US urged to reach out to “pro-business” Egypt

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The United States should reach out to Egypt’s Islamist president-elect Mohamed Mursi with an offer to negotiate a free trade agreement, said an Egyptian business leader.

Hisham Fahmy, president of the American Chamber of Commerce in Egypt, told the Washington International Trade Association that an announcement saying the two sides wanted to start free trade talks would help the United States’ image in Egypt.

It would also enable the United States to compete in the Egyptian market with the European Union, Reuters reports.
“The EU is really eating our lunch because of the (EU-Egyptian) partnership agreement,” Fahmy said, Reuters reports.

Egypt would have to make many economic reforms to secure such an agreement with the United States, he said.

The United States and the government of former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak flirted for years with negotiating a free trade pact, which would eliminate tariffs on both sides and require Cairo to make business-friendly reforms in financial services, protection of intellectual property rights, and other areas.

The Muslim Brotherhood’s Mursi is due to be sworn in on Saturday.

While the United States government has long held the Muslim Brotherhood at arm’s length, Fahmy said he believed the Brotherhood was “pro-business.”
“That’s their nature, all of them, because they couldn’t get into government (under Mubarak), into big projects. So they’re all basically entrepreneurs,” Fahmy said.

Robert Drumheller, a vice president at the U.S. Overseas Private Investment Corporation, said he agreed.
“I think early indications that we are seeing from the U.S. government side is that they are pro-business. They know they need to do something to turn the economy around. Many of them are successful small business people themselves,” he said.

U.S. companies are understandably taking a “wait-and-see” approach before making new investments in Egypt, Fahmy said.



At the same time, “the overall sentiment is Egypt is about to grow,” Fahmy said, stressing the last word. “If you’re a poker player, I think you could bet on Egypt.”