Major British Trade Delegation in Egypt, But will the Red Tape end?

British companies paying one of the most high-profile visits to Egypt by a Western trade delegation since the 2011 uprising seem more concerned by bureaucracy than political turbulence.

Britain, one of the top foreign investors in Egypt, believes boosting an economy battered by unrest since the overthrow of autocrat Hosni Mubarak is vital for long-term stability.

Companies in the delegation interviewed by Reuters want assurances that Egypt will eliminate complex investment laws and stamps of approval required from dozens of government agencies.

Investment Minister Ashraf Salman told Reuters on Sunday he is optimistic a draft investment law will be implemented in March, creating a one-stop shop.

Some of the more than 40 British companies expressed cautious optimism.

“If the legislation is indeed a one-stop shop as has been suggested, that would greatly improve the ease of doing business,” said Mark Lipton, managing director of British security firm G4S in Egypt.

Foreign investors have praised bold steps taken by Egypt such as politically sensitive cuts to fuel subsidies. But untangling bureaucracy built up over decades may not be easy.

Ayman El Ghazzawi of British construction consultancy Gleeds said companies have moved past security fears, despite an Islamist militant insurgency.

“Companies are looking at currency laws, ease of repatriating funds, arbitration legislation,” he said.

In the last fiscal year, Britain invested over $5 billion here.

Lawyer Sara Hinton, vice-chair of the British Egyptian Business Association, says she detects one of the strongest buzzes among foreign investors since she moved to Egypt 20 years ago but that passing the draft law was vital.

“If you are a huge investor you will get assistance because of the size of your investment. If you are very small it is probably easy for you to get it,” said Hinton.

“It is the medium level — that you are not just not quite big enough to get the political attention to give you the special privileges in terms of easing the path for you.”

Sisi has unveiled several mega-projects designed to build confidence in Egypt, including a second Suez Canal.

Don Gillanders, whose company makes heavy duty tyres, is eyeing the Suez venture.

“We have been a bit unadventurous and we thought we would push out of it,” he said, showing little interest in a question on political stability. “I think what I am most worried about is people don’t buy my tyres.”

Source: Reuters