Egypt's trade and investment relationship with the United States deepened over the nearly forty years since Egypt signed a peace agreement with Israel. Since that time, the two countries have sought ways to increase their economic and trade ties, notably through various partnership and agreements. At the beginning of the 1990's, negotiations for a free trade agreement were a topic of discussion, and Egypt and the U.S. finalized a Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA) in 1999. After the failure to reach a FTA bilaterally, the U.S. shifted to giving regional trade agreements priority, such as the 2003 Middle East Free Trade Area initiative (MEFTA). It did, however, conclude free trade agreements with Israel, Jordan, Morocco, Bahrain, and Oman. Further FTA negotiations with the UAE and Egypt were put on hold in 2005 and 2007, respectively.
Nevertheless, in the pursuit of a free trade framework, Egypt has made strides to open its economy through various reforms and, in essence, has laid the ground work for a free trade agreement in the future by focusing on each part of modernizing its economy. Furthermore, Egypt-U.S. trade operates within two initiatives designed to increase Egypt's exports to the U.S. The first is the U.S. Generalized System of Preferences (GSP), a preferential treatment program where certain products are eligible for duty-free entry to the U.S. under specific qualifications. The second is the Qualifying Industrial Zones (QIZs), a one-way free trade agreement that combines Egyptian and Israeli components in manufactured goods from designated industrial zones that enter the U.S. duty-free.
Since August 2015, Egypt and the U.S. have been engaged in discussions on further strengthening ties to overcome obstacles hindering the increased flow of foreign direct investment in the Egyptian market. There have also been talks of making amendments to the TIFA and the QIZ protocol.
In the absence of greater trade liberalization measures between Egypt and the U.S., other trading partners have been sought. Egypt entered the Greater Arab Free Trade Area (GAFTA) trading bloc, also referred to as the Pan Arab Free Trade Area (PAFTA), in 1998.; it became a member of the Common Market for East and Southern Africa (COMESA) in 2001; it finalized the EU-Egypt Partnership Agreement, signed in 2002; it joined the Agadir Agreement, a FTA between Mediterranean countries (Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, and Tunisia), signed in 2004; and it negotiated the Egypt-Turkey Free Trade Agreement in 2005. In 2010, Egypt signed a preferential FTA with Mercosur, the South American trade bloc consisting of Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay. Following Argentina’s ratification in July 2017, the FTA went into effect in September 2017. In addition, Egypt has concluded numerous bilateral trade and preferential treatment agreements with additional Arab countries. Trade ties with the EU and the MENA region have grown in the last ten years relative to Asia and the United States. Nevertheless, the U.S. remains a vital trade partner, sharing a robust trade relationship with Egypt.
The United States is one of Egypt’s largest trade partners with a trade volume of USD 5.6 billion in 2017, ranking it sixth in the Middle East and first in Africa. Up 12.9% from 2016, this accounts for 1.5% of GDP and 3.9% of MENA-U.S. merchandise trade.
Egypt's Exports to the U.S.
Egypt's export basket is considerably diversified, unlike many other countries in the Middle East and North Africa region who export predominantly oil and gas. This factor indicates that the Egyptian economy has great growth potential in a variety of sectors. In 2017, Egypt exported USD 1.44 billion worth of non-petroleum goods to the U.S., 14.8% more than the previous year. The predominant non-petroleum exports to the U.S. were apparel, textile furnishings, food and kindred products, fertilizers, mineral products such as salt and plaster, works of arts and antiques, and paper and printed products. Egypt’s oil exports to the U.S. shrank 18.7%, slipping from USD 235.34 million in 2016 to USD 191.37 million in 2017. Oil exports represent 11.7% of all exports, down from 15.8% in 2016 but higher than the country’s lowest percentage in 2014, when they made up just 0.1%.
Egypt's Imports from the U.S.
Egypt ranks first in Africa and fifth in the MENA region for imports originating from the United States. Imports from the U.S. grew 14.4% in 2017, from USD 3.48 billion to USD 3.98 billion. Egyptian imports of iron and steel rose 93.4% during 2017. Other increased imports include a 72.7% rise in stone, cement, glass and ceramics; a 64.7% increase in mineral fuel and oil, a 48.3% increase in textiles and apparel, and a 26.9% increase in plastics and rubber imports. Arms and ammunition imports also increased by more than threefold to reach USD 34.74 million. Some of these gains, however, were offset by losses, most notably a 58.7% fall in imports of works of arts and antiques, a 57.8% fall in imports of vehicles, a 30.8% fall in imports of industrial machinery, and a 12.2% fall in imports of chemical products.
In 2017, Louisiana became the largest exporter to Egypt of all 50 states, exporting USD 835.1 million and representing 21.0% of all U.S. exports to Egypt. Texas, the top exporter for the past two years, followed behind, exporting USD 720.5 million, or 18.1% of all exports. Accounting for almost 40% of all U.S. exports to Egypt, these two states mainly send mineral fuels and oils as well as plastics and industrial machinery. Louisiana is also a major exporter of oilseeds, grains and cereals.
The top five importing states received 62.4% of all U.S. imports from Egypt. New Jersey topped the list in 2017 for the second year in a row, with imports totaling USD 270.4 million and representing 16.5% of U.S. imports from Egypt. California and Georgia followed, representing 14.2% and 11.8%, respectively, of imports. New York, traditionally a top importer, and Texas rounded out the top five. New Jersey primarily imports mineral fuels and oils, while all three of the top states import large volumes of apparel, carpets and other textiles, as well as iron and steel.
The GSP Program
The Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) program is the largest and oldest U.S. trade preference program, promoting economic development by providing preferential duty-free entry for over 3,500 types of products from 120 beneficiary developing countries (BDCs) and territories. A GSP‐eligible import must be the growth, product or manufacture of a BDC, and at least 35% of the appraised value of the article at the time of entry into the United State must come from a BDC.
The GSP program must be renewed periodically. It expired between August 2013 and July 2015, at which point the Obama Administration renewed it through the end of 2017 and retroactively applied it for the lapsed period. As of February 2018, the GSP had not been renewed, amid calls to amend the program.
One proposed change is limiting the program to least-developed countries and excluding emerging-market developing countries, many of whom are currently eligible. Also under scrutiny are the program’s eligible products. Additionally, eligible countries must maintain certain standards of intellectual property rights and workers’ rights, and members of the U.S. government have expressed concerns over compliance. The U.S. Trade Representative has agreed to conduct closer reviews of the BDC’s compliance with GSP eligibility criteria.
The majority of Egypt’s exports to the U.S. are not GSP eligible, and GSP exports in 2017 totaled USD 88.1 million, just 5.4% of total Egyptian exports to the U.S. and 6.1% of non-oil exports. Egypt’s GSP exports increased 16.9% year-on-year from USD 75.4 million in 2016. The top 10 exports, which make up 69.4% of total GSP exports, include frozen and preserved fruit and vegetables (28.7% of all GSP exports), plastic materials (13.1%), and stone and stone products (3.9%). Egypt ranks 17 among all GSP BDCs exporting to the U.S. in 2017.
Additional Trade Statistics Resources:
(Updated March 2018)
According to the most recent full-year data from the U.S. Department of Commerce, the stock of U.S. direct investment in Egypt stood at USD 22.2 billion as of 2016, representing 38.6% of U.S. direct investment in Africa. In 2016, Egypt was the largest recipient of U.S. direct investment in Africa, and second in the Middle East after the United Arab Emirates. During the first three quarters of 2017, U.S. companies operating in Egypt recorded a cumulative income of USD 376.0 million.
According to the Central Bank of Egypt, the U.S. was the third largest foreign direct investor in Egypt during fiscal year (FY) 2016/17 behind the United Kingdom and Belgium. The U.S. invested USD 1.8 billion, 9.2% of all investment in the country and more than double the previous fiscal year. During the first quarter of FY 2017/18 (July-September), investment inflows from the U.S. totaled USD 432.7 million. Egypt’s new Investment Act (Law 72 of 2017), which went into effect May 31, 2017, aims to attract more foreign investment to the country by offering incentives for investors and cutting down on bureaucracy involved in doing business.
Apache Corporation, a global oil and gas exploration and production company based in Houston, Texas, entered Egypt in 1993 and is now the largest American investor in the country, with current investments totaling over USD 17 billion. Apache, which holds over 6.7 million gross acres in the country, much of it in the Western Desert, was the top oil producer in Egypt during 2017 and is among the top gas producers. Other American petroleum companies with operations in Egypt include ExxonMobil, Halliburton, IPR TransOil and Merlon International.
The stock of U.S. capital excluding petroleum production and refining totaled USD 2.59 billion as of the end of 2017, distributed among 1,268 companies. This represents a 9.8% increase in capital and 46 new American companies that entered the Egyptian market. American firms are active in most economic sectors in Egypt, with financial service companies holding the largest share (41.0 %) of the U.S. non-petroleum capital in Egypt. AIG, American Express, BNY Mellon, Coldwell Banker, Mastercard, MetLife and Visa are all active in the financial services sector. Manufacturing is the second largest sector after financial services, accounting for 34.1% of the U.S. non-petroleum capital in Egypt. Nearly a quarter of all U.S. companies in Egypt are in the manufacturing sector. Large U.S. investors in this sector include 3M, Abbott, AbbVie, American Automotive, American Standard, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Cargill, Coca-Cola, Colgate-Palmolive, Dow Chemicals, Edison International, Energizer, General Electric, General Motors, Gillette, Heinz, Hundz Soil, Johnson & Johnson, Merck, PepsiCo, Pfizer, Procter & Gamble and Xerox.
American companies operating within service sectors—including commercial services, consultancies, health and education—contributed 17.0% of capital, while those in the field of construction contributed 3.9%. Alcatel-Lucent, Cisco, Hewlett-Packard, IBM and Microsoft all operate in the telecommunication and information technology sector, which accounted for 1.7% of U.S. capital in Egypt, while the Egyptian fast-food market is dominated by U.S.-based franchises including Baskin-Robbins, Burger King, Chili’s, Cinnabon, Cold Stone Creamery, Dairy Queen, T.G.I. Friday’s, Hardee’s, Hard Rock Café, KFC, Little Caesars, McDonald’s, Pizza Hut, Starbucks and Ruby Tuesday.
Leading Sectors for U.S. Business in Egypt in 2017
- Architecture, Construction and Engineering (ACE) Services
- Education and Training
- Electricity Power Systems
- Medical Equipment and Supplies
- Oil and Gas Equipment
- Renewable Energy
- Safety and Security
(Updated March 2018)