Progress on Egyptian economic reforms over the past two years has been noteworthy. Though 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 implemtation of a three-year, USD 12 billion International Monetary Fund (IMF)-backed economic reform program. Increased investor confidence and the reactivation of Egypt’s interbank foreign exchange (FX) market have attracted foreign portfolio investment and grown foreign reserves. As yields on government debt fall, investors may shift towards direct investments, which would be a positive market signal that the Egyptian economy is beginning to trend towards higher growth. The Government of Egypt (GoE) understands that attracting foreign direct investment (FDI) is key to addressing many of the economic challenges it faces, including low economic growth, high unemployment, current account imbalances, and hard currency shortages. Though FDI inflows grew 13 percent year-on-year in 2017, they declined slightly in 2018 from USD 7.9 to 7.7 billion, according to the Central Bank of Egypt.
Egypt implemented a number of regulatory reforms in 2017 and 2018. Key among these are the new Investment Law and the Companies Law – which aim to improve Egypt’s ranking in international reports of doing business and to help the economy realize its full potential. These reforms have increased investor confidence.
The Investment Law (Law 72 of 2017) aims to attract new investment and provides a framework for the government to offer investors more investment-related incentives and guarantees. Additionally, the law aims to attract new investments, consolidate many investment-related rules, and streamlines procedures.
The government also hopes to attract international investment in several “mega projects,” including a large-scale industrial and logistics zone around the Suez Canal, the construction of a new national administrative capital, a 1.5 million-hectare agricultural land reclamation and development project, and to promote mineral extraction opportunities in the Golden Trianlge economic zone between the Red Sea and the Nile River.
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 Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA), 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.
Table 1: Key Metrics and Rankings
|TI Corruption Perceptions Index||2018||105 of 175||http://www.transparency.org/research/cpi/overview|
|World Bank’s Doing Business Report||2019||120 of 190||http://www.doingbusiness.org/en/rankings|
|Global Innovation Index||2018||95 of 126||https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/analysis-indicator|
|U.S. FDI in partner country (M USD, stock positions)||2017||$9,352.0||http://www.bea.gov/international/factsheet/|
|World Bank GNI per capita||2018||$3,010||http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GNP.PCAP.CD|
1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment
Policies toward Foreign Direct Investment
The flotation of the EGP in November 2016 and the restart of Egypt’s interbank foreign exchange FX market as part of the IMF program was a first step in restoring investor confidence that immediately attracted increased portfolio investment and should lead to increased FDI over the long term. The stable macro-economic outlook has allowed Egypt to focus on structural reforms to support strong economic growth. The next phase of reform has included a new investment law, an industrial licensing law, a bankruptcy law and other reforms to reduce regulatory overhang and improve the ease of doing business. Successful implementation of these reforms could give greater confidence to foreign investors. Egypt’s government has announced plans to further improve its business climate through investment promotion, facilitation, efficient business services, and advocacy of more 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 new Tenders Law No. 182 of 2018 requires the government to consider both price and best value in awarding contracts and to issue an explanation following refusal of a bid. Nevertheless, 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. Additionally the new law includes a wide range of reforms, such as establishing new rules in the contracting process on good governance, sustainable development goals, transparency, competition, equal opportunity, and an improved business environment. Egyptian small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) have the right under the new law to obtain up to 20 percent annually of the Government’s contracts. This aims to achieve a positive return on investment of public expenditures, along with controls to combat corruption.
The Capital Markets Law (Law 95 of 1992) and its amendments, including the most recent in February 2018, and related regulations govern Egypt’s capital markets. Foreign investors are permitted to buy shares on the Egyptian Stock Exchange on the same basis as local investors.
The General Authority for Investment and Free Zones (GAFI) is an affiliate of the Ministry of Investment and International Cooperation (MIIC) and the principal government body regulating and facilitating investment in Egypt. ”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.
ISC provides a full start-to-end service to investors, 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 Egyptian 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 or 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. Nevertheless, 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 firms 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 GoE has made progress in streamlining the business registration process at GAFI, its apparent overall lack of familiarity or experience of Egyptians working closely with foreign nationals has sometimes led to inconsistent and questionable treatment by banks and government officials, thus, delaying registration.
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, as of April 2019, the law had not yet been submitted to Parliament. Nevertheless, the new Investment Law does allow wholly foreign companies, which invest 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 FDI.
The United Nations Conference of Trade Development (UNCTAD) signed in an Investment Policy Review with Egypt in June 1999 that recognized the efforts that the GoE had made to establish an adequate investment regulatory framework and improve the business environment.
The UNCTAD Review pointed out that overcoming the limited involvement of multinational companies in manufacturing sectors with export potential such as food, garments, and electronics, would require policy emphasis on infrastructure investments, promotion of clusters of related enterprises, and self-sustaining development. Since the publication of its policy review on Egypt, UNCTAD has assisted the government with training diplomats on investment trends, policies, and promotion, and staff on FDI statistics.
GAFI’s new ISC was launched in February 2018 at a ceremony attended by President Sisi. The ISC provides a full start-to-end service to the investor as described above. The new Investment Law also introduces ”Ratification Offices” to facilitate the obtaining of 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. MIIC and GAFI have 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 February 2019, outward investment indicated that Egyptian companies implemented 241 Egyptian FDI projects. The estimated total value of these projects, which employed about 48,204 workers, was USD 23.86 billion.
The following countries received the largest amount of Egyptian outward investment in terms of total project value: United Arab Emirates (UAE), Saudi Arabia, Algeria, Jordan, Germany, Kenya, Libya, Morocco, Sudan, and Ethiopia. The UAE, Saudi Arabia and Algeria accounted for about 28.6 percent of the total amount.
Elsewedy Electric (Elsewedy Cables) was the largest Egyptian company investing abroad, implementing 19 projects with a total investment estimated to be USD 2.1 billion.
Egypt does not restrict domestic investors from investing abroad.
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, seated in January 2016, 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, seated in early 2016, 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.
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 and participates actively in various committees. Though Egypt ratified the Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA) on June 22, 2017 by a vote of Parliament and issuance of presidential decree No. 149/2017, it has still not deposited its formal notification to the WTO. As of April 2019, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs was in the process of notifying the WTO. Customs officials are reviewing Categories B and C. In March 2019, the Egyptian Customs Authority published an updated draft of the Customs Law on its website in Arabic for public comment. The law includes language for key TFA reforms, including advance rulings, separation of release, Single Window, authorized economic operators, post-clearance audits, e-payments, and more.
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 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 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 tax on stock market transactions;
- Producers of agricultural crops that Egypt imports or exports will get tax exemptions;
- Five-year tax exemptions for manufacturers of “strategic” goods that Egypt imports or exports;
- Five-year tax exemptions for 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.
The Ministry of Investment and International Cooperation issued a new Investment Law that was discussed extensively with all stakeholders prior to its mid-2017 release. New laws regarding Bankruptcy and Companies’ Law were also released in late 2017 and early 2018.
Competition and Anti-Trust Laws
The Egyptian Competition Authority (ECA) is the body tasked with ensuring free competition in the market and preventing anticompetitive practices. The Authority operates under the Egyptian Competition Law, which covers three categories of violations: (1) cartels; (2) abuse of dominance; and (3) vertical restraints. The ECA monitors the market, detects anti-competitive practices that are considered violations to the law, and takes measures to stop such violations. The Anti-Trust and Competition Protection Council (ACPC) monitors business practices of companies to ensure they comply with the standards of the free market. The main challenges to competition in Egypt include a regulatory system that protects established companies and large companies, a significant informal sector, and the lack of availability of reliable information.
Expropriation and Compensation
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.
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 (UN) 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, on a number of occasions, has 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 an affiliated public or private body, 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.
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 believe they may be found criminally liable if they declare bankruptcy.
6. Financial Sector
Capital Markets and Portfolio Investment
To date, high returns on GoE debt have crowded out Egyptian investment in productive capacity. The large foreign inflows Egypt witnessed in 2018 have been mostly portfolio capital, which is highly volatile. Returns on GoE debt have begun to decrease, which could presage investment by Egyptian capital in the real economy
The Egyptian Stock Exchange (EGX) is Egypt’s registered securities exchange. There are more than 500,000 investors registered to trade on the exchange. Stock ownership is open to foreign and domestic individuals and entities. The GoE issues dollar-denominated and Egyptian pound-denominated debt instruments. The GoE has developed a positive outlook toward foreign portfolio investment, recognizing the need to attract foreign capital to help develop the Egyptian economy.
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. While a significant number of the companies listed on the exchange have been family-owned or dominated conglomerates, the exchange has gone through a period of major delisting of many companies that do not have sufficient shares or do not meet the management, fiscal, and transparency standards. Free trading of the remaining shares in many of these ventures is increasing, with a 110 percent increase in trade value and a 53 percent increase in trading volume from 2016 to 2017. Companies are delisted 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 2017, the government implemented a stamp duty on all stock transactions with a duty of 0.125 percent on all buyers and sellers. Egypt’s 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.
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.
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 EGP in November 2016, FX trading is considered straightforward, given the reestablishment 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 an 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, the SME segment. The Central Bank of Egypt (CBE) has mandated that 20 percent of bank loans go to SMEs within the next two years). Also, with only about a quarter to a third of Egypt’s adult population owning or sharing an account at a formal financial institution (according to 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.
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 estimates that approximately 4.3 percent of the banking sector’s loans are non-performing in 2018. Still, 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 positive from stable to reflect improving macroeconomic conditions and ongoing commitment to reform.
38 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 2016 and 2017, Egypt indicated a desire to partially (less than 35 percent) privatize at least one (potentially two) state-owned banks and a total of 23 firms through either expanded or new listings on the Egypt Stock Exchange, though no action has been taken as of early 2018. In March 2019, Egypt began its program to privatize 23 State-Owned Enterprises with a successful minority stake in the Eastern Tobacco Company.
According to the CBE, banks operating in Egypt held EGP 4.216 trillion in total assets at the end of first quarter of 2018, of which approximately 45 percent were held by the largest five banks (the National Bank of Egypt, Banque Misr, the Commercial International Bank, Qatar National Bank Al-Ahli, and the Banque Du Caire). 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, even encouraging, 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 has been significant progress in accessing hard currency since the floatation of the EGP and reestablishment of the interbank currency trading system in November 2016. While the immediate aftermath saw some lingering difficulty of accessing currency, by 2017 most firms 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. With net foreign reserves at an all-time high of over USD 44 billion (March 2019), accessing foreign currency is no longer an issue.
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 that the process takes 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 floating 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.
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
The Cabinet has the establishment of a sovereign wealth fund, which will be charged with investing state funds locally and abroad across asset classes and will be tapped to manage underutilized assets. The framework of the EGP200 billion sovereign wealth fund was issued in March of 2018. The government is collaborating with regional and European institutions to take part in forming the fund’s sector-specific units.
Egypt has a set of laws to combat corruption by public officials, including an Anti-Bribery Law (which is contained within the Penal Code), an Illicit Gains Law, and a Governmental Accounting Law, among others. Countering corruption remains a long-term focus. There have been cases involving public figures and entities, including the arrests of Alexandria’s deputy governor and the secretary general of Suez on several corruption charges and the investigation into five members of parliament alleged to have sold Hajj visas. Nevertheless, according to some businesses, corruption laws have not been consistently enforced. Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index ranked Egypt 105 out of 180 in its 2018 survey, an improvement of 12 places from its rank of 117 in 2017. Transparency International also found that approximately 50 percent of Egyptians reported paying a bribe in order to obtain a public service.
Some private companies use internal controls, ethics, and compliance programs to detect and prevent bribery of government officials. There is no government requirement for private companies to establish internal codes of conduct to prohibit bribery.
Egypt ratified the UN Convention against Corruption in February 2005. It has not acceded to the OECD Convention on Combating Bribery or any other regional anti-corruption conventions.
While NGOs are active in encouraging anti-corruption activities, dialogue between the government and civil society on this issue is almost non-existent, the OECD found in 2009 and a trend that continues today. While government officials publicly asserted they shared civil society organizations’ goals, they rarely cooperated with NGOs, and applied relevant laws in a highly restrictive manner against NGOs critical of government practices. Media was also limited in its ability to report on corruption, with Article 188 of the Penal Code mandating heavy fines and penalties for unsubstantiated corruption allegations.
U.S. firms have sometimes identified corruption as an obstacle to FDI in Egypt. Companies might encounter corruption in the public sector in the form of requests for bribes, using bribes to facilitate required government approvals or licenses, embezzlement, and tampering with official documents. Corruption and bribery are reported in dealing with public services, customs (import license and import duties), public utilities (water and electrical connection), construction permits, and procurement, as well as in the private sector. Businesses have described a dual system of payment for services, with one formal payment and a secondary, unofficial payment required for services to be rendered.
Resources to Report Corruption
Several agencies within the GoE share responsibility for addressing corruption. Egypt’s primary anticorruption body is the Administrative Control Authority (ACA), which has jurisdiction over state administrative bodies, SOEs, public associations and institutions, private companies undertaking public work, and organizations to which the state contributes in any form. In October 2017, Parliament approved and passed amendments to the ACA law, which grants the organization full technical, financial, and administrative authority to investigate corruption within the public sector (with the exception of military personnel/entities). The law is viewed as strengthening an institution, which was established in 1964. The ACA appears well funded and well trained when compared with other Egyptian law enforcement organizations. Strong funding and the current ACA leadership’s close relationship with President Sisi reflect the importance of this organization and its mission. It is too small for its mission (roughly 300 agents) and is routinely over-tasked with work that would not normally be conducted by a law enforcement agency.
The ACA periodically engages with civil society. For example, it has met with the American Chamber of Commerce and other organizations to encourage them to seek it out when corruption issues arise.
In addition to the ACA, the Central Auditing Authority (CAA) acts as an anti-corruption body, stationing monitors at state-owned companies to report corrupt practices. The Ministry of Justice’s Illicit Gains Authority is charged with referring cases in which public officials have used their office for private gain. The Public Prosecution Office’s Public Funds Prosecution Department and the Ministry of Interior’s Public Funds Investigations Office likewise share responsibility for addressing corruption in public expenditures.
Contact information for the government agency responsible for combating corruption:
Minister of Interior
General Directorate of Investigation of Public Funds
Telephone: 02-2792-1395 / 02-2792 1396
10. Political and Security Environment
Stability and economic development remain Egypt’s priorities. The GoE has taken measures to eliminate politically-motivated violence, while also limiting peaceful protests and political expression. Egypt’s presidential elections proceeded without incident in March 2018. Late 2018 and early 2019 saw a relatively low number of small-scale terrorist attacks primarily against security targets in Cairo and elsewhere in the Nile Valley, with some against civilians. Militant groups committed several large-scale attacks in the Western Desert and Sinai in late 2017, and a car bombing in Alexandria in early 2018. In the Sinai Peninsula, militants affiliated with ISIS have conducted terrorist attacks against military installations and personnel, as well as a prominent religious site targeting civilians. In response, the government launched a comprehensive counterterrorism offensive beginning in early 2018, which is still ongoing. The United States designated three groups – Harakat Sawaad Misr (HASM), Liwaa el Thawra, and ISIS Egypt – as Specially Designated Global Terrorists in 2018, and designated ISIS-Sinai Province as an alias of Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis, which had been designated a Foreign Terrorist Organization in September 2015.
13. Foreign Direct Investment and Foreign Portfolio Investment Statistics
Table 2: Key Macroeconomic Data, U.S. FDI in Host Country/Economy
Measurements of FDI in Egypt vary according to the source and the definitions employed to calculate the figure. The Central Bank of Egypt records figures on quarterly and annual investment flows based on financial records for Egypt’s balance of payments statistics. They are reported in the table below. The Ministry of Petroleum maintains statistics on investment in the oil and gas sector (which accounts for the bulk of FDI in Egypt), while GAFI has statistics on all other investments – including re-invested earnings and investment-in-kind. Statistics are not always current. GAFI’s figures are calculated in EGP at the historical value and rate of exchange, with no allowance for depreciation, and are cumulative starting from 1971.
U.S. firms are active in a wide range of manufacturing industries, producing goods for the domestic and export markets. U.S. investors include American Express, AIG, Ideal Standard, Apache Corporation, Bechtel, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Cargill, Citibank, Coca-Cola, Devon Energy, Dow Chemical, ExxonMobil, Eveready, General Motors, Guardian Industries, H.J. Heinz, Johnson & Johnson, Kellogg’s, Mars, Mondelez, Microsoft, Proctor and Gamble, Pfizer, PepsiCo, Pioneer, and Xerox. Leading investors from other countries include BG, ENI-AGIP, BP, Vodaphone, and Shell (in the oil/gas sector), Unilever, Al-Futtaim, (UAE), the M.A. Kharafi Group (Kuwait), and the Kingdom Development Company (Saudi Arabia).
Table 3: Sources and Destination of FDI
Data not available.
Table 4: Sources of Portfolio Investment
|Portfolio Investment Assets|
|Top Five Partners (Millions, US Dollars, 2016)|
|Total||Equity Securities||Total Debt Securities|
|All Countries||$1,886||100%||All Countries||$888||100%||All Countries||$998||100%|
|Cayman Islands||$416||22%||Saudi Arabia||$347||39%||Cayman Islands||$406||41%|
|Saudi Arabia||$392||13%||International Organizations||$250||28%||United States||$190||19%|
|International Organizations||$250||12%||United Kingdom||$45||5%||Qatar||$103||10%|