A delegation of 35 top-level executives representing U.S. Companies and businesses that operate in Egypt visited Washington, D.C. during the period from April 1st to April 5th for the AmCham Egypt Annual Doorknock Mission. The visit came just a few days prior to President El Sisi’s visit to Washington DC and his scheduled meeting with President Trump at the White House, and also on the margin of the 40th year anniversary marking the inauguration of the U.S. Egypt Business Council. It also came at a time when the US political environment is more divisive than at any other time since the 1960s.
Over the course of five days, delegates took part in 89 meetings with members of the U.S. Congress, Administration officials, think-tanks, media and leaders from the U.S. business community. These included: 50 meetings with Members of Congress and their staffers (House and Senate), nine meetings with the Executive Branch, including meetings with senior officials at the Departments of State, Commerce, Treasury, Energy, the National Security Council (NSC), Export-Import Bank of the United States (Ex-Im), Office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR), U.S. Trade and Development Agency (USTDA), and the Agency for International Development (USAID).
The delegation also had more than 25 meetings 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), Commercial Law Development Program (CLDP), Egyptian American Enterprise Fund, Woodrow Wilson Center, Albright Stonebridge Group, the Center for American Progress, AIPAC, the Council on Foreign Relations, Middle East Institute, Washington Institute for Near East Policy, Atlantic Council, Congressional Research Service (CRS), Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington, American Jewish Committee, Aspen Institute.
During their meetings, delegates promoted dialogue on important commercial issues as well as shared their perspective on social and political issues of bilateral importance. The delegation outlined the main features of the economic reform program adopted by the government, highlighting the positive macro-economic indicators and the growth being witnessed within different sectors; sharing some examples of success stories of businesses operating in the country.
The delegation additionally stressed the importance of maintaining a strong and robust bilateral relationship; given Egypt’s strategic role as an influential regional power. They highlighted the country’s pivotal efforts towards maintaining security and stability in the Middle East; with the Camp David Accords entering its fifth decade this year. Additionally, delegates relayed Egypt’s soft power, as well as its aspiration for increased participation in the global economy; welcoming greater trade with the US and increased investment by its private sector. Dialogue was conducted between both sides with the ultimate goal of building a deeper U.S.-Egypt business relationship, opening new opportunities for American firms, creating jobs and improving the lives of citizens of both countries.
Delegates also shared their perspective on the unmatched opportunity which Egypt represents for U.S. manufacturers and investors. Egypt is a strategically located, young and dynamic market of more than 100 million consumers, offering competitive access to the international markets of Africa, the Gulf, and Europe through its existing trade agreements, thereby spreading the demand for American products across the region, lowering exporting costs and ultimately creating more jobs for U.S. citizens. Delegates relayed some examples of U.S. companies that have long benefited from Egypt’s fundamentals and leveraged its trade agreements to export to tens of countries in Africa and Europe. They also shared their first-hand knowledge operating in Egypt, their experience in dealing with different challenges during the past few years; expressing their ongoing commitment to supporting Egypt’s development.
During their meetings and discussions, the U.S. side made several notable observations regarding the deep need to better communicate the positive story of Egypt, including political and social stability; economic growth; sustainable development; social services like health and education; civil service reform; religious tolerance; gender equality; entrepreneurship; and cultural renewal. This so-called “soft power”, needs to be effectively communicated to policy-makers, the media and the American public, to serve as a valuable resource that Egypt is not currently exploiting to the fullest extent.
Egypt’s economic reform program has been a game-changer in terms of how Egypt is perceived in Washington. The bold and often painful measures undertaken by the government have quieted any skepticism that initially existed. The IMF and the World Bank have very positive outlooks on Egypt and the concern has gone from whether Egypt will actually enact reforms, to the steps being taken to mitigate the impact of reforms and strengthen the social safety-net. Now that the IMF program is ending successfully, there is a general sentiment to continue working closely with the IMF on a new monitoring program to ensure the continuation of the reform program in an orderly manner. The World Bank has increased its capital and will now focus more on supporting the private sector through the IFC; the Bank will not engage in any project that the private sector can carry out.
There is considerable interest in Washington regarding Egypt’s growing role as an energy hub in the Eastern Mediterranean. The US Department of Energy is eager to participate in the Eastern Mediterranean Gas Forum (EMGF) and policymakers throughout Washington were cognizant of the fact that only Egypt could bring together all of the relevant players.
With regards to the future of the US-Egypt trade relationship, the delegation received mixed messages; however by no means negative. While the prospects of a bilateral free trade agreement (FTA) was considered by most to be unlikely in the near future, the delegation was advised to “keep pushing” for an FTA by focusing initially on the current Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA) talks and that the FTA should be addressed at the highest level. Moreover, the TIFA talks should rise above the technical irritants with concessions on both sides. The delegation was told that; “a successful TIFA is the opening to an FTA.”
Concerns about China’s ambitions in the MENA region and the Horn of Africa were expressed; given the fact that China is being perceived as the U.S.’s biggest global competitor and challenger, where Chinese companies are considered to enjoy a great advantage because of the financial support they receive from the central government in Beijing. Nevertheless, the future of the US Export-Import Bank, as a potential supporting arm to the private sector, remains uncertain and its current congressional authorization is due to expire on September 30 of this year.
The issue of the Gran Ethiopian Renaissance Dam was raised at a few meetings, and it was mentioned that Egypt received much praise in Congress and among think tank scholars for the way it has handled the ongoing issue of the Dam in a peaceful and constructive manner.
It is worth mentioning that this year’s Mission has helped to revive the Congressional Caucus on Egypt, a bipartisan group of legislators who have a keen interest in Egypt and who support the US-Egyptian relationship. The Caucus Chairman, Congressman Jeff Fortenberry, met with the AmCham Delegation and also hosted a reception in its honor with congressional staff members. The delegation was sure to encourage Members of Congress they met with, to join the caucus. AmCham will continue to work with Congressman Fortenberry’s staff to add new members and develop new programs.
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 the 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.
A Special Roundtable discussion was hosted by the US Chamber of Commerce’s US-Egypt Business Council in honor of the visiting Delegation on April 3rd, featuring the Director, Office of Egyptian Affairs, Bureau of Near East Affairs, the Department of State, David Greene, and the Director for Egypt and Jordan at the National Security Council (NSC), Anne Womer. Additionally on the same day, AmCham Egypt Inc. hosted a Special Reception in honor of the visiting Delegation. The reception which took place at the University Club, was attended by almost 150 guests, including executive branch officials, senior representatives from think tanks, Egyptian Embassy officials and different stakeholders and friends of AmCham in Washington D.C.
AmCham delegates were also hosted on April 5th as speakers on a special panel organized by the Middle East Institute, addressing “Egypt’s Evolving Economic Outlook”, where they shared their perspective on recent reform measures which have jumpstarted the economy, the potential of Egypt’s market, the growing entrepreneurship ecosystem, as well as challenges facing the private sector. The event was attended by more than 120 individuals and observers of the bilateral relationship.
A special dinner was hosted in honor of the AmCham delegation on April 1st by Egypt’s Ambassador to the United States, Yasser Reda. His hospitality and generosity were much appreciated. Additionally, the delegation took part in a roundtable discussion at the US-Egypt Enterprise Fund and a panel discussion for faculty and students at the Elliot School of International Affairs at George Washington University.
Overall, the delegation ended their mission with a sense of optimism that there are more supporters of Egypt than detractors in Washington; including at the highest levels, and that this support could be deepened and broadened if Egypt were to undertake a well-organized “branding” campaign that highlights the country’s real accomplishments and promising prospects. The delegation noted that Congress, the Executive Branch, and the think tank community, continue to perceive AmCham Egypt as an independent and credible voice with which they can have an honest and open dialogue. This fact was reflected in the number of high-level meetings that were held and the fact that many members of congress were eager to meet with the delegation.
Regular follow-up by AmCham Egypt 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 continuous dialogue with stakeholders in Washington, as well as ensuring the Egypt story is adequately communicated.