The Egyptian government continues to make progress on economic reforms, and while many challenges remain, Egypt’s investment climate is improving. The country has undertaken a number of structural reforms since the flotation of the Egyptian Pound (EGP) in November 2016, and after a strong track record of successfully completing a three-year, $12 billion International Monetary Fund (IMF)-backed economic reform program, Egypt was one of the fastest growing emerging markets prior to the COVID-19 outbreak. Increased investor confidence and the reactivation of Egypt’s interbank foreign exchange (FX) market have attracted foreign portfolio investment and grown foreign reserves. The Government of Egypt (GoE) also understands that attracting foreign direct investment (FDI) is key to addressing many of its economic challenges and has stated its intention to create a more conducive environment for FDI. FDI inflows grew 11 percent between 2018 and 2019, from $8.1 to $9 billion, according to data from the Central Bank of Egypt. The United Nations Commission on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) has ranked Egypt as the top FDI destination in Africa between 2015 and 2019.
Egypt has implemented a number of regulatory reforms, including a new investment law in 2017; a new companies law and a bankruptcy law in 2018; and a new customs law in 2020. These laws aim to improve Egypt’s investment and business climate and help the economy realize its full potential. The 2017 Investment Law is designed to attract new investment and provides a framework for the government to offer investors more incentives, consolidate investment-related rules, and streamline procedures. The 2020 Customs Law is likewise meant to streamline aspects of import and export procedures, including a single window system, electronic payments, and expedited clearances for authorized companies.
The government also hopes to attract investment in several “mega projects,” including the construction of a new national administrative capital, and to promote mineral extraction opportunities. Egypt intends to capitalize on its location bridging the Middle East, Africa, and Europe to become a regional trade and investment gateway and energy hub, and hopes to attract information and communications technology (ICT) sector investments for its digital transformation program.
Egypt is a party to more than 100 bilateral investment treaties, including with the United States. It is a member of the World Trade Organization (WTO), the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA), and the Greater Arab Free Trade Area (GAFTA). In many sectors, there is no legal difference between foreign and domestic investors. Special requirements exist for foreign investment in certain sectors, such as upstream oil and gas as well as real estate, where joint ventures are required.
Several challenges persist for investors. Dispute resolution is slow, with the time to adjudicate a case to completion averaging three to five years. Other obstacles to investment include excessive bureaucracy, regulatory complexity, a mismatch between job skills and labor market demand, slow and cumbersome customs procedures, and various non-tariff trade barriers. Inadequate protection of intellectual property rights (IPR) remains a significant hurdle in certain sectors and Egypt remains on the U.S. Trade Representative’s Special 301 Watch List. Nevertheless, Egypt’s reform story is noteworthy, and if the steady pace of implementation for structural reforms continues, and excessive bureaucracy reduces over time, then the investment climate should continue to look more favorable to U.S. investors.
|TI Corruption Perceptions Index||2019||106 of 198||http://www.transparency.org/
|World Bank’s Doing Business Report||2019||114 of 190||http://www.doingbusiness.org/
|Global Innovation Index||2019||96 of 131||https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/
|U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, historical stock positions)||2019||USD 11,000||http://apps.bea.gov/international/
|World Bank GNI per capita||2019||USD 2,690||http://data.worldbank.org/
1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment
Policies Towards Foreign Direct Investment
Egypt’s completion of the most recent three-year, $13 billion IMF Extended Fund Facility and its associated reform package helped stabilize Egypt’s macroeconomy, introduced important subsidy and social spending reforms, and helped restore investor confidence in the Egyptian economy. The flotation of the Egyptian Pound (EGP) in November 2016 and the restart of Egypt’s interbank foreign exchange (FX) market as part of this program was the first major step in restoring investor confidence that immediately led to increased portfolio investment and should lead to increased FDI over the long term. Other important reforms have included a new investment law and an industrial licensing law in 2017, a new bankruptcy law in 2018, and other reforms aimed at reducing regulatory overhang and improving the ease of doing business. Egypt’s government has announced plans to further improve its business climate through investment promotion, facilitation, more efficient business services, and the implementation of investor-friendly policies.
With a few exceptions, Egypt does not legally discriminate between Egyptian nationals and foreigners in the formation and operation of private companies. The 1997 Investment Incentives Law was designed to encourage domestic and foreign investment in targeted economic sectors and to promote decentralization of industry away from the Nile Valley. The law allows 100 percent foreign ownership of investment projects and guarantees the right to remit income earned in Egypt and to repatriate capital.
The Tenders Law (Law 89 of 1998) requires the government to consider both price and best value in awarding contracts and to issue an explanation for refusal of a bid. However, the law contains preferences for Egyptian domestic contractors, who are accorded priority if their bids do not exceed the lowest foreign bid by more than 15 percent.
The Capital Markets Law (Law 95 of 1992) and its amendments, including the most recent in February 2018, and regulations govern Egypt’s capital markets. Foreign investors are able to buy shares on the Egyptian Stock Exchange on the same basis as local investors.
The General Authority for Investment and Free Zones (GAFI, http://gafi.gov.eg) is the principal government body that regulates and facilitates foreign investment in Egypt, and reports directly to the Prime Minister. Prior to December 2019, GAFI had been a component of the Ministry of Investment and International Cooperation.
”The Investor Service Center (ISC)” is an administrative unit established within GAFI that provides ”one-stop-shop” services, easing the way for global investors looking for opportunities presented by Egypt’s domestic economy and the nation’s competitive advantages as an export hub for Europe, the Arab world and Africa. This is in addition to promoting Egypt’s investment opportunities in various sectors.
ISC provides a full start-to-end service to the investor, including assistance related to company incorporation, establishment of company branches, approval of minutes of Board of Directors and General Assemblies, increase of capital, change of activity, liquidation procedures, and other corporate-related matters. The Center also aims to issue licenses, approvals, and permits required for investment activities, within 60 days from the date of request submissions. Other services GAFI provides include:
Advice and support to help in the evaluation of Egypt as a potential investment location;
Identification of suitable locations and site selection options within Egypt;
Assistance in identifying suitable Egyptian partners;
Aftercare and dispute settlement services.
ISC Branches are expected to be established in all Egypt’s Governorates. Egypt maintains ongoing communication with investors through formal business roundtables, investment promotion events (conferences and seminars), and one-on-one investment meetings.
Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment
The Egyptian Companies Law does not set any limitation on the number of foreigners, neither as shareholders nor as managers/board members, except for Limited Liability Companies where the only restriction is that one of the managers should be an Egyptian national. In addition, companies are required to obtain a commercial and tax license, and pass a security clearance process. Companies are able to operate while undergoing the often lengthy security screening process. However, if the firm is rejected, it must cease operations and undergo a lengthy appeals process. Businesses have cited instances where Egyptian clients were hesitant to conclude long term business contracts with foreign businesses that have yet to receive a security clearance. They have also expressed concern about seemingly arbitrary refusals, a lack of explanation when a security clearance is not issued, and the lengthy appeals process. Although the Government of Egypt has made progress streamlining the business registration process at GAFI, inconsistent treatment by banks and other government officials has in some cases led to registration delays.
Sector-specific limitations to investment include restrictions on foreign shareholding of companies owning lands in the Sinai Peninsula. Likewise, the Import-Export Law requires companies wishing to register in the Import Registry to be 51 percent owned and managed by Egyptians. In 2016, the Ministry of Trade prepared an amendment to the law allowing the registration of importing companies owned by foreign shareholders, but the law has not yet been submitted to Parliament. Nevertheless, the new Investment Law does allow wholly foreign companies which are invested in Egypt to import goods and materials.
Land/Real Estate Law 15 of 1963 explicitly prohibits foreign individual or corporation ownership of agricultural land (defined as traditional agricultural land in the Nile Valley, Delta and Oases). The ownership of land by foreigners is governed by three laws: Law No. 15 of 1963, Law No. 143 of 1981, and Law No. 230 of 1996. Law No. 15 stipulates that no foreigners, whether natural or juristic persons, may acquire agricultural land. Law No. 143 governs the acquisition and ownership of desert land. Certain limits are placed on the number of feddans (one feddan is equal to approximately one hectare) that may be owned by individuals, families, cooperatives, partnerships and corporations. Partnerships are permitted to own 10,000 feddans. Joint stock companies are permitted to own 50,000 feddans.
Under Law No. 230 non-Egyptians are allowed to own real estate (vacant or built) only under the following conditions:
- Ownership is limited to two real estate properties in Egypt that serve as accommodation for the owner and his family (spouses and minors) in addition to the right to own real estate needed for activities licensed by the Egyptian Government.
- The area of each real estate property does not exceed 4,000 m².
- The real estate is not considered a historical site.
Exemption from the first and second conditions is subject to the approval of the Prime Minister. Ownership in tourist areas and new communities is subject to conditions established by the Cabinet of Ministers. Non-Egyptians owning vacant real estate in Egypt must build within a period of five years from the date their ownership is registered by a notary public. Non-Egyptians cannot sell their real estate for five years after registration of ownership, unless the consent of the Prime Minister for an exemption is obtained.
Other Investment Policy Reviews
The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) signed a declaration with Egypt on International Investment and Multinational Enterprises on July 11, 2007, at which time Egypt became the first Arab and African country to sign the OECD Declaration, marking a new stage in Egypt’s drive to attract more foreign direct investment (FDI). On July 8, 2020, the OECD released an Investment Policy Review for Egypt which highlighted the government’s progress implementing a proactive reform agenda to improve the business climate, attract more foreign and domestic investment, and reap the benefits of openness to FDI and participation in global value chains.
In January 2018 the World Trade Organization (WTO) published a comprehensive review of the Egyptian Government’s trade policies, including details of the 2017 Investment Law’s main provisions.
The United Nations Conference on Trade Development (UNCTAD) published an Information and Communications Technology (ICT) Policy Review for Egypt in 2017, in which it highlighted the potential for investments in the ICT sector to help drive economic growth and recommended specific reforms aimed at strengthening Egypt’s performance in key ICT policy areas. UNCTAD published its last comprehensive Investment Policy Review for Egypt in 1999, and an implementation report in 2006.
GAFI’s new ISC ( ) was launched in February 2018 and provides a full start-to-end service to the investor as described above. The new Investment Law also introduces ”Ratification Offices” to facilitate obtaining necessary approvals, permits, and licenses within 10 days of issuing a Ratification Certificate.
Investors may fulfill the technical requirements of obtaining the required licenses through these Ratification Offices, directly through the concerned authority, or through its representatives at the Investment Window at GAFI. The Investor Service Center is required to issue licenses within 60 days from submission. Companies can also register online. GAFI has also launched e-establishment, e-signature, and e-payment services to facilitate establishing companies.
Egypt promotes and incentivizes outward investment. According to the Egyptian government’s FDI Markets database for the period from January 2003 to May 2020, outward investment featured the following:
- Egyptian companies implemented 270 Egyptian FDI projects. Estimated total value of the projects, which employed about 50,000 workers, was $25.6 billion.
- The following countries respectively received the largest amount of Egyptian outward investment in terms of total project value: UAE, Saudi Arabia, Algeria, Kenya, Jordan, Ethiopia, Germany, Libya, Morocco and Sudan. The UAE, Saudi Arabia and Algeria accounted for about 28 percent of the total amount.
Elsewedy Electric was the largest Egyptian company investing abroad, implementing 20 projects with a total investment estimated to be $2.1 billion.
Egypt does not restrict domestic investors from investing abroad.
2. Bilateral Investment Agreements and Taxation Treaties
The U.S.-Egypt Bilateral Investment Treaty provides for fair, equitable, and nondiscriminatory treatment for investors of both nations. The treaty includes provisions for international legal standards on expropriation and compensation; free financial transfers; and procedures for the settlement of investment disputes, including international arbitration.
In addition to BITs, Egypt is also a signatory to a wide variety of other agreements covering trade issues. Egypt joined the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) in June 1998, and in 2019 deposited its instrument of ratification for the 2018 African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA). In July 1999, Egypt and the United States signed a Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA). In June 2001, Egypt signed an Association Agreement with the European Union (EU), which entered into force on June 1, 2004. The agreement provided immediate duty free access of Egyptian products into EU markets, while duty free access for EU products into the Egyptian market was phased in over a 12-year period ending in 2016. In 2010, Egypt and the EU completed an agricultural annex to their agreement, liberalizing trade in over 90 percent of agricultural goods.
Egypt is also a member of the Greater Arab Free Trade Agreement (GAFTA), and a member of the Agadir Agreement with Jordan, Morocco, and Tunisia, which relaxes rules of origin requirements on products jointly manufactured by the countries for export to Europe. Egypt also has an FTA with Turkey, in force since March 2007, and an FTA with the Mercosur bloc of Latin American nations.
In 2004, Egypt and Israel signed an agreement to take advantage of the U.S. Government’s Qualifying Industrial Zone (QIZ) program. The purpose of the QIZ program is to promote stronger ties between the region’s peace partners, as well as to generate employment and higher incomes, by granting duty-free access to goods produced in QIZs in Egypt using a specified percentage of Israeli and local input. Under Egypt’s QIZ agreement, Egypt’s exports to the United States produced in certain industrial areas are eligible for duty-free treatment if they contain a minimum 10.5 percent Israeli content.
The industrial areas currently included in the QIZ program are Alexandria, areas in Greater Cairo such as Sixth of October, Tenth of Ramadan, Fifteenth of May, South of Giza, Shobra El-Khema, Nasr City, and Obour, areas in the Delta governorates such as Dakahleya, Damietta, Monofeya and Gharbeya, and areas in the Suez Canal such as Suez, Ismailia, Port Said, and other specified areas in Upper Egypt. Egyptian exports to the United States through the QIZ program have mostly been ready-made garments and processed foods. The value of the Egyptian QIZ exports to the United States was approximately $752 million in 2017.
Egypt has a bilateral tax treaty with the United States. Egypt also has tax agreements with 59 other countries, including UAE, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Mauritius, Bahrain, and Morocco.
The Egyptian Parliament passed and the government implemented a value added tax (VAT) in late 2016, which took the place of the General Sales Tax, as part of the IMF loan and economic reform program. However, the government decided to postpone the “Stock Market Capital Gains Tax” for three years as of early 2017. In 2016, there were a number of tax disputes between foreign investors and the government, but most of them were resolved through the Tax Department and the Economic Court.
3. Legal Regime
Transparency of the Regulatory System
The Egyptian government has made efforts to improve the transparency of government policy and to support a fair, competitive marketplace. Nevertheless, improving government transparency and consistency has proven difficult and reformers have faced strong resistance from entrenched bureaucratic and private interests. Significant obstacles continue to hinder private investment, including the reportedly arbitrary imposition of bureaucratic impediments and the length of time needed to resolve them. Nevertheless, the impetus for positive change driven by the government reform agenda augurs well for improvement in policy implementation and transparency.
Enactment of laws is the purview of the Parliament, while executive regulations are the domain of line ministries. Under the Constitution, draft legislation can be presented by the president, the cabinet, and any member of parliament. After submission, parliamentary committees review and approve, including any amendments. Upon parliamentary approval, a judicial body reviews the constitutionality of any legislation before referring it to the president for his approval. Although notice and full drafts of legislation are typically printed in the Official Gazette (similar to the Federal Register in the United States), in practice consultation with the public is limited. In recent years, the Ministry of Trade and other government bodies have circulated draft legislation among concerned parties, including business associations and labor unions. This has been a welcome change from previous practice, but is not yet institutionalized across the government.
While Egyptian parliaments have historically held “social dialogue” sessions with concerned parties and private or civic organizations to discuss proposed legislation, it is unclear to what degree the current Parliament will adopt a more inclusive approach to social dialogue. Many aspects of the 2016 IMF program and related economic reforms stimulated parliament to engage more broadly with the public, marking some progress in this respect.
Accounting, legal, and regulatory procedures are transparent and consistent with international norms. The Financial Regulatory Authority (FRA) supervises and regulates all non-banking financial markets and instruments, including capital markets, futures exchanges, insurance activities, mortgage finance, financial leasing, factoring, securitization, and microfinance. It issues rules that facilitate market efficiency and transparency. FRA has issued legislation and regulatory decisions on non-banking financial laws which govern FRA’s work and the entities under its supervision. ( )
The criteria for awarding government contracts and licenses are made available when bid rounds are announced. The process actually used to award contracts is broadly consistent with the procedural requirements set forth by law. Further, set-aside requirements for small- and medium-sized enterprise (SME) participation in GoE procurement are increasingly highlighted. FRA maintains a centralized website where key regulations and laws are published:
The Parliament and the independent “Administrative Control Authority” both ensure the government’s commitment to follow administrative processes at all levels of government. Egypt does not have an online equivalent of the U.S. Federal Register and there is no centralized online location for key regulatory actions or their summaries.
The cabinet develops and submits proposed regulations to the president following discussion and consultation with the relevant ministry and informal consultation with other interest groups. Based on the recommendations provided in the proposal, including recommendations by the presidential advisors, the president issues “Presidential Decrees” that function as implementing regulations. Presidential decrees are published in the “Official Gazette” for enforcement.
The specific government agency or entity responsible for enforcing the regulation works with other departments for implementation across the government. Not all issued regulations are announced online. Theoretically, the enforcement process is legally reviewable.
Before a government regulation is implemented, there is an attempt to properly analyze and thoroughly debate proposed legislation and rules using appropriate available data. But there are no laws requiring scientific studies or quantitative analysis of impacts of regulations. Not all public comments received by regulators are made public.
The government made its budget documents widely and easily accessible to the general public, including online. Budget documents did not include allocations to military state-owned enterprises, nor allocations to and earnings from state-owned enterprises. Information on government debt obligations was publicly available online, but up-to-date and clear information on state-owned enterprise debt guaranteed by the government was not available. According to information the Central Bank has provided to the World Bank, the lack of information available about publicly guaranteed private sector debt meant that this debt was generally recorded as private sector non-guaranteed debt thus potentially obscuring some contingent debt liabilities.
International Regulatory Considerations
In general, international standards are the main reference for Egyptian standards. According to the Egyptian Organization for Standardization and Quality Control, approximately 7,000 national standards are aligned with international standards in various sectors. In the absence of international standards, Egypt uses other references which are referred to in Ministerial decrees No. 180//1996 and No. 291//2003, which stipulate that in the absence of Egyptian standards, the producers and importers may use the following:
European standards (EN)
U.S. standards (ANSI)
Japanese standards (JIS)
Egypt is a member of the WTO, participates actively in various committees, and notifies technical regulations to the WTO Committee on Technical Barriers to Trade. Egypt ratified the Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA) on June 22, 2017 by a vote of Parliament and issuance of presidential decree No. 149/2017, and deposited its formal notification to the WTO on June 24, 2019. Egypt notified indicative and definitive dates for implementing Category B and C commitments on June 20, 2019, but to date has not notified dates for implementing Category A commitments. In August 2020 the Egyptian Parliament passed a new Customs Law that includes provisions for key TFA reforms, including advance rulings, separation of release, a Single Window system, expedited customs procedures for authorized economic operators, post-clearance audits, and e-payments.
Legal System and Judicial Independence
Egypt’s legal system is a civil codified law system based on the French model. If contractual disputes arise, claimants can sue for remedies through the court system or seek resolution through arbitration. Egypt has written commercial and contractual laws. The country has a system of economic courts, specializing in private sector disputes, which have jurisdiction over cases related to economic and commercial matters, including intellectual property disputes. The judiciary is set up as an independent branch of the government.
Regulations and enforcement actions can be appealed through Egypt’s courts, though appellants often complain about the very lengthy judicial process, which can often take years. To enforce judgments of foreign courts in Egypt, the party seeking to enforce the judgment must obtain an exequatur (a legal document issued by governments allowing judgements to be enforced). To apply for an exequatur, the normal procedures for initiating a lawsuit in Egypt must be satisfied. Moreover, several other conditions must be satisfied, including ensuring reciprocity between the Egyptian and foreign country’s courts, and verifying the competence of the court rendering the judgment.
Judges in Egypt are said to enjoy a high degree of public trust and are the designated monitors for general elections. The Judiciary is proud of its independence and can point to a number of cases where a judge has made surprising decisions that run counter to the desires of the regime. The judge’s ability to loosely interpret the law can sometimes lead to an uneven application of justice. The system’s slowness and dependence on paper processes hurts its overall competence and reliability. The executive branch claims to have no influence over the judiciary, but in practice political pressures seem to influence the courts on a case by case basis. In the experience of the Embassy, judicial decisions are highly appealable at the national level and this appeal process is regularly used by litigants.
Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment
No specialized court exists for foreign investments.
In 2017 the Parliament also passed the Industrial Permits Act, which reduced the time it takes to license a new factory by mandating that the Industrial Development Authority (IDA) respond to a request for a license within 30 days of the request being filed. As of February 2020, new regulations allow IDA regional branch directors or their designees to grant conditional licenses to industrial investors until other registration requirements are complete.
In 2016, the Import-Export Law was revised to allow companies wishing to register in the Import Registry to be 51 percent owned and managed by Egyptians; formerly the law required 100 percent Egyptian ownership and management. In November 2016, the inter-ministerial Supreme Investment Council also announced seventeen presidential decrees designed to spur investment or resolve longstanding issues. These include:
- Forming a “National Payments Council” that will work to restrict the handling of FX outside the banking sector;
- A decision to postpone for three years the capital gains taxon stock market transactions;
- Producers of agricultural crops that Egypt imports or exports will get tax exemptions;
- Five-year tax exemptions for manufacturers of “strategic” goodsthat Egypt imports or exports;
- Five-year tax exemptionsfor agriculture and industrial investments in Upper Egypt;
- Begin tendering land with utilities for industry in Upper Egypt for free as outlined by the Industrial Development Authority.
Competition and Anti-Trust Laws
The Investment Incentives Law provides guarantees against nationalization or confiscation of investment projects under the law’s domain. The law also provides guarantees against seizure, requisition, blocking, and placing of assets under custody or sequestration. It offers guarantees against full or partial expropriation of real estate and investment project property. The U.S.-Egypt Bilateral Investment Treaty also provides protection against expropriation. Private firms are able to take cases of alleged expropriation to court, but the judicial system can take several years to resolve a case.
Expropriation and Compensation
Egypt’s Investment Incentives Law provides guarantees against nationalization or confiscation of investment projects under the law’s domain. The law also provides guarantees against seizure, requisition, blocking, and placing of assets under custody or sequestration. It offers guarantees against full or partial expropriation of real estate and investment project property. The U.S.-Egypt Bilateral Investment Treaty also provides protection against expropriation. Private firms are able to take cases of alleged expropriation to court, but the judicial system can take several years to resolve a case.
ICSID Convention and New York Convention
Egypt acceded to the International Convention for the Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) in 1971 and is a member of the International Center for the Settlement of Investment Disputes, which provides a framework for the arbitration of investment disputes between the government and foreign investors from another member state, provided the parties agree to such arbitration. Without prejudice to Egyptian courts, the Investment Incentives Law recognizes the right of investors to settle disputes within the framework of bilateral agreements, the ICSID or through arbitration before the Regional Center for International Commercial Arbitration in Cairo, which applies the rules of the United Nations Commissions on International Trade Law.
Egypt adheres to the 1958 New York Convention on the Enforcement of Arbitral Awards; the 1965 Washington Convention on the Settlement of Investment Disputes between States and the Nationals of Other States; and the 1974 Convention on the Settlement of Investment Disputes between the Arab States and Nationals of Other States. An award issued pursuant to arbitration that took place outside Egypt may be enforced in Egypt if it is either covered by one of the international conventions to which Egypt is party or it satisfies the conditions set out in Egypt’s Dispute Settlement Law 27 of 1994, which provides for the arbitration of domestic and international commercial disputes and limited challenges of arbitration awards in the Egyptian judicial system. The Dispute Settlement Law was amended in 1997 to include disputes between public enterprises and the private sector.
To enforce judgments of foreign courts in Egypt, the party seeking to enforce the judgment must obtain an exequatur. To apply for an exequatur, the normal procedures for initiating a lawsuit in Egypt, and several other conditions must be satisfied, including ensuring reciprocity between the Egyptian and foreign country’s courts and verifying the competence of the court rendering the judgment.
Egypt has a system of economic courts specializing in private sector disputes that have jurisdiction over cases related to economic and commercial matters, including intellectual property disputes. Despite these provisions, business and investors in Egypt’s renewable energy projects have reported significant problems resolving disputes with the Government of Egypt.
Investor-State Dispute Settlement
The U.S.-Egypt Bilateral Investment Treaty allows an investor to take a dispute directly to binding third-party arbitration. The Egyptian courts generally endorse international arbitration clauses in commercial contracts. For example, the Court of Cassation has, on a number of occasions, confirmed the validity of arbitration clauses included in contracts between Egyptian and foreign parties.
A new mechanism for simplified settlement of investment disputes aimed at avoiding the court system altogether has been established. In particular, the law established a Ministerial Committee on Investment Contract Disputes, responsible for the settlement of disputes arising from investment contracts to which the State, or a public or private body affiliated therewith, is a party. This is in addition to establishing a Complaint Committee to consider challenges connected to the implementation of Egypt’s Investment Law. Finally, the decree established a Committee for Resolution of Investment Disputes, which will review complaints or disputes between investors and the government related to the implementation of the Investment Law. In practice, Egypt’s dispute resolution mechanisms are time-consuming but broadly effective. Businesses have, however, reported difficulty collecting payment from the government when awarded a monetary settlement.
Over the past 10 years, there have been several investment disputes involving both U.S. persons and foreign investors. Most of the cases have been settled, though no definitive number is available. Local courts in Egypt recognize and enforce foreign arbitral awards issued against the government. There are no known extrajudicial actions against foreign investors in Egypt during the period of this report.
International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts
Egypt allows mediation as a mechanism for alternative dispute resolution (ADR), a structured negotiation process in which an independent person known as a mediator assists the parties to identify and assess options, and negotiate an agreement to resolve their dispute. GAFI has an Investment Disputes Settlement Center, which uses mediation as an ADR.
The Economic Court recognizes and enforces arbitral awards. Judgments of foreign courts may be recognized and enforceable under local courts under limited conditions.
In most cases, domestic courts have found in favor of state-owned enterprises (SOEs) involved in investment disputes. In such disputes, non-government parties have often complained about the delays and discrimination in court processes.
It is recommended that U.S. companies employ contractual clauses that specify binding international (not local) arbitration of disputes in their commercial agreements.
Egypt passed a new bankruptcy law in January 2018, which should speed up the restructuring and settlement of troubled companies. It also replaces the threat of imprisonment with fines in cases of bankruptcy. As of July, 2020, the Egyptian government was considering but had not yet implemented amendments to the 2018 law that would allow debtors to file for bankruptcy protection, and would give creditors the ability to determine whether debtors could continue operating, be placed under administrative control, or forced to liquidate their assets.
In practice, the paperwork involved in liquidating a business remains convoluted and extremely protracted; starting a business is much easier than shutting one down. Bankruptcy is frowned upon in Egyptian culture and many businesspeople still believe they may be found criminally liable if they declare bankruptcy.
5. Protection of Property Rights
The Egyptian legal system provides protection for real and personal property. Laws on real estate ownership are complex and titles to real property may be difficult to establish and trace. According to the World Bank’s 2020 Doing Business Report, Egypt ranks 130 of 190 for ease of registering property.
The National Title Registration Program introduced by the Ministry of State for Administrative Development has been implemented in nine areas within Cairo. This program is intended to simplify property registration and facilitate easier mortgage financing. Real estate registration fees, long considered a major impediment to development of the real estate sector, are capped at no more than EGP 2000 (USD 110), irrespective of the property value. In November 2012, the government postponed implementation of an enacted overhaul to the real estate tax and as of April 2017 no action has been taken.
Foreigners are limited to ownership of two residences in Egypt and specific procedures are required for purchasing real estate in certain geographical areas.
The mortgage market is still undeveloped in Egypt, and in practice most purchases are still conducted in cash. Real Estate Finance Law 148//2001 authorized both banks and non-bank mortgage companies to issue mortgages. The law provides procedures for foreclosure on property of defaulting debtors, and amendments passed in 2004 allow for the issuance of mortgage-backed securities. According to the regulations, banks can offer financing in foreign currency of up to 80 percent of the value of a property.
Presidential Decree 17//2015 permitted the government to provide land free of charge, in certain regions only, to investors meeting certain technical and financial requirements. This provision expires on April 1, 2020 and the company must provide cash collateral for five years following commencement of either production (for industrial projects) or operation (for all other projects).
The ownership of land by foreigners is governed by three laws: Law 15//1963, Law 143//1981, and Law 230//1996. Law 15//1963 stipulates that no foreigners, whether natural or juristic persons, may acquire agricultural land. Law 143//1981 governs the acquisition and ownership of desert land. Certain limits are placed on the number of feddans (one feddan is equal to approximately one hectare) that may be owned by individuals, families, cooperatives, partnerships and corporations. Partnerships are permitted to own up to 10,000 feddans. Joint stock companies are permitted to own up to 50,000 feddans.
Partnerships and joint stock companies may own desert land within these limits, even if foreign partners or shareholders are involved, provided that at least 51 percent of the capital is owned by Egyptians. Upon liquidation of the company, however, the land must revert to Egyptian ownership. Law 143 defines desert land as the land lying two kilometers outside city borders. Furthermore, non-Egyptians owning non-improved real estate in Egypt must build within a period of five years from the date their ownership is registered by a notary public. Non-Egyptians may only sell their real estate five years after registration of ownership, unless the consent of the Prime Minister for an exemption is obtained.
Intellectual Property Rights
Egypt remains on the Special 301 Watch List in 2020. Egypt’s IPR legislation generally meets international standards, and the government has made progress enforcing those laws, reducing patent application backlogs, and in 2019 shut down a number of online illegal streaming websites. It has also made progress establishing protection against the unfair commercial use, as well as unauthorized disclosure, of undisclosed test or other data generated to obtain marketing approval for pharmaceutical products. Stakeholders note continued challenges with widespread counterfeiting and piracy, biotechnology patentability criteria, patent and trademark examination criteria, and pharmaceutical-related IP issues.
Multinational pharmaceutical companies complain that local generic drug-producing companies infringe on their patents. Delays and inefficiencies in processing patent applications by the Egyptian Patent Office compound the difficulties pharmaceutical companies face in introducing new drugs to the local market. The government views patent linkage as “a legal violation” against the concept of separation of authorities between institutions such as the Egyptian Drug Authority, the Ministry of Health, and the Egyptian Patent Office. As a result, permits for the sale of pharmaceuticals are generally issued without first cross-checking patent filings.
Decree 251/2020, issued in January, 2020, established a ministerial committee to address compulsory patent licensing. According to Egypt’s 2002 IPR Law, which allows for compulsory patent licenses in some cases, the committee will have the power to issue compulsory patent licenses according to a number of criteria set forth in the law; to determine financial renumeration for the original patent owners; and to approve the expropriation of the patents.
Book, music, and entertainment software piracy is prevalent in Egypt, and a significant portion of the piracy takes place online. American film studios represented by the Motion Pictures Association of America are concerned about the illegal distribution of American movies on regional satellite channels.
Eight GoE ministries have the responsibility to oversee IPR concerns: Supply and Internal Trade for trademarks, Higher Education and Research for patents, Culture for copyrights, Agriculture for plants, Communications and Information Technology for copyright of computer programs, Interior for combatting IPR violations, Customs for border enforcement, and Trade and Industry for standards and technical regulations. Article 69 of Egypt’s 2014 Constitution mandates the establishment of a “specialized agency to uphold [IPR] rights and their legal protection.” A National Committee on IPR was established to address IPR matters until a permanent body is established. All IPR stakeholders are represented in the committee, and members meet every two months to discuss issues. The National Committee on IPR is chaired by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and reports directly to the Prime Minister.
The Egyptian Customs Authority (ECA) handles IPR enforcement at the national border and the Ministry of Interior’s Department of Investigation handles domestic cases of illegal production. The ECA cannot act unless the trademark owner files a complaint. Moreover, Egypt’s Economic Courts often take years to reach a decision on IPR infringement cases.
ECA’s customs enforcement also tends to focus on protecting Egyptian goods and trademarks. The ECA is taking steps to adopt the World Customs Organization’s (WCO) Interface Public-Members platform, which allows customs officers to detect counterfeit goods by scanning a product’s barcode and checking the WCO trademark database system.
IPR Contact at Embassy Cairo:
Trade & Investment Officer
6. Financial Sector
Capital Markets and Portfolio Investment
To date, high returns on Egyptian government debt have crowded out Egyptian investment in productive capacity. Consistently positive and relatively high real interest rates have attracted large foreign capital inflows since 2017, most of which has been volatile portfolio capital. Returns on Egyptian government debt have begun to come down, which could presage investment by Egyptian capital in the real economy.
The Egyptian Stock Exchange (EGX) is Egypt’s registered securities exchange. About 246 companies were listed on the EGX, including Nilex, as of April 2020. There were more than 500,000 investors registered to trade on the exchange in 2019 as the Egyptian market attracted 32,000 new investors. Stock ownership is open to foreign and domestic individuals and entities. The Government of Egypt issues dollar-denominated and Egyptian pound-denominated debt instruments. Ownership is open to foreign and domestic individuals and entities. The government has developed a positive outlook toward foreign portfolio investment, recognizing the need to attract foreign capital to help develop the Egyptian economy. During 2019 foreign investors’ percentage of total transactions on the EGX reached 33 percent versus Egyptian investors’ percentage of 67 percent.
The Capital Market Law 95/1992, along with the Banking Law 88/2003, constitutes the primary regulatory frameworks for the financial sector. The law grants foreigners full access to capital markets, and authorizes establishment of Egyptian and foreign companies to provide underwriting of subscriptions, brokerage services, securities and mutual funds management, clearance and settlement of security transactions, and venture capital activities. The law specifies mechanisms for arbitration and legal dispute resolution and prohibits unfair market practices. Law 10//2009 created the Egyptian Financial Supervisory Authority (EFSA) and brought the regulation of all non-banking financial services under its authority. In 2017, EFSA became the Financial Regulatory Authority (FRA).
Settlement of transactions takes one day for treasury bonds and two days for stocks. Although Egyptian law and regulations allow companies to adopt bylaws limiting or prohibiting foreign ownership of shares, virtually no listed stocks have such restrictions. A significant number of the companies listed on the exchange are family-owned or dominated conglomerates, and free trading of shares in many of these ventures, while increasing, remains limited. Companies are de-listed from the exchange if not traded for six months.
The Higher Investment Council extended the suspension of capital gains tax for three years, until 2020 as part of efforts to draw investors back. In March 2017, the government announced plans to impose a stamp duty on all stock transactions with a duty of 0.125 percent on all buyers and sellers starting in May 2017, followed by an increase to 0.150 percent in the second year and 0.175 percent thereafter. Egypt’s provisional stamp duty on stock exchange transactions includes for the first time a 0.3 percent levy for investors acquiring more than a third of a company’s stocks. I n May 2019 the government decided to keep the stamp duty at 0.15% without further increase, then in March 2020 the government decided to reduce the stamp tax to 0.125% for non-residents and to 0.05% for non-residents and to push back the introduction of the capital gain tax till January 2022. Foreign investors will be exempted from the tax.
Foreign investors can access Egypt’s banking system by opening accounts with local banks and buying and selling all marketable securities with brokerages. The government has repeatedly emphasized its commitment to maintaining the profit repatriation system to encourage foreign investment in Egypt, especially since the pound floatation and implementation of the IMF loan program in November 2016. The current system for profit repatriation by foreign firms requires sub-custodian banks to open foreign and local currency accounts for foreign investors (global custodians), which are exclusively maintained for stock exchange transactions. The two accounts serve as a channel through which foreign investors process their sales, purchases, dividend collections, and profit repatriation transactions using the bank’s posted daily exchange rates. The system is designed to allow for settlement of transactions in fewer than two days, though in practice some firms have reported significant delays in repatriating profits due to problems with availability. Foreign firms and individuals continue to report delays in repatriating funds and problems accessing hard currency for the purpose of repatriating profits.
The Egyptian credit market, open to foreigners, is vibrant and active. Repatriation of investment profits has become much easier, as there is enough available hard currency to execute FX trades. Since the floatation of the Pound in November 2016 FX trading is considered straightforward, given the re-establishment of the interbank foreign currency trading system.
Money and Banking System
Benefitting from the nation’s increasing economic stability over the past two years, Egypt’s banks have enjoyed both ratings upgrades and continued profitability. Thanks to economic reforms, a new floating exchange system, and a new Investment Law passed in 2017, the project finance pipeline is increasing after a period of lower activity. Banking competition is improving to serve a largely untapped retail segment and the nation’s challenging, but potentially rewarding, small and medium-sized enterprise (SME) segment. The Central Bank of Egypt (CBE) has mandated that 20 percent of bank loans go to SMEs within the next three years (four years from 2016). In December 2019, the Central Bank launched a 100 billion initiative to spur domestic manufacturing through subsidized loans. Also, with only about a quarter of Egypt’s adult population owning or sharing an account at a formal financial institution (according press and comments from contacts), the banking sector has potential for growth and higher inclusion, which the government and banks discuss frequently. A low median income plays a part in modest banking penetration. But the CBE has taken steps to work with banks and technology companies to expand financial inclusion. The employees of the government, one of the largest employers, must now have bank accounts because salary payment is through direct deposit.
Egypt’s banking sector is generally regarded as healthy and well-capitalized, due in part to its deposit-based funding structure and ample liquidity, especially since the floatation and restoration of the interbank market. The CBE declared that 4.1 percent of the banking sector’s loans were non-performing in June 2020. However, since 2011, a high level of exposure to government debt, accounting for over 40 percent of banking system assets, at the expense of private sector lending, has reduced the diversity of bank balance sheets and crowded out domestic investment. Given the floatation of the Egyptian Pound and restart of the interbank trading system, Moody’s and S&P have upgraded the outlook of Egypt’s banking system to stable from negative to reflect improving macroeconomic conditions and ongoing commitment to reform. In April 2019 Moody’s upgraded Egypt’s government issuer rating to B2 with stable outlook from B3 positive and affirmed this rating in April 2020 while also changing Egypt’s Macro Profile to “weak-” from “very weak”.
Thirty-eight banks operate in Egypt, including several foreign banks. The CBE has not issued a new commercial banking license since 1979. The only way for a new commercial bank, whether foreign or domestic, to enter the market (except as a representative office) is to purchase an existing bank. To this end, in 2013, QNB Group acquired National Société Générale Bank Egypt (NSGB). That same year, Emirates NBD, Dubai’s largest bank, bought the Egypt unit of BNP Paribas. In 2015, Citibank sold its retail banking division to CIB Bank. In 2017, Barclays Bank PLC transferred its entire shareholding to Attijariwafa Bank Group. In 2016 and 2017, Egypt indicated a desire to partially (less than 35 percent) privatize at least one state-owned banks and a total of 23 firms through either expanded or new listings on the Egypt Stock Exchange. As of April 2020 the only steps towards implementing this privatization program were offering 4.5 percent of the shares of state-owned Eastern Tobacco Company on the stock market. The state owned Banque De Caire was planning to IPO some of its shares on the EGX in April but postponed due to the novel coronavirus.
According to the CBE, banks operating in Egypt held nearly EGP 6 trillion ($379 billion) in total assets as of February 2020, with the five largest banks holding EGP 3.9 trillion ($247 billion) at the end of 2019. Egypt’s three state-owned banks (Banque Misr, Banque du Caire, and National Bank of Egypt) control nearly 40 percent of banking sector assets.
The chairman of the EGX recently stated that Egypt is allowing exploration of the use of blockchain technologies across the banking community. The FRA will review the development and most likely regulate how the banking system adopts the fast-developing blockchain systems into banks’ back-end and customer-facing processing and transactions. Seminars and discussions are beginning around Cairo, including visitors from Silicon Valley, in which leaders and experts are still forming a path forward. While not outright banning cryptocurrencies, which is distinguished from blockchain technologies, authorities caution against speculation in unknown asset classes.
Alternative financial services in Egypt are extensive, given the large informal economy, estimated to be from 30 to 50 percent of the GDP. Informal lending is prevalent, but the total capitalization, number of loans, and types of terms in private finance is less well known.
Foreign Exchange and Remittances
There had been significant progress in accessing hard currency since the floatation of the Pound and re-establishment of the interbank currency trading system in November 2016. While the immediate aftermath saw some lingering difficulty of accessing currency, as of 2017 most businesses operating in Egypt reported having little difficulty obtaining hard currency for business purposes, such as importing inputs and repatriating profits. In 2016 the Central Bank lifted dollar deposit limits on households and firms importing priority goods which had been in place since early 2015. Into 2016, businesses, including foreign-owned firms, which were not operating in priority sectors, encountered difficulty accessing currency, including importers. But 2017 has seen an elimination of the backlog for demand for foreign currency. With net foreign reserves of $37 billion as of April 2020, Egypt’s foreign reserves appeared to be well capitalized.
Funds associated with investment can be freely converted into any world currency, depending on the availability of that currency in the local market. Some firms and individuals report the process taking some time. But the interbank trading system works in general and currency is available as the foreign exchange markets continue to react positively to the government’s commitment to macro and structural reform.
The stabilized exchange rate operates on the principle of market supply and demand: the exchange rate is dictated by availability of currency and demand by firms and individuals. While there is some reported informal Central Bank window guidance, the rate generally fluctuates depending on market conditions, without direct market intervention by authorities. In general, the EGP has stabilized within an acceptable exchange rate range, which has increased the foreign exchange market’s liquidity. Since the early days following the floatation, there has been very low exchange rate volatility.
The 1992 U.S.-Egypt Bilateral Investment Treaty provides for free transfer of dividends, royalties, compensation for expropriation, payments arising out of an investment dispute, contract payments, and proceeds from sales. Prior to reform implementation throughout 2016 and 2017, large corporations had been unable to repatriate local earnings for months at a time, but given the current record net foreign reserves, repatriation is no longer an issue that companies complain about.
The Investment Incentives Law stipulates that non-Egyptian employees hired by projects established under the law are entitled to transfer their earnings abroad. Conversion and transfer of royalty payments are permitted when a patent, trademark, or other licensing agreement has been approved under the Investment Incentives Law.
Banking Law 88//2003 regulates the repatriation of profits and capital. The current system for profit repatriation by foreign firms requires sub-custodian banks to open foreign and local currency accounts for foreign investors (global custodians), which are exclusively maintained for stock exchange transactions. The two accounts serve as a channel through which foreign investors process their sales, purchases, dividend collections, and profit repatriation transactions using the bank’s posted daily exchange rates. The system is designed to allow for settlement of transactions in fewer than two days, though in practice some firms have reported short delays in repatriating profits, no longer due to availability but more due to processing steps.
Sovereign Wealth Funds
Egypt’s sovereign wealth fund (SWF), approved by the Cabinet and launched in late 2018, holds 200 billion EGP ($12.7 billion) in authorized capital. The SWF aims to invest state funds locally and abroad across asset classes and manage underutilized government assets. The SWF focuses on sectors considered vital to the Egyptian economy, particularly industry, energy, and tourism. The SWF participates in the International Forum of Sovereign Wealth Funds. The government is currently in talks with regional and European institutions to take part in forming the fund’s sector-specific units.
13. Foreign Direct Investment and Foreign Portfolio Investment Statistics
* Sources for Host Country Data: Central Bank of Egypt; CAPMAS; GAFI
Table 3: Sources and Destination of FDI
Data not available.
|Portfolio Investment Assets|
|Top Five Partners (Millions, US Dollars, 2019)|
|Total||Equity Securities||Total Debt Securities|
|All Countries||985||100%||All Countries||377||100%||All Countries||608||100%|
|United States||242||25%||International Organizations||216||57%||United States||233||38%|
|International Organizations||216||22%||Saudi Arabia||27||7%||Saudi Arabia||92||15%|
|Saudi Arabia||120||12%||Italy||23||6%||United Arab Emirates||56||9%|
|United Arab Emirates||59||6%||Switzerland||17||5%||United Kingdom||46||8%|