Export promotion ideas are en vogue these days. A few weeks ago, the People’s Assembly passed an export promotion bill designed to boost Egyptian exports, despite objections on the part of many exporters. Although business associations tirelessly discuss the barriers to greater exports, suggesting possible solutions and incentives, efforts in this direction have thus far been unsuccessful. Egyptian exports haven’t increased and the government doesn’t seem to have a coherent vision or plan despite the fact that the obstacles preventing increased exports were accurately defined long ago.

Last week, the Centre for Political and Strategic Studies hosted a large number of industrial, agricultural and tourism experts to give their opinion on “increasing the competitiveness of the national product”.

“To be competitive, you have to be one of the best, not necessarily the best,” said Ahmed Arafa, an industrialist turned exporter. “One way of doing this is to increase the added value of your product. For example, instead of exporting cotton, it would be more profitable to sell a ready-made cotton T-shirt,” said Arafa. He added that a factory successfully managing a variety of manufacturing processes is likely to be more competitive. But, with the exception of a few very large factories, this will be difficult to achieve.

“How is one to become competitive when materials, know-how and technology are all imported?” inquired Mohamed Farid Khamis, one of Egypt’s leading industrialists. Khamis went on to specify the three main reasons he believes Egyptian products are not competitive. Firstly, most Egyptian industries have not reached an “ideal production output”. Khamis explained that an automobile factory that produces less than 200,000 cars a year cannot withstand competition from mass producers like Korea and China.

Secondly, innovation and originality are both severely lacking in Egyptian products, according to Khamis. “In the 1980s, the creative component of a