Egypt is looking to ink a free trade agreement with India to boost economic ties, the country’s trade and industry minister Rachid Mohammed Rachid said here on Tuesday.
India is the first Asian country with which is Egypt is proposing a bilateral agreement, Rachid told the Hindustan Times.
“My aim is to open the file on bilateral collaboration and create a more favourable environment for business,” said Rachid, who is visiting India along with a 40-member high-level business delegation on his first ministerial tour.
India is Egypt’s fifth-largest trading partner, after the US, Italy, China and the Arab League.
Rachid, a former director with Unilever, was the first technocrat to be inducted into Egypt’s council of ministers by President Hosni Mubarak, four years ago. He is seen as responsible for Egypt’s subsequent move towards reform-oriented globalisation. He is widely viewed as a “rising star,” “very favourably disposed towards India,” a top Indian diplomat said.
Rachid said that during his meeting with Union Minister for Commerce and Industry, Kamal Nath, he would moot the idea of an FTA “or any other comprehensive framework agreement” that boosts trade and business relations between India and Egypt.
The aim is to raise trade to “at least four billion dollars by 2010” and double it in four years, he said.
Bilateral trade between the two countries is currently around $ 2.8 billion (compared to Egypt’s four-billion-dollar bilateral trade with China).
Rachid is aiming “for a much higher level of bilateral engagement” by as soon as the end of this year. Focus areas would be oil and gas, petrochemicals, renewable energy, fertilisers, pharmaceuticals, manufacturing, steel, auto components, building materials and the tourism and hospitality sector.
“Even though most of the present trade is in raw materials, oil and natural gas, it shows we have a good platform to build on,” Rashid said. “We share very good political relations and there are very good relations between the people, making for a high comfort level and environment for business. Also, we offer some unique advantages,” Rachid said.
“Our location, sitting at the junction of three continents (Africa, Europe and Arab Asia) and the geostrategic advantage of the Suez Canal from the Mediterranean to the Red Sea, combined with the growing domestic market within Egypt, make us an attractive destination,” he said.
The two countries have seen a dip in ties from a decade ago, Rachid said. “Over the past 10 years there was a different focus orientation. India was on a path of reform and globalisation, as was Egypt, and both tended to look to their most vital partners. There is a major transformation in India today. It is more comfortable with FDI, it has opened up and is showing remarkable growth rates,” the minister said.