The setting: A country’s export performance is a key barometre of the health of its economy. This is truer today than it has been for the past half century in view of the increased openness and complexity of our global economic environment. An internationally competitive economy is more capable of taking advantage of global trade and investment opportunities and of withstanding shocks that inevitably occur from time to time in this era of rapid change.

Before we get into the problems and potential of Egypt’s export development, it is useful to get a perspective of where Egypt’s exports stand relative to those of some other developing countries, especially countries that have done well in world markets. The figures used here are based on the latest World Bank and World Trade Organisation (WTO) data. The intent is not to bombard readers with statistics, but rather to give a clear comparative profile of Egypt’s export situation instead of making unsupported statements and observations.

To start with, world exports have grown at 6 per cent per annum in the 1990s, with a growth rate of 12.5 per cent for the year 2000, almost the highest growth rate in five decades. The export growth rate for developing countries averaged 9 per cent in the 1990s, jumping to 24 per cent for the year 2000, thus outstripping earlier records. These rates have been consistently higher than national output (GDP) growth rates. Our analysis that follows should, therefore, be considered in the context of expanding export opportunities for developing countries.

Between 1980 and 1990, Egypt’s total exports (merchandise and commercial services) did not register any increase, remaining at $7.0 billion. In contrast, China registered an increase of 287 per cent, Malaysia 133 per cent, Thailand 273 per cent and the Philippines 58 per cent. These countries had started, or continued, a rigorous reform programme in that period or earlier on. During 1990-2000, increases in total exports were 124