Qatar pledges additional aid, gas deal for Egypt

Qatar will provide Egypt with natural gas to fill the gap in its energy sector, particularly as summer approaches, Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani announced Wednesday.

Speaking at a joint press conference with Egyptian Prime Minister Hesham Qandil in Doha, Jassim al-Thani also said Qatar would give Egypt an additional US$3 billion aid package in the form of bank deposits and bonds.

Details of the financial assistance are expected to be discussed with Qandil, who is visiting Doha with a delegation of Cabinet ministers.

Qatar is not seeking anything in return for the aid, its prime minister said, denying Egyptian media reports that Qatar was eying additional investment privileges in the Suez Canal. He said that his country would take part in tenders for investment opportunities.

The kingdom has also facilitated business interests, Jassim al-Thani said, by allowing Egyptian companies to bypass a system widely used in the Gulf that requires foreign workers to have a local guarantor.

Qatar is now one of Egypt’s primary supporters, Planning Minister Ashraf al-Araby had said earlier Wednesday, anticipating the conclusion of a natural gas deal. He noted that the Gulf kingdom had already provided US$5 billion in economic assistance, including a $1 billion grant.

Araby said the Egyptian government is seeking to cut the budget deficit down to 9.5 percent of gross domestic product during the current fiscal year and to 8.5 percent in fiscal 2013/2014. However, the funding gap is predicted to persist until 30 June 2015, the minister said.

He also expected negotiations with the International Monetary Fund for a US$4.8 billion loan to conclude within two weeks, but noted that if they fail, the government would apply additional austerity measures.

Egypt has begun implementing an economic reform program to ration subsidies and restructure the taxation system, with taxes already raised on cement, steel, telecommunications, cigarettes, alcohol, and soft drinks, the minister said.

Edited translation from Al-Masry Al-Youm

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