District businessman Bryant G. Harris studied the farmer chiseling his small plot of earth with a camel, a cow, and a wooden plow. Harris said he was accutely aware he wasn't in just "anytown U.S.A." He was in Luxor, an ancient Egyptian city bordering the Nile River.
The scene illustrated the Egyptians' need for technological skill and knowhow, one reason that Bryant and 16 other District business people embarked on an unprecedented 10-day trade mission with the Egyptian government and business people.
At a news conference yesterday, D.C. Chamber of Commerce officials, who engineered the trade mission last month, said the District delegation extracted contracts worth at least $200 million.
In addition, some of the small and medium-sized businesses represented are planning to open offices in Egypt. Other trade missions to the Persian Gulf, Africa, Cuba and the Peoples Republic of China are planned. Medium and small business are those with annual revenues less than $6 million, according to Edward van Kloert, chamber vice president.
The Egyptian business people "were very cauutious at first," Harris said. "But when they realized that we were down-to-earth people, it was an integrated arranement, they felt this is America for sure."
The group consisted of nine blacks, Van Kloberg said. Harris said the Egyptians told him, "This is not the large corporate America that comes over here to haul everything back."
"Because of its hugh population and ambitious industrial development plan, Egypt offers U.S. exporters the biggest long-term market potential of any country in the Middle East," said Vernon C. Stansbury, deputy director for export development at the Commerce Department. "It is therefore important that we involve a diverse group of companies in Egypt-U.S. U.S. trade."
Last year, U.S. exports of Egypt reached $1.1 billion, representing 8 percent of the Near East and North African market, according to Commerce Department figures. U.S. exports to Egypt this year are expected to reach $1.5 billion, the Commerce Department said.
The Egyptian government also is giving proprity to expanding its exports, particularly petroleum and other items that receive preferential tariff treatment, Stansbury said, creating other opportunities for U.S. equipment sales.
More and more small and medium sized businesses are showing interest in foreign trade. This interest has been encouraged in part by the federal government, which wants to reduce its trade imbalance, and by local groups, which want to help their members balance their books.
Trade experts have said that small and medium-sized American businesses can be fattened by trading with economically starving nations. The recent anti-American sentiment abroad may cloud that, however. Because it signed the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty, Egypt is expected to lose more than $1 billion a year it would have received from the other Arabs as a "confrontation state" in the fight against Israel. And its invitation to the deposed shah of Iran may not help its economic situation with its neighbors, either.
In addition to future and continuing contacts with Egyptian firms by District business people, the Egyptians also plan to send a trade mission to Washington, Van Kloberg said, to open markets for some of their goods such as rugs and wine.
The Egyptians are particularly in need of technical assistance and help in constructing sturdy, high-rise apartment buildings for the thousands of its poor, Van Kloberg said.
"They assured me it wasn't money they needed," Harris said of the Egyptian business people. "It was the technology."
Harris said the District business people were surrounded at various functions by Egyptians needing business assistance. They were also constantly paged by hotel help ringing bells and sporting on their heads blackboards bearing messages.
The owner of a fluorescent light-bulb factory heard that Harris was an engineer and promptly chauffeured him to his factory to discuss a possible venture, Harris said.
"District of Columbia businessmen can indeed engage in international trade and investment," Van Kloberg said. "We're simply not landlocked."