Consultants say Egypt needs $149b inflow over 4 years: Officials

CAIRO (Reuters) - Western consultants helping Egypt compile an economic reform plan say it needs US$120 billion (S$149 billion) over four years - at least US$60 billion (S$74.54 billion) of investment to reach average GDP growth of 5 per cent by 2018 and the same amount again to bolster its foreign reserves, senior officials said.

The Egyptian officials said the country would seek dollar-denominated investments and loans from local and foreign investors, foreign governments and international lenders to fill the gap at a donor conference slated for the end of the year in Egypt. 

The International Monetary Fund is expected to attend the conference and has discussed the possibility of extending a loan to Egypt, one official said. "The prescription which (international investment bank) Lazard put forward is not very different from the prescriptions of the IMF", said another official, which would suggest a deal could be reached quickly.

The officials, who requested anonymity due to the confidential nature of the plan, spoke to Aswat Masriya, a news website run by the Reuters Foundation which promotes independent journalism in Egypt.

Reuters reported last month that Lazard and US consultancy Strategy& were drawing up plans to reshape Egypt's economy that could be used as the basis for reopening talks on a loan agreement with the IMF.

Such a deal could help kindle confidence among foreign investors who have been unnerved by three years of turmoil and a host of other problems including costly energy subsidies and a lack of transparency in economic management.

The IMF was not available for comment. It has previously said it was open and eager to restart loan negotiations which ousted Islamist President Mohamed Mursi, who was unwilling to impose unpopular reforms, had failed to conclude.

Just a month into office, President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi's government has enacted a series of subsidy cuts and tax hikes resembling IMF-type austerity measures which the officials said were part of the consultants' plan.

The IMF has discussed the loan with officials from the United Arab Emirates, a top Egyptian businessman familiar with the situation said.

He said the UAE - the driving force behind the consulting project - had also sought advice on the economic reform plan from former PIMCO chief executive officer Mohamed El-Erian, who have made recent trips to both countries. Mr Erian declined to comment.

Asked about Mr Erian, a source in the UAE familiar with the matter said: "He is one among many experts and organizations who are advising on a number of ideas and best practices under discussion."

Prior to the 2011 revolt that ousted former president Hosni Mubarak, direct investment in Egypt came to US$8 billion a year. In fiscal 2012-2013 the country drew in just US$3 billion of foreign investment. Egypt's GDP stood at US$262 billion in 2012, according to World Bank data.

The UAE wants to ensure aid and investments are spent efficiently in a country where past leaders with military backgrounds have often mismanaged the economy.

The UAE, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait have extended a lifeline exceeding US$12 billion in cash and petroleum products to help Egypt stave off economic collapse since Mr Mursi's ousting last July.

Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah called for "friends and brothers" to attend a donor conference for Egypt following Mr Sisi's election in May.

The final date for the conference has not yet been set, but Egypt's planning minister Ashraf al-Arabi said it "will certainly be held in Egypt before the end of the year." Egyptian officials said Saudi Arabia and the UAE had been preparing for the conference since at least April.

They said Egypt expected its Gulf allies - who see the country as the frontline in the battle against Mursi's outlawed Muslim Brotherhood - to offer investments and petroleum products rather than cash transfers.

Saudi Arabia and the UAE promised to give "aid to Egypt without a ceiling", one of the officials said.

Cash transfers from the Gulf states have helped shore up Egypt's foreign currency reserves in recent months, which reached US$16.687 billion in June.

But reserves are still nearly half the level seen before the 2011 uprising against Mubarak as political turmoil has hit tourism and foreign investment.

The officials declined to comment on the investment opportunities that Egypt was presenting to potential donors, but they said consultants from Strategy&, formerly called Booz & Company, had drawn up plans for restructuring the state-run media and textile sectors.

Strategy&, owned by Price Waterhouse Coopers, and Lazard declined to comment. Egypt's central bank, which manages foreign reserves and participated in drafting the economic reform plan, also declined to comment.