Different Problems, Same Approach: The Private Sector is Key

Sep 27, 2011

Lionel Johnson and Egypt Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance, Dr. Hazem El-Beblawi

The Chamber last week hosted government delegations from Israel, Tunisia, and Egypt.  While the policy challenges facing each of these countries vary significantly, each has identified the same approach to jump-starting economic growth: securing and amplifying private sector investment, particularly by the United States.

The delegations stressed that, by investing in each of their countries, our private sector can help foster and expand our nation’s bilateral relationships in the Middle East and North Africa.  For Egypt and Tunisia, the U.S. private sector can advocate for greater openness through free enterprise, ensuring that the citizens of these nations receive the jobs they’ve long needed, and the freedoms they’ve long desired.

To ensure that this Arab Spring can successfully transition to an Arab Awakening, we must fight for freer trade and expanded markets. By ensuring that the interim governments of Egypt and Tunisia have the needed resources at their disposal, we must encourage our private sector to get in on the ground floor and to help build the economic infrastructure necessary to ensure their success.

It is important to remember that there is not a one-size-fits-all roadmap to success. Each of these countries has varying needs, which we must address with individual, tailored approaches. And while the best possible outcome might be reached through economic investment, it is vital to note that, as our colleague Robert Peri posted in a previous blog, “even under the best of circumstances the road to stability and responsible government [will] be a lengthy one marked by reversals.” It is crucial that “investors take a long view and remain wary of expecting major political changes or significant economic openings in the near future.”

Please find below the key takeaways from last week’s meetings.

Egypt

The U.S.-Egypt Business Council last Friday hosted Egyptian Deputy Prime Minister & Minister of Finance, Dr. Hazem El-Beblawi.  In a candid assessment of Egypt’s financial situation, El-Beblawi described the economic consequences of the Arab Spring, especially noting its effect on the country’s tourism industry.  Despite Egypt’s current struggles, the leadership is confident that the economy will stabilize, prompting. El-Beblawi to encourage U.S. companies to invest in Egypt now.  By working with Egypt to ensure financial prosperity, the United States can reaffirm its economic partnership with a longstanding ally in the Middle East, mutually benefitting both nations.

Tunisia

Tunisia has moved well beyond its revolutionary phase, evidenced by the country’s plans to hold elections at the end of October.  Last Thursday, the U.S.-Tunisia Joint Political and Economic Partnership (JPEP) was inaugurated, through which the United States will partner with the Tunisian government “to ensure that upcoming elections and the country's political systems are fair and transparent,” according to the U.S. State Department. The same day that JPEP was announced, we learned in our meeting with the Tunisian Minister of Finance, Minister of Planning & International Cooperation, and Minister of Employment, that the Tunisian government recognizes the need to expand U.S. enterprises in the country in order to provide its citizens with greater market access and the opportunity to spur job creation, particularly in the sectors of tourism, renewable energy, and IT.

Israel

The U.S.-Israel Business Initiative hosted Israeli Finance Minister Dr. Yuval Steinitz for a luncheon attended by corporate and government representatives. Dr. Steinitz’s message was clear: Israel is committed to expanding its already robust economic partnerships with the United States. For years, Israel has sent its best and brightest students to American universities to study science and technology.  Despite the global recession, Israel believes that its economic interests in the United States are among its safest and most stable, which is why it plans to expand on these interests in order to secure its economic security.

To learn more about the Chamber's Middle East and North Africa Affairs division, please visit: http://www.uschamber.com/international/mideast.

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