Egypt Seeks Free Trade Pact with the United States
Egypt is seeking a free trade agreement with the United States that could offer US companies "a doorway" to Africa, the Middle East and Europe, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak announced in Washington Tuesday.
The Egyptian leader, in a speech prepared for delivery to the US Chamber of Commerce, said such an accord would consolidate a decade of reforms in Egypt that have expanded the role of the private sector, reduced government regulations and opened the economy to greater foreign investment.
Mubarak is currently in the United States on an official visit, and on Monday became the first Arab leader to confer with President George W. Bush.
"In this visit we are approaching the new administration with an offer to initiate discussions that will lead eventually to a free trade agreement -- one that will bind our two countries in progress and one that will preserve the successes of our reforms," Mubarak told a luncheon audience.
"We offer a doorway to Africa, Middle East and soon to Europe.”
Egypt is already part of free trade areas that cover Arab countries of the Middle East and most of east Africa, according to Mubarak, who added that Cairo had also initialed a partnership arrangement with the European Union.
Two-way trade between the United States and Egypt last year came to 4.2 billion dollars, representing US exports of 3.3 billion dollars and imports worth 0.9 million dollars, according to the Chamber of Commerce.
The Chamber earlier Tuesday announced the opening of an Office of US-Egypt Business Partnership Development to promote US investment in the Egyptian economy.
"This agreement will lead to an expansion of trade and investment between the United States and Egypt and is the first step toward a possible trade agreement on a mutually beneficial, reciprocal basis," said Chamber president Thomas Donohue.
The United States and another Arab nation, Jordan, worked out an agreement last year that would eliminate all tariffs on goods and services traded between the two countries over 10 years. The deal must now be approved by Congress.
Mubarak on Tuesday sought to convince US businessmen that Egypt, having embraced the free market, was a sound venue for their operations.
"The Egypt of tomorrow is centered on continued deregulation, greater foreign and domestic investment, the building of human capital and the continued opening to the world economy," he said.
The state monopoly in telecommunications is being dismantled and the private sector is becoming a growing partner in electricity generation, Mubarak said.
Citing recent oil and gas discoveries in the Mediterranean basin, he predicted that "Egyptian energy can soon power industry across the Middle East through a regional electric grid and a network of gas pipelines."
Egypt is anxious to promote its exports to the US market and to attract investment as it is weaned off annual US economic assistance that amounted to 735 million dollars last year.
But the US ambassador in Cairo, Daniel Kurtzer, had said many investors tell him Egypt still has a ways to go to create the right business environment.
In a speech to the US Chamber of Commerce in Egypt on March 13, he cited such barriers to business as customs and red tape, corporate tax burdens, slow-moving courts and slow efforts at privatization -- WASHINGTON (AFP)
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