The next time you pay for something with a dollar bill, think of Congressman David Dreier’s new proposal involving Egypt.


Last year, Americans and Egyptians traded dollar bills 9 billion times. At least that was the value of two-way trade between our countries: $9 billion.

A lot of this value started out on American farms. Egypt was the fourth most important destination for U.S. exports of corn and wheat.

Dreier, a California Republican, would like us to trade even more. He’s trying to persuade the Obama administration to begin trade talks with Egypt. It’s a bipartisan cause, joined by Rep. Gregory Meeks, a Democrat from New York.

If the White House agrees and the negotiations succeed, Americans will have a chance to exchange goods and services worth many more dollar bills—U.S. currency that have a symbol of ancient Egypt on their back sides.

You know the image: It’s the funny-looking one that’s part of the Great Seal of the United States, featuring a pyramid topped by an eye.

Much has been said about the meaning of the Seal. If you spend too much time on Google, you run the risk of visiting some kooky websites.

But it’s really quite simple. The Roman numerals at the base of the pyramid say “1776” and the eye at the top is a representation of God, beneath the Latin words “Annuit Coeptis,” which means “he has approved of the undertakings.” In between, of course, is the pyramid itself–a symbol of strength and duration, comprised of 13 levels, one for each of the original colonies.

The most famous Egyptian pyramid–the big one at Giza–has a lot more than 13 levels. It’s about 480 feet tall (and believe me, when I saw it, I was impressed). It’s also about 4,500 years old, making it strange to think of 21st-century Egypt as a “developing” country.

Whatever we make of this symbolism, boosting our trade with Egypt is sensible for reasons of economics and national security.

Egypt must import food to survive. More than 80 million people live within its borders, virtually all of them beside the Nile River. Most of the rest of the country is desert. The arable land is basically limited to the banks of the Nile–and there isn’t enough of it to support the population.

The country’s greatest need is wheat. American farmers already supply a lot of this, especially when drought hits Ukraine and the Black Sea region or when those countries compound the problem by imposing export quotas on their crops. We also sell corn and soybeans, tied to Egypt’s emerging market in milk and poultry production. A trade agreement will help us do better in all of these areas.

In the future, the United States also will enjoy a remarkable opportunity to take advantage of Egypt as a destination for American-raised beef. The country’s growing middle class will demand these products, but Egypt doesn’t have enough range land to satisfy its own market. We should make sure the business comes our way.

Egypt’s food supply is not just an economic opportunity, but also a national-security priority. Earlier this year, a popular revolt forced an end to the rule of Hosni Mubarak as Egypt’s leader. What comes next is a mystery. Cairo in 2011 isn’t Philadelphia in 1776: We aren’t going to see this Arabic country become a liberal republic, at least not in the near term. It could even fall to the forces of Islamic radicalism, which would make the world a much more dangerous place.

To nudge Egypt in the right direction–and guard against disaster–we should improve our trade ties.

“Expanding our economic engagement is the most important step we can take to ensure that the Arab world’s largest nation emerges from its transition as a strong, stable, and prosperous democracy,” says Dreier.

The Dreier-Meeks legislation can’t force the Obama administration to do anything. It simply calls on the executive branch to seek a free-trade agreement. Consider it as a polite request.

Yet it’s the right thing to do. Every time you look at the pyramid on a dollar bill–and see that unblinking eye gazing up at you–let it remind you of a free-trade agreement with Egypt.

Dean Kleckner chairs Truth About Trade & Technology –