Cablegate: Is the Egyptian Garment Industry Headed for Failure?


DE RUEHEG #0133/01 0271521
R 271521Z JAN 10

C O N F I D E N T I A L CAIRO 000133


E.O. 12958: DECL: 2020/01/27

REF: 09CAIRO2122; 09CAIRO2321 CLASSIFIED BY: Donald A. Blome, Minister-Counselor, Department of State, ECPO; REASON: 1.4(B), (D)

1.(C) Key Points: -One of Egypt's biggest and most politically active ready-made garments (RMG) exporters predicts that Egypt's RMG industry -- the focal point of its Qualifying Industrial Zone (QIZ) trade with the U.S. -- will face a severe downturn in the next 3-5 years, and may not recover. -The GOE is not promoting the QIZ program sufficiently because of its politically sensitive association with Israel, according to the exporter. -A lack of human capital is also hampering the RMG industry's ability to compete, businessmen and economists say, and QIZ expansion to Upper Egypt is unlikely to solve the problem. -While Egypt's RMG industry may not be doomed to collapse, serious reforms are needed to keep the sector afloat.

2.(C) On January 20, EconOff met with XXXXXXXXXXXX one of Egypt's largest garment exporters and participants in the Qualifying Industrial Zones (QIZ) program. XXXXXXXXXXXX also served for several years as the head of the Ready-Made Garments Exports Council, a business body affiliated with the Ministry of Trade and Industry (MOTI). XXXXXXXXXXXX told us he resigned his position at the Ready-Made Garments Exports Council a year ago out of frustration with the leadership of Minister of Trade and Industry Rachid M. Rachid, who he says "does not understand the problems of business here." --------------------- Signs of Failure ---------------------

3.(SBU) XXXXXXXXXXXX predicted that many Egyptian RMG exporters will fail in the next 3-5 years in the face of increased global competition, and cited 5-10 Port Said and Alexandria-area garment factories that have recently gone out of business as evidence of mounting problems. [NOTE: Officials at the QIZ Unit in MOTI have previously told us that 2009 was a difficult year for Egyptian RMG exporters, with several companies ceasing exports or failing altogether (ref. A).] --------------------------------------------- ---------------------- -- GOE Unwilling to Promote QIZ for Political Reasons --------------------------------------------- ---------------------- --

4.(C) XXXXXXXXXXXX criticized the GOE for what he sees as its failure to publicize and promote the QIZ program, saying that the program's association with Israel causes Minister Rachid and other government officials to avoid speaking publicly about it and encouraging businesses to register for it. Tolba offered a revealing anecdote to support his point: At a press conference immediately following the signing of the QIZ Protocol in 2005, XXXXXXXXXXXX said that Minister Rachid - who had been slated to take questions from 60-70 "angry" journalists - pulled out XXXXXXXXXXXX. ------------------------------------------- A Major Human Capital Problem -------------------------------------------

5.(SBU) XXXXXXXXXXXX also cited the difficulties in hiring and retaining a sufficient skilled workforce, contributing to the problems for manufacturers. XXXXXXXXXXXX told EconOff that he has a 25% labor shortage with 400 sewing machines going unused, causing him to turn down large orders from American companies like Gap because of lack of capacity. XXXXXXXXXXXX also says that he has 10-15% worker turnover each month, which he says is enough "to kill the industry" by itself.

6.(SBU) Nearly every RMG manufacturer we meet with in our regular visits to QIZ factories expresses the same complaint as Tolba: Egyptian workers are not efficient; turnover and absenteeism are huge problems, and the scarcity of Egyptians willing to take $100/month jobs in garment factories means that RMG companies end up "stealing" one another's trained workers. ---------------------------------------- GOE Policies Stalling Reform ----------------------------------------

7.(C) XXXXXXXXXXXX recently told EconOff that low productivity among Egyptian workers is at the heart of Egypt's human capital struggles, and that government restrictions on dismissing workers perpetuates the problem.

8.(C) XXXXXXXXXXXX also faulted Egypt's various ministries for not working together to provide proper vocational training to address the human capital problem. One of his major frustrations with Min. Rachid was what he described as Rachid's failure to coordinate with the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Manpower and Migration to develop worker training programs. While MOTI's Industrial Training Center has tried to address this problem in recent years, El-Haddad calls such government sponsored training programs "useless" and incapable of preparing workers even for low-skilled factory jobs.

9.(C) XXXXXXXXXXXX also blamed the GOE's export subsidies (ref. B) for the industry's struggles, saying that the 10% payments doled out by MOTI's Export Development Fund on exported garments - while strongly supported by most RMG manufacturers - are forestalling needed reforms in the industry. --------------------------------- No Upper Egypt Solution ---------------------------------

10.(C) XXXXXXXXXXXX, the Head of the QIZ Unit in MOTI, told EconOff in December that XXXXXXXXXXXX was planning to expand his business to Upper Egypt upon QIZ expansion, XXXXXXXXXXXX told us that he has been against QIZ expansion "since day one." XXXXXXXXXXXX noted that he has recently invested millions of dollars in a new facility in an existing QIZ area in greater Cairo.

11.(C) Officials at the QIZ Unit in MOTI have told us repeatedly that they see expansion to impoverished Upper Egypt as a step towards solving Egypt's human capital problems by moving export factories closer to workers in need of jobs. XXXXXXXXXXXX disagreed with this assessment, saying that because of poor infrastructure in Upper Egypt, he did not think the region would be ready for significant export industries for "at least 10 years." ------------- Comment -------------

12.(C) XXXXXXXXXXXX dire predictions of the coming death of garment industry in Egypt are probably slightly overstated: Although Egypt's overall garment exports fell an estimated 5% in 2009 amidst the global financial crisis, the sector remains a $2 billion per year export business and experienced steady growth between 2005 and 2008. The success of XXXXXXXXXXXX own company is an indication that the industry's collapse is not imminent.

13.(C) While his predictions may be alarmist, the validity of XXXXXXXXXXXX criticisms of the current state of the industry and MOTI's role in guiding it are hard to deny. Egypt will likely need to enact both short and long-term reforms in order for Egypt to maintain its market share in garment exports, particularly in the face of rising competition from South and East Asia. Helpful reforms could include promoting QIZ more forcefully and increasing the availability of credit to allow garment manufacturers to make bigger capital investments in new technologies. Most of all, the GOE will have to address the problem of an uncompetitive workforce, perhaps through a combination of easing restrictions on dismissing workers, better vocational training, and better inter-ministerial strategic planning. SCOBEY

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