China, Egypt dream big as desert is converted into cooperation zone
Photo taken in December 2018 shows a sign of the China-Egypt Suez Economic and Trade Cooperation Zone, located some 120 km to the east of Cairo near the Suez Canal, Egypt. (Xinhua)
Ahmad Abdel Baqy could hardly imagine what it would be like to build a city out of a desert until he started to work for the China-Egypt Suez Economic and Trade Cooperation Zone with his Chinese colleagues in his homeland, Egypt.
Baqy, 32, is now an engineering administrator in the China-Egypt Suez Economic and Trade Cooperation Zone, located some 120 km to the east of Cairo near the Suez Canal.
Having seen the fast progress of the zone's first phase, which covers an area of 1.34 square km, Baqy has more confidence in its expansion.
On Jan. 21, 2016, Chinese President Xi Jinping attended an inauguration ceremony of the second phase of the zone (which covers an area of 6 square km) with his Egyptian counterpart, Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi, during his state visit to the North African country.
Xi said the project will bring over 100 textile, garment, oil equipment, motorcycle and solar energy companies to Egypt, and create more than 10,000 local jobs.
After three years, the cooperation zone is becoming a boomtown for more Egyptians like Baqy to realize their dreams.
During Xi's visit in 2016, China and Egypt also signed a five-year outline document in which the two sides vowed to "double their efforts" to develop the China-Egypt Suez Economic and Trade Cooperation Zone.
"Although the zone was launched over a decade ago, lots of new endeavors from both countries have given the program more opportunities in recent years," said Liu Aimin, chairman of China-Africa TEDA Investment Co. Ltd., which is the operation body of the zone in Egypt.
Xi and Sisi have talked to each other several times in the past three years, reaching extensive consensus on jointly implementing the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), a vision put forward by Xi in 2013 to promote common development along the historical land and maritime Silk Roads.
Xi suggested many times that the two countries work together to make Egypt a pivot along the Belt and Road. He also pledged that China will participate in Egypt's key projects, including the development of the Suez Canal Corridor and the construction of a new administrative capital.
Sisi said that Egypt is ready to connect its own development plans with the BRI and called for more Chinese investment in his country.
The cooperation zone is only about 50 km away from Egypt's new administrative capital and is where the BRI and Egypt's Suez Canal Corridor Development Project meet.
Liu said infrastructure construction for 2 square km of the second phase has finished, and that eight industry-leading enterprises are already onboard, with an investment of 200 million U.S. dollars, including Chinese motorcycle giant Dayun Group, which will officially start operation this year.
Aerial photo taken on June 17, 2018 shows the China-Egypt Suez Economic and Trade Cooperation Zone, located some 120 km to the east of Cairo near the Suez Canal, Egypt. (Xinhua/Wu Lu)
REMARKABLE LOCAL BENEFITS
Nahla Emad, 34, has been working for the China-Egypt Suez Economic and Trade Cooperation Zone for nearly 10 years. She is now the CEO of the Egypt-TEDA SCZone (Suez Canal Economic Zone) Development Company, which is responsible for the investment and operation of the expansion area of the cooperation zone.
"The Egyptian staff can become executives. The promotion channels are equally provided for us," Emad said, adding that she has received "various trainings and traveled a lot to China."
The China-Egypt Suez Economic and Trade Cooperation Zone officially started its construction in 2008. For over a decade, it has directly offered jobs to over 3,500 people and created 30,000 job opportunities through the industries it gathered.
More importantly, the program is the most important developer in the SCZone, which has managed to attract investments from the world's top companies, said Alaa Abdel Kareem, a consultant of the General Authority for the SCZone.
For example, in August 2018, Chinese fiberglass giant manufacturer Jushi, which was introduced to Egypt via the cooperation zone, completed the production base of 200,000 tons of fiberglass by its local branch, making Egypt the world's fifth largest fiberglass producer.
It is not only a milestone for Jushi's "going global" plan, "but also an important achievement and a successful example of economic cooperation between China and Egypt," said Jushi Group's Chairman Zhang Yuqiang.
Xi has been reiterating in the past three years that China and Egypt should focus on cooperation on infrastructure construction and production capacity.
The cooperation zone has been successful in helping Egypt establish and complete industries in new building materials, petroleum equipment, high and low voltage equipment and machinery manufacturing, mainly in its first phase. New industries like passenger car manufacturing, textiles and clothing will see development in the second phase.
Liu said that during the past decade, his program has attracted more than 1 billion dollars of investment and the total output value is about 1.2 billion dollars. Over 1 billion Egyptian Pounds (about 56 million dollars) in taxes have been paid to the host country.
The amusement park "TEDA Fun Valley" in the China-Egypt Suez Economic and Trade Cooperation Zone is also a highlight of the cooperation program, and is attracting tens of thousands of visitors each year.
In Egypt, the cooperation zone is usually called "TEDA." In the local people's opinion, TEDA not only represents the name of the zone's operator, but is also a kind of development mode.
TEDA is short for Tianjin Economic-Technological Development Area, which is located about 150 km to the east of China's capital city Beijing with the Bohai Sea to its east.
It used to be a land of saline-alkali soil but is now a modern industrial city with an annual gross domestic product (GDP) of over 44 billion dollars after over 30 years' development. In the 1990s, as a national project, China decided to help Egypt build the economic zone in Suez.
With similar geographical conditions, TEDA had become the body to operate the project. In addition to being a cluster of industrial enterprises, the cooperation zone will be converted into a city with an array of supporting facilities like restaurants and supermarkets. Commercial residence areas and a shopping mall are planned as well.
For Baqy, the cooperation zone feels like home, and gives him a sense of belonging.
"TEDA is a place that takes care of all the details of your daily life," said Baqy, who wants to bring his family here in the future.
For Kareem, TEDA has created an "integrated developmental society, not only factories."
Thanks to TEDA's own experiences that have been applied to the cooperation zone, "a vital new city will soon grow up in the desert on the shore of the Red Sea," said Zhang Bingjun, board chairman of TEDA Investment Holding Co. Ltd.