New opportunities, fixing problems, investing in reform

Which country ranks as number one investor in Egypt?

Perhaps China, after President Xi Jinping recently unveiled multi-billion dollar investments in Egypt? Perhaps Russia, with their involvement in the new Dabaa nuclear plant? Or Saudi Arabia or the UAE with their wide portfolio of interests here in Egypt?

Good answers. But wrong: it’s the UK.

Surprised? Check the Central Bank of Egypt’s latest figures. British companies accounted for $5.4bn of foreign direct investment inflows in fiscal year 2014-15. That’s over 40% of the total. Or how about this? The UK invested more in Egypt last year than the US, France, Germany, China, and all the Arab countries put together. Over the past five years, British investments have totalled over $25bn. And the start of this year shows we’re on track for the same story.

As Prime Minister David Cameron’s newly appointed trade envoy to Egypt, I am proud of these numbers because they are evidence of the UK’s commitment to Egypt.

British companies are committed to Egypt because they see this country as a land of real opportunity. BP and BG continue to invest billions in Egypt’s energy sector. BP’s $12bn investment in the West Nile Delta project last year was Egypt’s largest ever investment deal. The project is forecast to supply up to 25% of Egypt’s current gas production.

Actis, a private equity firm, recently signed a Memorandum of Understanding worth $350m to build a 250MW wind power station in the Gulf of Suez area. Vodafone employs 9,000 Egyptians across the country. British banks HSBC and Barclays employ 5,000 more.

So much for the present, what about the future? The Prime Minister appointed me as trade envoy to Egypt because we have an ambitious vision to take our partnership to the next level. That partnership is about looking for new opportunities, working together to fix problems, and supporting Egypt to take bold reforms.

When it comes to new opportunities, I will be focusing during my visit to Egypt this week on three sectors where the UK has unparalleled expertise.

They are: the energy sector supply chain, infrastructure, and education. British energy companies have developed decades of experience working in the North Sea. British consultants and construction firms mastermind large-scale, innovative infrastructure projects across the world. British teaching and training institutions earn the UK its reputation as the education nation.

Combining this British expertise with Egypt’s great wealth of human talent, new partnerships in these three sectors have great potential to transform the Egyptian economy and many Egyptians’ lives.

When it comes to fixing problems, we all know that the tragic crash of Metrojet 9268 last October harmed Egypt’s tourist industry. Many countries, including the UK, suspended flights to Sharm el-Sheikh; others even suspended flights across Egypt.

For the UK, the safety of British nationals will always come first. But this was not a decision our government took lightly. We know the importance of the Egyptian tourist industry and we know that British tourists love Sharm el-Sheikh.

So since the crash, British and Egyptian security officials have been working tirelessly to improve security at Sharm el-Sheikh airport and find a solution so British tourists can return. It is our partnership that makes this possible and we are all continuing to work hard so flights can restart as soon as possible.

And when it comes to reform, the UK stands ready to support Egypt with our ideas, advice, and expertise. I will be saying this to ministers, parliamentarians, and business leaders during my visit to Egypt this week. I will be encouraging them to take the bold steps required to show that Egypt is a modern, competitive economy, open and hungry for business.

What are these steps? Giving the businesses and investors confidence about the exchange rate and foreign currency availability, loosening import controls, simplifying regulation, slashing bureaucracy, reforming the education system. No one is suggesting that these are easy tasks, but these are the reforms that could unleash Egypt’s potential.

Fundamentally, we all have an interest in helping Egypt succeed and helping its economy grow. Five years on from the 25 January revolution, the world’s attention is still focused on this country – as it so often has been throughout its 5000-year history. We all want Egypt to show that it is possible, in this tumultuous region, to build effective and accountable institutions, to protect individual rights, and to counter the poison of extremist thinking.

But that will not happen unless the country is founded upon a strong, dynamic economy that creates jobs and real opportunities for the Egyptian people. So it would be a mistake to think that business, investment, and reforms are a just sideshow for bankers, businessmen, and economists; they are fundamental to the future of this country and its people.

And if we all have an interest, likewise we all have a role to play. Egyptian entrepreneurs and businessmen who will innovate, create, and thrive. Egypt’s finest minds, its experts and policymakers, who will take the tough decisions. And Egypt’s friends – the UK first amongst them – who will support this country by finding new opportunities for partnership, fixing the problems, and encouraging reform.

Jeffrey Donaldson MP is the UK’s trade envoy to Egypt. He was appointed by Prime Minister David Cameron during the visit of President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi to London in November 2015. He is visiting Egypt 7th-11th February to explore new business opportunities and encourage reform.