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Egypt taps Asian markets for agricultural export growth

Egypt signed a series of agreements to export its agricultural products to Asia, including China and Japan, in a bid to boost its ailing economy.
A farmer harvests mangoes at a field in Al-Giza, on the outskirts of Cairo, Egypt August 27, 2018. REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El Ghany - RC1D6640EA20

Egypt has been looking at the Asian markets to expand its agricultural exports and open up new opportunities for economic investments there, with the aim of improving its own economy.

Deputy Agricultural Minister Mona Mehrez signed Nov. 26 a cooperation protocol with Vice Minister of China Customs Hu Wei to open the Chinese market for seven Egyptian agricultural products — dates, grapes, strawberries, onions, potatoes, pomegranates and mangoes — in January 2019.

Egypt is also set to export some fruits and vegetables to Japan after quarantine officials from both countries agreed in November on the quality and safety standards of Egypt's agricultural produce, Egyptian Minister of Agriculture Ezz Eddin Abu Steit stated Nov. 8.

Sherif Fayyad, a professor of agricultural economy at the Desert Research Center, told Al-Monitor, “Egypt seeks to increase the volume of its foreign trade and boost its economy through creating new markets for its agricultural exports, especially in East Asia, while maintaining the existing markets. Most of Egypt's agricultural exports are directed to European and Gulf countries.”

Fayyad believes that Egypt's expansion of exports to Asian markets, such as China and Japan, is of great advantage since it boosts its economic and investment ties with countries that Egypt enjoys steady political relations with. “Sometimes political factors interfere in the economic relations between countries,” he said, referring to the case of Sudan that imposed in May 2017 a ban on the import of animal and agricultural products from Egypt amid a range of disputes between the two countries. At that time, Sudan accused Egypt of supporting the rebels in Darfur, in western Sudan, which it believes want to topple the government in Khartoum.

But on Oct. 25, Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir lifted the ban on Egypt's agricultural exports during an official visit by Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi to Khartoum.

“The Egyptian government — represented by the Foreign Ministry and the Ministry of Trade and Industry — needs to conduct a detailed study on the Asian markets and their food safety requirements. That way Egypt can compete with other countries such as Tunisia, Morocco and Israel that spend a lot on scientific research and have conducted in-depth studies about the needs of these markets,” Fayyad added.

In 2017, a series of bans were imposed by Gulf countries on Egypt's agricultural exports over concerns of pesticide residues.

In May 2017, Kuwait banned the import of onions, guavas and lettuce from Egypt, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) stopped importing all types of peppers grown in Egypt. In June, Bahrain banned the import of strawberries from Egypt.

Bahrain, Kuwait and the UAE agreed to lift these import bans after a series of meetings and negotiations held between an Egyptian delegation and the three Gulf countries, the Egyptian Ministry of Agriculture said in a statement on Oct. 22, 2017.

In an attempt to reverse the series of bans imposed on its agricultural exports, Egypt has been enforcing new regulations and measures to ensure the quality of its agricultural exports.

In November 2017, the Egyptian Ministry of Trade and Industry issued decision No. 670, whereby experts from the ministry and the Ministry of Agriculture would conduct inspections of the harvested crops and prepare them for export once approved. Supervisors from the two ministries would oversee the new system.

According to a report issued in September by the Agriculture Export Council, a governmental agency, the value of Egypt's agricultural exports reached $2.114 billion between September 2017 and July 2018, from $2.111 during the same period the previous year — an increase of 0.14%.

In addition, Egypt's agricultural exports volume increased by 7% to 3.973 million tons, up from 3.711 million tons the previous year. During the same period, exports to the European Union (EU) and the United Kingdom hit $630 billion, while exports to European countries outside of the EU zone reached $409 million. Exports to North and South America recorded $29 billion, while exports to African countries reached $27 million and to Arab countries $771 million.

Khalil el-Malki, professor of pesticides at the Agricultural Research Center, told Al-Monitor, “If Egypt wants to expand its agricultural exports through opening new markets in Asia, there should be a clear-cut plan for the exportation process. It has to market and publicize for the agricultural crops it seeks to export before it starts cultivating them, so that there would be a map of the total size of crops targeted for exportation and the total areas of land needed for cultivating them.”

Malki called on the Ministry of Agriculture to create an awareness campaign for Egypt's exporters. Through this campaign, exporters must be made conscious of the types of pesticides that are allowed for use internationally, and the criteria of pesticide spraying, which must be done at least 15-20 days before the harvest.

“The government should also enact a law imposing fines on exporters who break the rules and determine specifications of exportation so that they would not harm Egypt's export reputation,” Malki said.

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