive for solar and wind producers and that will attract a lot of investments. That is in addition to traditional sources of energy including nuclear and fossil fuel.
Egypt’s flagship project of expanding the Suez Canal and the Area Development Project launched by the government intends to transform the Suez Canal area into an international economic hub that will contribute to long-term development of the country; through increasing exports, providing international maritime services, logistics, industrial, and urban development, as well as diversifying and expanding existing activities in the region. This mega project is set to attract huge investments in many sectors.
Could you talk more about the Egypt4Business Campaign? What does “the Egypt brand” mean?
Egypt4Business Campaign is an AmCham initiative we launched in the United States to show the other side of what’s being said in the US media. It’s basically about telling the story about successful US, Egyptian and multinational businesses operating in Egypt. There have been so many success stories that are not being told. Egypt4Business Campaign is the vehicle we are using to tell the story about successful businesses in Egypt, be it US companies, Egyptian or others. Our messengers are investors on the ground who share their testimonials on videos and with the media. We are looking into the US media and we are promoting in all possible venues. I encourage you to access the Egypt4Business coverage on: http://www.amcham.org.eg/invest/egyptbusinesstopics.asp
Moving on to the challenges and obstacles, we have the past political turmoil on one side, but when it comes to doing business, what would be the key challenges?
As I said before, there is so much potential for Egypt. Stability and security are important and we have come a very long way since last year. I think that this concern will be soon behind us, then tourists will be back. We do need the income back from tourism. We have some other challenges in foreign exchange and the supply of energy as I said before. But I see that day by day these things are being solved.
Is there anything else you would like to add? Anything specific you want to say to promote the American Chamber of Commerce in general or to attract investors? The market, the resources or the size of the market?
AmCham is one of the largest and most active overseas affiliates of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, connecting more than 1800 senior executives representing 950 companies; Egyptian companies with business interests in the United States and American and multinational companies doing business in Egypt. AmCham serves its members by advocating on their behalf for a favorable business environment, promoting trade and investment, and fostering a socially responsible business environment. AmCham produces a wide variety of research publications and offers numerous business services and training programs to its members as well as to the business community at large. AmCham is a founding member and the permanent secretariat of the AmCham MENA Regional Council.
I am happy to announce that executives from nearly 50 major U.S. companies will head to Egypt during the period from November 9-11. The delegation of corporate executives organized by the US Chamber’s US Egypt Business Council will be hosted in Egypt by AmCham Egypt and the Egypt US Business Council (EUSBC). They will be exploring the many business opportunities available. This will be a big step forward in shedding the light on the advantages of doing business in Egypt.
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