by Mahmoud Fouly
CAIRO, May 3 (Xinhua) -- As bilateral ties have been elevated to the level of "comprehensive strategic partnership," figures show the growing cooperation between Egypt and China in terms of mutual trade and investment in the light of China's Belt and Road (B&R) Initiative launched by Chinese President Xi Jinping four years ago.
The initiative, involving the Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road, aims at reviving ancient trade routes to link China with numerous countries in Asia, Africa and Europe through trade and infrastructure networks.
The volume of trade between China and Egypt, a focal spot in the initiative, has mounted to 11.3 billion U.S. dollars in 2016, ranking Egypt as the third African trade partner with China.
Although most of the mutual trade between China and Egypt is represented in Chinese exports to the most populous Arab country, China imports of Egyptian commodities in the first two months of 2017 have reached 159 million dollars, with a 326.25-percent year-on-year growth.
Amid the exchanged state visits between Chinese President Xi Jinping and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi over the past few years, Chinese investments in Egypt have recently increased to 700 million dollars with a leap in the number of Chinese companies operating in the North African country.
"The number of Chinese companies operating in Egypt increased from 30 in 2014 to more than 100 for the time being," Han Bing, minister counselor for economic affairs with the Chinese embassy in Cairo, told Xinhua in a recent interview.
Having a strategic location connecting the continents of Africa and Asia and being an Asian portal for the African and Arab worlds and an African portal for Europe through the Mediterranean Sea, Egypt is considered a focal point in the Belt and Road Initiative, as expressed by the Egyptian president.
"Egypt supports the Chinese president's initiative to revive the Silk Road, and is keen on supporting such positive initiative that seeks to achieve cooperation and interests of peoples, bearing in mind that Egypt can be a main focal point for the implementation of this initiative through the Suez Canal projects," Egypt's President Sisi told Xinhua and Cairo-based Chinese media in a previous interview.
China is already the largest investor in the development of Egypt's Suez Canal Corridor, a mega project showcasing the win-win partnership between the two countries.
China's TEDA corporation, one of the oldest and largest industrial developers of the Suez Canal Economic Zone, has seen a steady increase in the number of its development projects and tenant factories since it entered Egypt and established a joint Suez Economic and Trade Cooperation Zone in Ain Sokhna district of the Suez Canal Corridor, east of the capital Cairo.
TEDA is working on the development of an area that increased to 7.23 sq. km in Ain Sokhna and it has completed its first phase, attracting some 68 enterprises, including Jushi, a fiberglass giant from China, 97 percent of whose employees are Egyptians. The second phase started in 2016.
A couple of days ago, at least 15 Chinese firms including TEDA, Jushi, Hengshi Egypt Fiberglass Fabric Ltd, XD-EGEMAC High Voltage Co. Ltd and New Hope Group for agricultural industries, joined an employment fair in Egypt offering some 300 job opportunities to Egyptian youths.
Both Egyptian and Chinese economists assert that Egypt is a "key player" in the initiative and that the country is seen among the "bright spots" in the sustainable development projects across the initiative routes.
In early April, Cairo hosted the first round of the annual Belt and Road Industrial and Commercial Conference, held under the slogan of "Egypt ... Your Gateway to BRICA," the Belt and Road Industrial and Commercial Alliance, which discussed the horizons of trade and economic cooperation among the B&R countries.
Organized by the Egyptian Businessmen's Association and China Federation of Industrial Economics, the conference was held under the auspices of the Egyptian Ministry of Trade and Industry.
It was attended by some 150 Egyptian businessmen and 160 others from the BRICA states, besides large financial institutions including China Development Bank, Industrial and Commercial Bank of China, African Development Bank and the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa.
Beijing is scheduled to host on May 14 and 15 the Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation whose opening ceremony will be attended by President Xi.
Egypt will participate with a high-level ministerial delegation in the event that has been described by Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi as "the highest-profile international meeting on the Belt and Road since Xi put forward the initiative in 2013."
Addressing Davos forum earlier in January, Xi told the audience that China's circle of friends along the B&R is growing bigger, and Chinese investment in the countries along the routes has surpassed 50 billion dollars in the past three years, noting that over 100 countries and international organizations welcomed the initiative and more than 40 signed relevant cooperation agreements with China.