AmCham Egypt Annual Doorknock Mission
April 30-May 5, 2017
Coming at a pivotal time in the history of the bilateral relationship between Egypt and the United States and just a few weeks following President El Sisi’s visit to Washington DC and the subsequent visit of Secretary of Defense James Mattis to Cairo, this year’s Doorknock Mission built on the positive momentum initiated by these visits among key stakeholders in Washington DC. The mission took place during the week of April 30th-May 5th and included 35 AmCham Members.
The AmCham delegation reaffirmed the private sector’s commitment to Egypt, its endorsement of the recently adopted economic reform measures and called for stronger Egypt-U.S. bilateral relations.
Over the course of five days, delegates took part in 95 meetings with members of the U.S. Congress, Administration officials, think-tanks, media and leaders from the U.S. business community. These included; 55 meetings with Members of Congress (House and Senate), 12 meetings with the Executive Branch, including meetings with senior officials at the Department of State, Department of Commerce, Department of the Treasury, Department of Energy, Department of Agriculture, National Security Council (NSC), U.S. Small Business Administration, Office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR), Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Export-Import Bank of the U.S. (Ex-Im Bank).
The delegation also met with senior representatives at many of Washington’s prominent Think Tanks and Multinational Financial Institutions, including; the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), International Finance Corporation (IFC), Woodrow Wilson Center, Albright-Stone Bridge Group, Middle East Institute, Washington Institute for Near East Policy, Atlantic Council, US Institute of Peace, RAND Corporation, Congressional Research Service (CRS), Council on Foreign Relations, The Cato Institute, Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington, and the Middle East Studies Association of North America.
This year’s delegation included representatives from several major multinational corporations, Doorknock veterans, and a number of young businessmen and women. The diversity within the delegation made our arguments in support of Egypt’s progress even more powerful. The eagerness of the younger voices among the delegation and their willingness to engage in open discussion with different stakeholders in Washington was remarkable.
It is also noteworthy that AmCham Egypt continues to be perceived as an independent and increasingly credible voice among policymakers in Washington.
To that end, this year’s mission carried forward a number of messages; these can be outlined as follows:
- Egypt has successfully implemented a series of bold reform measures during the past few months aimed at reducing budget deficit and re-booting its economy. Most prominently was the floatation of the Egyptian Pound and the implementation of the Value Added Tax among other IMF recommended measures.
- Egypt’s private sector has experienced a consistent level of growth, and the economy mirrors the resilience of its people; Egypt remains one of the most diversified economies in the region.
- Egypt is increasingly open to U.S. companies taking part in its economic transformation and the improving investment environment offers greater opportunities for Corporate America.
U.S. company representatives among the delegation including; ExxonMobil, Apache Corporation, Procter & Gamble, Uber, PepsiCo, Citibank and others shared their first-hand knowledge operating in Egypt, their experience different challenges during the past three years and expressed their ongoing commitment to supporting Egypt’s development.
The most critical and important difference between this mission and other earlier missions is one of tone: The Trump Administration clearly views Egypt as an ally – explicitly referring to Egypt as a “major ally” – and as a country that shares vital U.S. interests in the Middle East. This represents a powerful shift from the way Egypt was regarded during the Obama Administration.
Several influential stakeholders emphasized the importance of ensuring that the U.S.-Egyptian relationship is strengthened and deepened at the institutional level. It was also discussed that Egypt needs to exert more effort in communicating positive economic developments taking place on the ground among different circles Washington. AmCham Egypt was requested to continue providing information about economic and business developments; and specific issues and policies affecting U.S. investors.
While there still are some groups that are critical of Egypt, alluding to some human rights issues; especially in connection with the American NGOs, particularly among some Democrats and a number of prominent Republicans, their collective opinions by no means constitute the majority.
Specific bilateral trade and investment issues were the focus of discussions during meetings with officials at several U.S. agencies; including the U.S. Department of Commerce and U.S. Trade Representative (USTR). There were concerns regarding the reduction in U.S. exports to Egypt due to Egyptian Government Decrees 43, 538 and 991. The delegation explained that these Decrees were enacted primarily to reduce Egypt’s overall import bill and improve its balance of payments and were not intended to target the United States, however were applied to all countries. The delegation also noted that the impact of the Decrees became less relevant after the flotation of the Egyptian Pound and that the fall in U.S. exports was more likely the result of the currency depreciation -- a necessary part of our economic reform program that had the effect of increasing the cost of imported goods.
The delegation sensed that the Trump team voices a strong “America first” position; and committing to view all trade relationships in “transactional” terms – closely accessing benefits to the United States economy. They are determined to decrease the US trade deficit and will encourage US investment abroad when such investment leads to increased US exports. The Trump Administration favors bilateral trade deals over multilateral agreements which raises the possibility of launching negotiations over a U.S.-Egypt free trade agreement (FTA).
Members of the delegation were open about the challenges faced by the private sector, and the importance that the bilateral relationship represents for both of our countries.
Policy-makers specifically commended Egypt’s proactive steps in tackling the budget deficit including; the floatation of the Egyptian pound, the implementation of the Value Added Tax and other tax reforms, the partial removal of energy subsides, and other macroeconomic reforms. Several decision makers with knowledge on Egypt - and whom we consider to be friends, inquired about the vision behind the reforms being undertaken. To that, delegates highlighted the priorities of the current government being job creation and provision of stability and security. It was discussed that Egypt needs to more widely share its vision, ensuring the alignment of all government bodies.
The visit included a breakfast meeting and discussion on the U.S. political scene, hosted by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce on May 4th and featuring the Chamber’s lobbyists and political strategists. A special dinner was hosted in honor of the AmCham delegation on the same day by Egypt’s Ambassador to the United States, Yasser Reda. His hospitality and generosity were much appreciated.
Overall, the delegation ended their mission with a sense of optimism that the US-Egyptian relationship is not just back on track, but elevated to higher levels of cooperation, interdependence, reliability and confidence. Regular follow-up by AmCham Egypt, the Egypt-US Business Council will be critical to ensuring that the bilateral relationship continues to be robust. AmCham Egypt’s U.S. affiliate – AmCham Egypt, Inc. will be maintaining regular dialogue with stakeholders in Washington as well as ensuring the Egypt story is adequately communicated.