Egyptian firms eyed revival of business in Libya

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Before 2011 Egypt had a major market for Libya.

It is a war that plunged the economy into disarray; now it is stabilized in recovery.

CAIRO, June 9 - Egyptian firms have eyed a revival of business in Libya where a new government is starting work to rebuild the nation near Egypt's doorstep that was shattered by a decade of fighting and chaos.

Before 2011, when Libya slid into conflict, Egypt was a lucrative business for oil-producing exporters, contracting companies and workers. It was especially appealing for the businesses involved in food and construction.

With a fragile unity government in place, Egyptian firms are looking at reconstruction opportunities to make a return, although executives say that security and logistical issues still present obstacles along with a new economy.

Libyan food products are already widely available in Egyptian shops and have been exported for $55 million in the first quarter.

But Hani Berzi, president of the Edita Food Industries and Head of Egypt's Food Export Council, told Reuters that such a level was well below the potential.

They should be three times higher than the current ratings. Egypt is the closest market to Libya. He said that we should control this market.

Before 2011, a quarter of Libyan construction materials imports came from Egypt, according to Walid Gamal el-Din, president of the Egypt's construction materials export council, a level that Egypt could expect to regain as the Libyan market revived.

Egypt, an OPEC member with about 7 million people, was also once a major draw for migrant workers from Libya, which has a population of approximately 100 million. However, tens of thousands of Egyptian expatriates fled Libya after 2011 as chaos dwelt in Egypt.

Egypt's authorities are working on a new visa system for employees that will be based on skills, said Hamdi Imam of Cairo Chamber of Commerce, a move that could see migrants return in large numbers again, generating fresh payments for Libya.

Egypt is already the second biggest market in Africa for building insulation material and its top export market for marble exports, said Kamal Al Desouki in the construction materials department of the Federation of Egyptian Industries.

Aspiration: We aspire to this for all the other sectors, he said.

Signs of Libya economic recovery are emerging. Exports of Egyptian engineered products, such as household appliances, rose 45% over a year ago to $19.5 million in the first quarter, said Sherif Al-Sayyad, chairman of Egypt's Export Council for Engineering Industries.

But the peace in Libya remains fragile. The interim government faces a huge task of bridging a deep divide that was opened between east and west Libya, as well as removing tribal rivalries. It also has to prepare for planned elections for the end of 2021, leaving little time to put in place an economic recovery plan.

The reconstruction plans and projects have not yet been clarified, says Medhat Stephanos of Titan Cement Egypt.

He said cement was still exported to Libya but faced high transport costs.

Alongside logistical challenges, Egyptian firms may also have to cope with fierce competition when the recovery does gather steam, insbesondere in western Libya, the most densely populated part of the nation.

During the conflict, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates backed eastern Libyan forces. In West Markets Turkey and Qatar, a rival for Egyptian construction, food and other exporters, Eastern factions backed western factions based in Tripoli capital.

Cairo is now looking to build ties with the Tripoli interim government and is preparing to reopen its embassy there.

Berzi said diplomatic efforts were positive but that the authorities should also help Libyan exporters deal with any obstacles they faced in Egypt, such as the rate risk. Who should I ask for,.

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