'Egypt should be India's gateway to Africa'

India should look at Egypt as its gateway to Africa, Osama Saleh, Egypt's Minister of Investment, said in New Delhi.

In an interview with IANS on the sidelines of the first India-Egypt Economic Forum on Wednesday, Saleh said : " We are proposing that India consider Egypt as the gateway to the African continent for deepening and increasing the benefits of an old relationship."

The inauguration of an India-Egypt Business Council organised by premier Indian industry bodies - FICCI, CII and Assocham - is a major step in this direction. Saleh is here as part of Egypt's General Authority for Investment and Free Zones mission visiting India with the country's first democratically elected President Mohamed Morsi.

The Egyptian minister is promoting his country as an investment destination at a time when India looks to make a quantum jump in its economic engagement with the continent, particularly with north and western Africa, as well as achieving the full potential of its business relations with Egypt.

"The levels of foreign direct investment (FDI) in Egypt has dropped from 25 percent to nine percent, especially in this period when the country is going through a political transition. Our aim is for FDI to pick up to levels of around 20 percent," said Saleh.

Saleh said although the new government installed in August 2012 had inherited problems from the past, it has put in place a programme of economic reforms focussed on attracting investments.

"Egypt is a very attractive FDI destination on the strength of its human resources, as also as a market. The only thing that has been affected in recent times is the country's tourism industry, which is a major source of our revenues," said Saleh.

He said foreign investors interested in Egypt need not have any fears on account of the political transition.

"Egypt is an old country with old institutions that are functioning in continuity through this period of transition. So investors need have no fear about things becoming unstable or business being affected," Saleh said.

India and Egypt Tuesday signed seven agreements, including one for cooperation in micro and small enterprises, to facilitate sharing of information, meetings between enterprises, technology transfers and to provide consultation services to enhance the abilities of business enterprises of the two countries.

Both sides also agreed to upgrade a vocational training centre at Shourba El Kheima, Cairo, under which India's National Small Industries Corporation will provide the technological upgradation required in the area of spinning, weaving, knitting and dyeing technology.

Another agreement provides for setting up a centre of excellence in Information Technology at Cairo's Al Azhar University that will see India provide the human resources as well as the hardware and software to set up a centre for the training of up to 500 students per year.

"India is interested in exporting wheat to Egypt, while we are studying the possibility of export of fertiliser from Egypt to India," Saleh said. 

The Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) has recently launched the India Business Forum (IBF) in Egypt with the aim to promote 'Brand India' and support Indian business in the country.

"What is happening in Egypt now is a power game; a debate is going on in the political sphere for taking control of power. It happens everywhere. It will not disrupt economic life and business," Saleh told IANS.

India is now Egypt's 7th largest trading partner. Bilateral trade has grown from $2.5 billion in 2006-07 to $4.3 billion in 2011-12. India's crude and LNG imports from Egypt account for almost half the total value of bilateral trade.

Around 50 Indian companies, including the Sanmar group, Alexandria Carbon Black and Dabur, are operating in Egypt with a combined investment of roughly $2.5 billion.