By Philip P. Merrell
“An important agreement has been reached” between Egypt and the customs union of Russia, Kazakhstan and Belarus, with an eye on establishing a free trade zone, said Russia’s President Vladimir Putin.
Following a meeting with his Egyptian counterpart Abdel Fattah al-Sisi on Tuesday, August 12, the two discussed a wide range of bilateral trade and investment strategies.
In late July, AMEInfo examined the implications Western sanctions on Russia would have on the Mena region, particularly in regards to seeking trade alternatives. Since then, Russia has placed a one-year ban on all EU, US and Australian agricultural products and it is actively seeking new suppliers.
During the presidents’ meeting in Sochi, al-Sisi suggested that Egypt was ready to increase its export of citrus fruits, potatoes and onions by 30 per cent to Russia, which Minister of Agriculture, Nikolay Federov, says could fulfill half of the country’s deficit imposed by the sanctions.
Last year, Egypt’s export of agriculture products reached $440 million, a figure which has already been surpassed in H1 2014, seeing $460m worth of deliveries. Overall, trade turnover between the two countries stood at $3 billion in 2013, whereas so far this year bilateral trade has already reached $2.5bn.
Concerning imports, Egypt already ships in almost 40 per cent of its wheat from Russia. Under the new agreement, Russia will boost its wheat supplies from 3.6 million tonnes to more than 5 million tonnes. Speaking to AMEInfo, a senior representative of Egypt’s Al Wafd party, who wished to remain anonymous, said: “We (Egypt) have always had strong relations with Russia. The wheat exports serve as no surprise.” Nonetheless, he adds, “as of yet, there are no specific details regarding the citrus and potato export deal.”
Another important agreement reached during yesterday’s meeting is that Russia will establish its own industrial zone along the New Suez Canal project, which Cairo announced last week.
Also discussed were possible advances in energy, automobile manufacturing and transport cooperation.
With such sector-wide trade ambitions in place and Western-Russian tensions showing no signs of cooling down, a free trade zone between Russia and Egypt, and perhaps other emerging markets in the Mena region, may well be around the corner.