The head of Egypt's Suez Canal Authority said Friday the government will offer investors 18 projects worth around $40 billion to create a new industrial and logistical zone along the strategic waterway.
The creation of the zone is the second leg of an ambitious program to develop the canal. Egypt is already rushing to deepen the waterway and build a second branch to allow two-way traffic, an expansion officials say will be finished by August.
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Mohab Mameesh, the head of the authority, told The Associated Press the aim is to increase the role of the waterway in international trade and increase its benefits to the country's damaged economy. The projects will be promoted to potential investors at an international conference that opened in the Sinai resort of Sharm el-Sheikh on Friday.
"We had not used this position (of the Canal) the best way," he told AP. "The Suez Canal will turn God willing from a waterway to a train for the growth of Egyptian economy."
The government aims to more than double annual canal revenues to some $13 billion in less than a decade, although that ambitious goal depends largely on rapid growth in world trade. Mameesh said the government is closely observing the expansion of trade in China and East Asia trade to be ready for increases in traffic.
He said 92 percent of the dry digging in the expansion and 36 percent of wet digging has been completed so far.
The industrial and logistical zone along the canal is to be phased in over three to five years and is to include some 1,000 factories, Mameesh said. He did not give details on the 18 projects to be first put forward. But he said the industrial zone would be a draw because it will lie on the vital waterway linking Europe and Asia, allowing shipping to benefit without having to divert from their route.
"One port can create a whole civilization. We have six ports, and two industrial zones," he said.