Interview: Robert Walter
Where do you see room for expanding bilateral economic cooperation between Egypt and the UK?
ROBERT WALTER: Despite the instability of the past few years, Egypt remains a strong trading partner. Egypt is the UK’s third-largest export destination in Africa and the UK is the largest non-Arab investor in the country. Indeed, many British companies are doing business in Egypt, including BP, Shell and BG Group. There is plenty of scope to build on bilateral cooperation and I know that the UK government is keen to support British companies in seeking out fresh investment opportunities.
As the Middle East’s third-largest economy and one of the most diversified in the region, Egypt has no shortage of economic potential thanks to its large young population – nearly 70% of the population of 90m are under 30. I am pleased that the UK government is providing a range of technical support to help tackle the many fiscal challenges that lie ahead. The government has supported the drafting of a new microfinance law and assisted the Ministry of Finance with schemes to improve social safety nets. It is also working with the Ministries of Finance and Investment to provide assistance on public financial management, create public-private partnerships and simplify business regulations.
To what extent can Britain contribute to improving education and technical training in Egypt?
WALTER: The official unemployment rate in Egypt stands at 13%, with the rate for youth far higher. To remedy this, Egypt’s government has made education a major priority, unveiling a series of plans to improve the quality of and access to higher education and vocational training. This is a very welcome development, and the UK is in a strong position to offer support.
Organisations like the British Council, active in Egypt since the 1930s, offer unique educational opportunities. The council’s English-language course in particular is seen as a tool of positive change and progress. Since 2013 alone 17,000 Egyptians studied English and 53,000 gained internationally recognised qualifications. In September 2014 the UK’s Department for Business, Innovation and Skills launched a new $33.13m science and research partnership to help young Egyptian scientists and researchers come to the UK for further education, making Egypt one of the largest recipients of UK scholarship funding in the world. The UK is also engaging with the IMF to help strengthen their relationship with the Egyptian authorities and directly supporting the World Bank’s programme in Egypt, while investments by British companies like BP and BG Group will continue to create jobs in the country.
How can UK investment in Egypt be encouraged?
WALTER: I think there is enormous potential to increase British investment into Egypt. British companies are already active in the energy, pharmaceutical, tourism and retail sectors and I see the potential for further expansion. There are also opportunities in renewable energy, environmental services and education. British companies tell me they see huge opportunities in the market and a number of structural economic reforms would give them greater confidence to pursue these, making specific mention of Egypt’s budget deficit.
What investment challenges need to be addressed?
WALTER: Egypt’s budget deficit, bureaucratic and regulatory restrictions, and slow Customs procedures are all barriers to investment. Repaying debts owed to British investors would greatly help, and I welcome the president’s public commitment on the matter. In the longer-term, political and social stability are essential.
Where is there potential for greater UK-Egypt trade?
WALTER: We can do more to unlock the potential of the economy and the growing number of consumers. Tapping into sectors where the UK has expertise is key, such as health care, higher education and financial services. Likewise, building mutually beneficial relationships between UK companies and relevant private and public sector counterparts would be beneficial.
You have reached the limit of premium articles you can view for free.
Choose from the options below to purchase print or digital editions of our Reports. You can also purchase a website subscription giving you unlimited access to all of our Reports online for 12 months.
If you have already purchased this Report or have a website subscription, please login to continue.