by Steve Lutes
Vice President, Middle East Affairs
April 04, 2017
Leaders from the U.S. Chamber and executives from major American companies met yesterday with President Abdel Fattah Al Sisi in the very hall where Egyptian President Sadat and U.S. President Carter launched the U.S.-Egypt Business Council in 1979. While the history of the moment isn’t lost on us, we should really be focused on what comes next.
A new era in the U.S.-Egypt relationship commenced yesterday as President Sisi met with U.S. President Donald Trump at the White House in Washington, DC. Early indications show we have entered a promising new period defined by the opportunity to forge a stronger partnership between the United States and Egypt based on common, vital interests.
While it is imperative for our governments to cooperate closely on security and counterterrorism efforts, the U.S. Chamber believes this new partnership, at its core, must also prioritize deepening and expanding the economic pillar of the relationship. And we know that both sides will benefit from increased trade and investment.
The good news is that we are building on a solid, existing foundation. More than 1,100 U.S. companies operate in Egypt already, and the United States remains one of Egypt’s top trading partners with two-way trade in goods in 2016 nearing $5 billion American innovation, expertise, and knowledge are contributing to the development of key sectors in Egypt like agriculture, energy, finance, health care, infrastructure, the digital economy, and beyond.
For more than 35 years, the U.S. Chamber has served as the home to the U.S.-Egypt Business Council, the only American organization solely dedicated to our bilateral economic relationship. The companies on the council have been in Egypt for decades and, through their continued commitment, will play a vital role in Egypt’s economic future for years to come.
And now, as we turn the page and start writing a new chapter in our shared story, our respective governments should embrace an agenda for a stronger U.S.-Egypt economic partnership. We need to pursue the objective of helping Egypt achieve an economic renaissance that creates needed new jobs and inclusive growth across society while also generating American exports and jobs in the United States.
At the foundation of this agenda, we recommend the establishment of a U.S.-Egypt Strategic Economic Dialogue to ensure that long after President Sisi’s visit to Washington this week, there is a consistent and sustained focus on key economic opportunities and issues. While the United States and Egypt have strong commercial ties, we lack a permanent, high-level entity charged with exclusively focusing on the economic agenda and full range of bilateral economic, trade, investment and competitiveness issues.
It is also important that the American and Egyptian private sectors are integrally involved in the dialogue and at the table to offer insights, make recommendations, and share best practices.
To guarantee that the participants in the dialogue dig in to substantive issues, working groups should be organized to focus on areas like trade facilitation, regulatory cooperation, entrepreneurism, and intellectual property rights.
We know Egypt is going through challenging economic times. The dialogue will help build on the economic reforms started under President Sisi to boost the case for further policy and regulatory improvements to create a better business ecosystem that encourages entrepreneurship, investment, job creation, and private sector growth.
There is much more that can and should be done to foster a stronger U.S.-Egypt economic partnership, and the Chamber will continue to be a voice for action that takes us toward our shared goals.
About the author
Vice President, Middle East Affairs
Steve Lutes is executive director Middle East Affairs at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. He is responsible for managing the U.S.-Egypt Business Council, U.S.-Iraq Business Initiative, the U.S.-GCC Business Initiative, and serves as executive director for each.