Export or die” has been the economic catch phrase of Egypt’s three governments since 1995. But seven years of bitter experience show that talk is easier than action. Statistics from the Central Bank of Egypt (CBE) show that in financial year (FY) 1999/2000, (the first year in the administration of current Prime Minister Atef Ebeid) the trade deficit was an unprecedented $11.4 billion. This fell to $9.3 billion in FY2000/2001, but is expected to soar again in FY2001/2002. Figures already released by the CBE for the first half of FY2001/2002 show the value of exports was $100 million less this year than in the first half of last; down from $3.4 billion to $3.3 billion. This can hardly encourage a country which feels exports to be a mortal matter.
On Sunday, Industry Minister Ali El-Sa’idi was summoned to parliament to face eight information requests and four questions about the role of industrial exports in closing the chronic trade deficit. His summons came in tandem with discussions of the parliamentary report “Modernising the Egyptian Industrial Sector in Light of the National State Modernisation Project.”
Presenting the report to parliament, Amin Mubarak, chairman of the assembly’s industrial committee, remarked that industry’s contribution to GDP has increased by a mere eight per cent in five years (12 per cent in FY1996/1997 to 20.1 per cent in FY2000/2001). “This is a very modest increase in light of the country’s long- term strategy to curb imports and boost exports. We planned in the early 1990s to raise industrial production by 7.5 per cent a year,” Mubarak said. Worse, he added, industrial exports accounted for just six per cent of total industrial production in FY2001/2002 (LE8.8 billion- worth out of LE168 billion). “This is largely due to the protectionist policies of the 1960s. Not to mention industrial mismanagement, lack of technological innovation and quality control methods and a feeble interest in exporting. The result is now clear: a ghast