Egypt aims to kickstart African trade as it takes AU chair
By Aidan Lewis
SHARM EL-SHEIKH, Egypt, Dec 9 (Reuters) - Egypt is promoting
itself as a linchpin for intra-African trade and a model of
economic reform as it prepares to chair the African Union in
The country hosted a high-level business forum on Saturday
and Sunday in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh that will be
followed by an intra-African trade fair in the coming week in
the capital, Cairo.
In a speech to the forum, President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi
encouraged investors from inside and outside Africa to take
advantage of opportunities on the continent as countries
including his own pursued economic reform.
As chair of the African Union, "we will seek with sincere
effort to build on what has been achieved over the past years
and to complete our continent's development agenda," Sisi told
the forum, which was attended by heads of state from countries
including Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Niger and Madagascar.
Egypt has been praised by international lenders for moving
swiftly to implement structural reforms agreed with the IMF in
late 2016, though austerity measures and inflation have left
many Egyptians struggling to get by.
Egypt's economy grew by 5.3 percent in the 2017-18 fiscal
year, the highest rate in a decade, and growth is forecast to
surpass 5 percent again in 2018-19.
In off-the-cuff remarks, Sisi - who is known to demand
ambitiously rapid execution of projects from his ministers -
questioned whether African governments could enact change fast
enough, recalling that he had insisted on completing an
expansion of the Suez Canal in a single year when others had
suggested three years or five.
Critics have criticised the canal expansion as a waste of
Intra-African trade is low, limited by problems including
armed conflicts, political rivalry and a lack of logistical and
transport connections between states.
Speakers voiced hope that the Continental Free Trade Area
(CFTA), which aims to bring together all African Union states
with a combined population of more than one billion into a
single market, would be ratified by 22 countries and enter into
force in 2019.
Egypt increased its investments in Africa by $1.2 billion to
$10.2 billion in 2018, Sisi said.
The forum, which Egypt organised jointly with the Common
Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA), was attended by
more than 1,000 "leaders in business and policy from across
Africa and the world", according to its website.
Few agreements were announced, though pan-African Liquid
Telecom signed a $400 million outline deal with Telecom Egypt.
It is one of a number of high-profile events recently hosted
by Sisi, including a Youth Forum in Sharm el-Sheikh last month
and a major defence expo in Cairo earlier this week.
Some Egyptians question if such grandly-staged events are a
good use of public money, though the forums in Sharm el-Sheikh
have brought welcome bookings to a resort that has struggled to
attract tourists in the wake of Egypt's 2011 uprising.
(Editing by Adrian Croft)
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