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Egyptian-Japanese missed opportunities

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CAIRO – 6 August 2019: Lots of missed opportunities need to be reconsidered for further cooperation between Egypt and Japan in the near future. The two countries still have a lot of potential for joint coordination in several aspects.

Taking a closer look on Japan would make you re-think of it as more than just a technologically sophisticated country, and for Egypt, as more than a North African developing, and economically growing country.

Egypt, which is currently the head of the African Union, is looking for more discussions and solutions to several national and African issues, including the countries’ economic reform and growth as a priority.

Other issues including enhancing peace and security, countering terrorism, developing health, education and infrastructure are among the challenges that need a second look in Africa. That is in addition to poverty, forced displacement and illegal immigration.

What could Africa as a nation with all its particularchallenges and prioritiesbenefit from cooperating with Japan?

The policy of the “closed door” was forced in Japan for hundreds of years. Per this policy, very few things could have the opportunity to enter or leave the country. This affected the country’s trade, culture and military and led to the transformation of the country.

Many things happened during wars and conflicts, especially World War II,forwhich the country officially apologized. Years after all of this, Japan has become more than just atechnologically-advanced country;it is a country which is still seeking to learn, and communicate.

“Japan is an isolated country.It is far from Africa. It needs nearly a day of traveling so we can reach each other,” President of Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) Shinichi Kitaoka said during a meeting that included ten journalists from different African countries, reviewing the Japanese-African relations and the aspects of ongoing cooperation.

During the meeting,Kitaoka said that Japan supports other countries to grow and be independent through providing ODA loans. “Loan is something to support being independent. Countries need to know how to utilize these loans and give themback after several years,” Kitaoka explained.

“We made mistakes in World War II, invaded other Asian countries, so we wanted to give back to these countries, and this is what we did during the past years. However, as the Asian countries have developed, we think that Africa has to be the main focus of Japan at the meantime,” Kitaoka added.

TICAD, as a start

In 1993, Japan and Africa started holding Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD). TICAD was held for the first time in Tokyo on October 5 and 6, 1993, aiming to enhance dialogue between African-Japanese leaders, promote Africa’s development, peace and security, strengthen relations between the countries, and establish strong partnerships between Tokyo and Africa.

The international conference which has been held regularly since then is not just led by Japan, despite being a Japanese initiative. Several international partners shared the organization of TICAD, which is co-sponsored by the United Nations, along with the Japanese government. The partners include the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the African Union Commission (AUC) and the World Bank.

On August 28, TICAD7 is expected to be held inthe presence of all African leaders, including Egypt’s President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi. Many things were announced to be discussed.

During meeting with JICA and Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO) officials in Tokyo in July, Business Today knew several details about the awaited conference including the side eventsbeing held for the first time with an Egyptian start up participation among other African startups invited to the conference.

Under the theme “Africa and Yokohama, Sharing Passion for the Future,” several issues are going to be discussed during the conference. Technology and innovation wereannounced to be part ofall discussions this year.

But, as discussions have been ongoing between Africa and Japan extensively since 1993, what else could be done, so no opportunities would be missed, especially between Egypt and Japan?

Startups

Egypt is a rising market for startups. According to start-up platform MAGNiTT’s 2018 Mena Venture Investment Report, Egypt is the fastest growing startup ecosystem and the second largest after the UAE.

Egypt’s share of the total number of seed funding agreements grew by 7 percent y-o-y to $196.5 million, representing 22 percent of all MENA closes in 2018. “Egypt is seeing a second wave of entrepreneurs and investors that are more mature and experienced. The population is also starting to embrace technology for everyday activities,” Algebra Ventures Managing Partner ZiadMokhtar said.

Accordingly, Egypt’s entrepreneurs could not just see golden opportunities during TICAD7, but also for what a city like Kobe could offer to them.

Kobe is a Japanese city promoting itself as the young people and innovators’ first choice. During a presentation for Kobe officials at the city administrative headquarters, they focused on the city’s goal to become an environment where entrepreneurs can grow easily and create their new business.

The start-up visa for foreigners is among the very special things offered by Kobe city. Meeting with the city officials, they explained that they can offer a startup visa that allows foreign entrepreneurs to stay in Japan for one year maximum.

After getting the approval of the city officials, entrepreneurs will be able to start their business in Japan and enjoy a subsidy provided by the government “covering half of rent and communication cost, 2million ($1.8K) Yen personnel expenses for hi-tech engineersand a maximum of13 million ($120K) subsidies for 3years.”

However, after the first year of operating in Japan, startups need to meet the city’s demands to continue operating for further periods. The city’s criteriainclude the business has “a maximum of two fulltime staff or a capital exceeding 5million Yen”.

This Japanese city is offering a start-up visa for entrepreneurs even if they do not have an existing business at their own countries. The officials affirmed to Business Today that no legal consequences will be imposed onthe startups or the founders if they fail to meet the demands. They added that the Japanese perspective towards startups is different than the African one, and they believe that startups will have a fair chance in Japan to succeed and continue.

Age, health and society

The challenges in Japan and Egypt are severely different. Egypt deals with the high and rapidly growing population as a problem which is equally dangerous to terrorism, according to President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi’s earlier statements. Japan is suffering from the rising number of elderly people and the reluctance of young people to marry and have children. According to statistics reviewed during a presentation at the National Hospital Organization, Nagasaki Medical Center, Japan in the future willsuffer population reduction.

Japan’s Ministry of Health is currently working to promote increasing the population, according to doctorAtsumasa Komori from Nagasaki Medical Center. “The increasing numberof elderly people in Japan is our biggest problem,” he said.

Enhancing communications between Japanese and African nations and increasing the cultural exchanging channels could offera solution for both countries.

“Egypt’s steadily growing population should be used as a privilege,”JICA’s Middle East division Director Masataka TAKESHITA said during an interview with Business Today at JICA’s headquarters’ in Tokyo. He assured that the country’s population is one of the positive sides that should be exploited in the best ways.

He pointed out that Egypt still needs to work on creating more job opportunitiesamid the government’s economic reforms.

Japan has many successful experiments on human development especially in Asia, according to Shigeru Ushio, director-general for African Affairs department and assistant minister offoreign affairs.

Egypt and Japan had a lot of meetings and discussions ahead of TICAD7, set to be held on August 28 in Yokohoma city, according to Ushio, who affirmed that both parties held a number of senior officials’ meetings.

He added that Japan has huge commitments with Egypt. “The Egyptian government always sends high level seniors to Japan to follow up on updates of our agreements and discussions and we respect their views and leadership,” Ushio added.

He pointed out during a limited press conference held in the attendance of the African media representatives that Egypt and Japan held a lot of discussions, especially regarding human development aspects where Japan has a number of successful experiences in cooperation with other countries.

“We believe development is the key to do anything, as we have done this with many countries, especially in Asia, and believe that the time has come to do it with Africa now,” Ushio stated

With Further discussions among officials in both countries, maybe Japan and Egypt can reach a solution for them both.

Agriculture

“I am interested in Delta. If there is a chance to conduct research and see what we can do in this area, we are certainly interested in it,” Yasuhiro Tsujimoto, a member of the Crop, Livestock, and Environment division at Japan International Research Center for Agricultural Science (JIRACAS) told Business Today during a presentation at JIRACAS headquarters in Tsukuba.

Tsujimoto was reviewing his pilot project implemented in Madagascar since 2001. He said that the final results of his project, which aims at improving rice production in Africa, cannot be officially announced yet. He added, however, that if JIRACAS found that any of its research results are suitable with Egypt’s agriculture conditions and climate, it will definitely share it.

He also explained that his project, entitled “FY VARY project”, aims at the improvement of rice yield production under law fertilizer input and poor soil fertility environment in SSA. It was mainly conducted as a pilot experiment in Madagascar, and is scheduled to continue until 2022.

Answering Business Today’s question about JIRACAS’ researches in North African countries, and especially Egypt, in order to raise the production rate and quality, Yasuhiro said the institute is not currently conducting research in North Africa, especially with the existence of a nearby universities and institutes interested in conducting researches on Egypt’s climate and agriculture conditions.

“We are not conducting current research in North Africa, as other universes are doing research. We are focusing more on doing what no one else has done before, especially in other African countries,” Yasuhiro said.

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) published a research on rice production in Africa titled, “Rice production in Africa, current situation and issues”. The study states that, “With the exception of a few countries that have attained self-sufficiency in rice production, rice demand exceeds production and large quantities of rice are imported to meet demand at a huge cost in hard currency.”

According to a FAO study, Africa consumes a total of 11.6 million tons of milled rice per year, of which 3.3 million tons (33.6 percent) areimported.

Egypt, in particular, has imposed restrictions on planting rice since the beginning of 2018 due to fears of water shortage. The government has decided to reduce the area of rice cultivation from 1 million feddans to 724,000feddans. Furthermore, planting rice was prohibited in certain governorates, including Aswan, Luxor, Qena, Sohag, Assiut, Minya, BeniSuef, Fayoum, New Valley, Giza, Cairo, Qaliubiya, Menoufia, MarsaMatrouh, North Sinai, South Sinai and Red Sea.

According to reports, Nigeria was named the largest producer of rice in Africa, replacing Egypt which was known of being on top of Africa’s production in this regard.

In March 2019, Egypt’s government has announced raising the allowed area of rice cultivation, to be once again 1 million feddans, in order to reduce the import expenses for rice.

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Education

Egypt and Japan already have a “successful implemented experience” regarding educational cooperation, according to JICA’s Egypt Office Chief Representative, Yoshifumi Omura, during an interview with Business Today.

Nearly 100 schools are to be opened during the several coming years. Some 35 schools have already opened their doors and received Egyptian students for the academic year 2018/2019. Five more schools are expected to open during the next year.

The 100 schools will be based on “Tokkatsu”. As identified by Japanese Asakawa elementary school principal, Ms. Hiromi Shimizu, Tokkatsu is a kind of student activity which builds the students’ characters to make them more independent and positive. She said that studies have been conducted on students’ behavior before and after applying the Tokkatsu activities, and showed significant transformation in students’ behaviors. Students turn into more engaging and open individuals who are willing to participate in discussions without fear.

Many Egyptian teachers came to Japan to take the Tokkatsu training, according to Shimizu. She added that she met and trained some of them, and even became friends with them.

“We understand that we have an education system different from the one in Egypt, or any other country; however, Tokkatsu is not just about learning, it is also about building personalities,” Shimizu said.
By the end of the academic year, teachers will have to fill a form to check if all of the Tokkatsu goals have been achieved during the year. This is the only aspect through which they can check if Tokkatsu was successful or not.

“Tokkatsu can be applied anywhere around the world. Eventually, Tokkatsu is about changing people’s mind sets to be more motivated to participate in the society even more,” Shimizu said.

“Of course we expected to face some difficulties and problems in the beginning because the whole idea is new. But, so far, I can say that the experience is pretty much successful, despite everything that happened during setting up the process last year,” JICA’s Egypt Office Chief Representative, Yoshifumi Omura, said.

Japan is not a countrywithso many natural sources; however, they managed to create different sources to strengthen their economy. JICA’s Kitaoka reviewed during the meeting with the Africanjournalists that Japan focused after World War II on reforming the country’s economy. Several years later, Japan, a country which survived two atomic bombings, turned from an invading country during the war to a supporting country for its neighbors.

 

Credit: Aya Samir/ Egypt Today

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Economy

Egypt, PRL sign train engines contracts worth $466.3M

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CAIRO – 16 November 2019: The Egyptian Railway Authority (ERA) signed with PRL (Progress Rail Automotives) a number of contracts worth $466.3 million after a meeting with President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi that took place last week.

The American company will supply 50 train engines over 22 months, carry out long-term maintenance for 41 engines by June 30, and upgrade 50 others within 30 months since the conclusion of the deal. The company will also provide maintenance services and spare parts for those 141 train engines for 15 years. The value of contracts will be secured through soft loans, except for $27 million that will be paid by ERA’s treasury.

In July, ERA endorsed the technical specifications of two passenger railcars to be supplied by Transmashholding in September. Those are part of a contract to supply 1,300 railcars. One of the railcars will be tested in Hungary, so it will be granted the safety certification by the European Railway Agency. The other will be tested in Egypt. Afterwards, the first batch of railcars in the contract will be delivered in accordance with the timeline set by both parties.

The contract states that 650 railcars will be supplied from Hungary, 500 will be delivered by Russia, and 150 will be manufactured by Egypt under the supervision of Transmashholding. An Egyptian locomotive factory will be established as part of a plan to localize the locomotive industry in Egypt and transfer the know-how to workers, technicians, and engineers in the sector. The factory will produce the 150 railcars and also provide maintenance services.

The representatives of ERA and Transmashholding agreed to hold further visits and meetings to study the possibility of cooperation in rail infrastructure, mobile rail, workshops, new lines, and maintenance of existing railcars.

In the same month, an official source told Egypt Today that ERA needs 12 rail test machines to detect and repair defects in railroads revealing that contracts to purchase eight of those are being finalized.

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ERA will receive four rail test machines worth €8.5 million by the end of 2020 supplied by an Austrian company with which a contract was signed a few months ago. The machines will enable the authority to better diagnose defects in the railroads which would increase the safety, and inhibit derailment accidents.

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France-Africa Summit secretary general praises Egypt’s experience in infrastructure

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Investment Minister Sahar Nasr meets with Secretary General of France-Africa Summit 2020 Stephanie Rivoal Reminisces- press photo

CAIRO – 8 November 2019: Ambassador Stephanie Rivoal Reminisces, the Secretary General of France-Africa Summit 2020, has hailed Egypt’s experience in the infrastructure field mainly with regard to the the sustainable and smart cities as well as digitization which she said offers investment opportunities to the private sector.

During her meeting with Investment Minister Sahar Nasr, the French diplomat added that France prioritizes consolidating strategic relations with the African countries, topped by Egypt, the current president of the African Union.

The meeting is held on Friday as part of Reminisces’s current visit to Egypt to hold talks with the government on preparations for the anticipated summit, slated for June, 2020. This year’s summit will focus on the sustainable cities.

Several heads of state and government will address the summit and meetings among businessmen from all over the African continents will be held as part of the summit’s activities, Reminisces said.

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About 1,000 investors representing major, small and medium sized- businesses have been invited to the summit, Reminisces added.

Meanwhile, Nasr asserted Egypt’s keenness on developing cooperation with France at economic, development and investment levels.

She hailed successes achieved through the French investments in Egypt which she said hit 5.2 billion dollars with 160 French companies operating in the country.

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Egypt urges World Bank, IMF to support regional integrity in Africa

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CAIRO – 18 October 2019: Minister of Investment and International Cooperation Sahar Nasr called on the World Bank and IMF to boost their support to Egypt in achieving regional integrity and intra-trade in Africa, a press release on Friday read.

Addressing the Intergovernmental Group of 24 on International Monetary Affairs and Development in Washington, Nasr called on the WB and International Monetary Fund to expand investments in the region.

The minister said that Egypt’s vision to face the slowdown in global economic growth and trade tensions is to achieve more economic integration and continue to take the path of reform to make our economies more competitive and attractive for investment, to achieve the aspirations of the world countries in growth and development.

Nasr explained that the Egyptian government has implemented a comprehensive economic and social reform program to promote sustainable growth, alleviate poverty, create good jobs, enable the private sector to promote growth, and provide opportunities for all sectors of society to participate in the economy, especially women and young entrepreneurs.

The Minister added that President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, as the chairman of the African Union, has set the achievement of regional economic integration as a top priority.

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Nasr also discussed Wednesday with the World Bank the provision of $500 million for the pollution control and solid waste management project in Egypt.

Nasr added in a statement that Egypt is also discussing with the World Bank raising the level of partnership to support the health and education sectors in Egypt.

For his part, World Bank Vice President for the Middle East and North Africa Farid Belhadj affirmed that Egypt is a very important country for the bank’s fields of work.

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“Therefore the World Bank is keen to contribute effectively to the efforts exerted to achieve development in Egypt, especially in the field of infrastructure, in light of the economic and legislative reform that contributed to improving the investment climate in Egypt,”Belhadj explained.

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