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Published in Al-Ahram Weekly on 12 - 04 - 2007

Better and bigger print
MINISTER of Trade and Industry Rachid Mohamed Rachid announced Saturday that his ministry will support the development of the print industry and upgrade relevant companies. The ministry is currently considering establishing a print technology centre, and is preparing a comprehensive plan to support print exports and train the related labour force.
During a meeting with members of the Print Chamber at the Federation of Egyptian Industries, Rachid argued that the technology centre will help raise the competitiveness of this industry, since it will provide technical assistance and check export specifications in accordance with international standards. Currently, print companies send samples for approval by the European Union before exporting.
Moreover, there is a plan to develop specialised fairs and a clear charter to ensure these fairs also meet international standards. According to Ahmed Atef, the chairman of the Print Chamber, the chamber is organising a fair for 170 companies from Arab countries this month. The fair will be a good opportunity for Egyptian print companies to showcase their products to Arab companies.
Ibrahim El-Moallem, chairman of the Publishers' Federation, believes the print industry in Egypt is in urgent need for regulation, since there are some 5,000 licensed print houses and another 10,000 printing houses operating illegally. According to El-Moallem, only five per cent of Egyptian print houses have the capability to export. Rachid asked chamber members to determine potential markets in order for the ministry to begin supporting exports to these countries.
Closing shop
A PLAN to regulate internal trade is currently underway in cooperation between the Ministry of Trade and Industry and the chambers of commerce. The plan aims at revising current laws regulating commercial activity and studies the potential of establishing new markets. It also entails the removal of Al-Azhar commercial district to a modernised commercial city for wholesale trade on 1,000 feddans located in new Cairo.
Minister of Trade and Industry Rachid Mohamed Rachid said that the new city for textiles and ready-made garments will help upgrade commercial activity to cope with local and international changes. It will also help invigorate economic performance, attract new investment in commercial and services activities, as well as provide new job opportunities. The relocation of Al-Azhar market is the first step in establishing several similar markets across the country.
The new markets will provide better services to consumers and high quality products at reasonable prices. Rachid asserted that the government will assist the private sector and international experts in making this project a success. Old markets and bazaars in Cairo can neither absorb heavy trade movement nor allow for expansions, which leads to unregulated markets providing unsuitable services and products to consumers.
Ali Moussa, chairman of the Cairo Chamber of Commerce, stated that an international company carried out a preliminary study to establish this new project. Moussa described the unnamed company as a giant in the field, with 590 branches around the world and runs several successful projects in Arab and European countries.
Bank capital boost
THE PEOPLE'S Assembly approved last week two loans by which Egypt will receive $1 billion to increase the capital of its largest state-owned banks, National Bank of Egypt (NBE) and Banque Misr. The loans of $500 million each are given by the World Bank and the African Development Bank. They are to be repaid over 20 years, with a grace period of six years for the African Development Bank loan and eight years for the World Bank. The interest rate on both loans was not revealed.
According to a statement issued by the Ministry of Investment, borrowing was the only way to increase the capital of the banks since offering their shares through an IPO would contradict the government's plan not to privatise or float the stakes of either banks. A suggestion to transfer money from the Central Bank of Egypt's foreign reserves to raise the capitals of NBE and Banque Misr was also rejected, since the reserves are there to shore up the Egyptian pound.
The statement pointed out that the value and conditions of the loans comply with the guidelines governing foreign borrowing, especially that the level of Egypt's foreign debt is improving. Egypt's foreign debt reached $28.95 billion at the end of the first quarter of 2006/2007, which is equivalent to 25 per cent of GDP. This is compared to 42.5 per cent in 2002/2003 and a whopping 157 per cent in 1989/1990.
Increasing the banks' capital comes within the framework of overhauling the banking sector at a cost of around $50 billion. The statement stressed that both NBE and Banque Misr are committed to repaying the loans plus interest to the Ministry of Finance, and thus will not burden the government's budget.
MIDOR not for sale
INVESTORS anticipating the long promised offering of Middle East Oil Refinery (MIDOR) received unpleasant news this week, when the government decided that the company is not for sale on account of the "strategic importance of the refinery". This contradicts the government's frequent promises last year that it will offer a minority stake in MIDOR through an IPO.
Minister of Petroleum Sameh Fahmi said mid-week that as a state-owned refinery, MIDOR plays a vital role in meeting local demand. It produced 4.7 million tonnes of petroleum products last year, 2.2 million out of which were delivered to the Petroleum General Authority and the rest were exported.
A recent report issued by Merrill Lynch, the US-based investment bank advising the government on the sale, ranked the refinery sixth out of 73 in Mediterranean countries. This is due to its top-notch facilities and notably high revenues, even when compared to counterparts worldwide. MIDOR's net profit jumped by 59 per cent in 2006 to reach $162.5 million.

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