The 2014 Euromoney Egypt conference, an annual event for policy makers and industry leaders to discuss and debate key economic issues, will kick off this week in New Cairo.
The theme of this year’s conference, which runs from September 16 to 17, is “Stability, Investment and Growth,” reflecting the conference organizers’ confidence that after years of political upheaval, Egypt is once again on the path to becoming a country where private capital and international capital can safely and productively be invested.
“One of the biggest set-backs for Egypt has been political instability,” said Regional Director of Euromoney Conferences, Richard Banks, in a press statement. “Now a degree of calm and order has returned to the country, it’s time for decisive action and this action starts with an economic vision.”
On hand to present this vision will be a number of key Egyptian officials. The conference will be opened with a speech by Minister of Finance Hany Kadry Dimian, who is expected to give an overview of Egypt’s macro-economy, including growth, unemployment, inflation and subsidy restructuring.
Prime Minister Ibrahim Mehleb will give the closing address, during which he is expected to announce the government’s economic vision and outline the role the state, private sector and international capital will have in achieving this vision.
Other officials scheduled to speak are Minister of Investment Ashraf Salman, Minister of International Cooperation Nagla al-Ahwany and Minister of Planning Ashraf al-Araby.
Stock Exchange Chairman Mohamed Omran and Amr Moussa, politician and chairman of the constitutional committee, will also address the conference. Richard Shediac, senior partner and managing director for the Middle East in consultancy firm Strategy&, which has advised the government on economic policy, will also participate in a keynote interview.
Despite optimistic messages from government officials, Egypt’s economy is still facing serious challenges, and recovery has proved slow. According to the latest official figures, real GDP growth was an anaemic 1.6 percent year-on-year for the first nine months of the 2013/14 fiscal year, annual inflation reached 11.49 percent in August and unemployment stood at 13.3 percent.
Against this backdrop, the panel discussions, which focus on key issues facing the economy, could prove interesting. Although there is no civil society representation and few officials are scheduled to participate in panel discussions, the presence of local and international analysts and investors should inject a note of realism into the proceedings.
In previous years, state representatives disappointed conference attendees by departing as soon as their speeches were finished, rather than staying to gauge investor sentiment at panel discussions.
The first panel discussion, “Increasing Investment and Generating Growth,” aims to tackle key questions, including: What is Egypt’s true economic situation, and does anybody actually know? — How long can Egypt depend on aid from the Arab Gulf to prop up its economy? — How will the government tackle challenges such as subsidy reform and tax avoidance? — How can foreign investors be lured back? — How can the social return of investment be measured? — and, should the informal sector be formalized?
Less than an hour has been allotted for this rather ambitious set of talking points to be discussed by four panelists: Wael Aburida, chief investment officer of PineBridge Investments; Angus Blair, president of Cairo-based think tank Signet;
Bozidar Djelic, managing director of financial advisory firm Lazard Freres, and Chris Jarvis, the International Monetary Fund’s Egypt mission chief.
The afternoon will be devoted to four investment workshops in the critical areas of tourism, energy, agriculture and food, and transportation. In each session, panelists will discuss both government plans for the sector and what role private companies and investors can play. With a few exceptions — such as Nino Cingolani, co-chairman of Egyptian National Railways, who will participate in the transportation workshop — the panelists are drawn from the upper ranks of large private firms operating in Egypt.
The second day of the conference will include panel discussions on the financial sector and real estate.
Amro Abouesh, chairman and CEO of micro-enterprise service Tanmeyah; Fathy al-Sebai, chairman of the Housing and Development Bank; Amr al-Shafei, head of corporate banking for Barclays Bank Egypt, and African Development Bank representative Leila Mokaddem, will form the panel for the discussion on the financial sector. Among the issues they will touch on in a 50-minute session are how the financial sector is addressing Egypt’s challenges, risk management, steps to increase lending, the effect of government borrowing on the private sector, micro finance, and the role of technology.
The second and final panel of the day will focus on housing, construction and real estate, looking at regulatory changes, land banks and auctions, financing real estate investment, affordable housing, mortgage finance and regional investment opportunities in the new cities. Despite the huge role the military and the public sector play in real estate development projects in Egypt, the panel is again composed of representatives from the private sector. Real Estate and construction firms Dorra Group, SODIC, LaFarge Egypt, El Taamir Mortgage Finance, New Giza and Collier’s International have spots on the panel.
After the investment panel, Basil al-Baz, chairman and CEO of Carbon Holdings, which has signed over US$2 billion worth of investment deals for its ambitious Tahrir Petrochemicals complex project, will be interviewed on the subject of mobilizing large-scale private sector investments, after which Prime Minister Mehleb will give his closing speech.