The Ethiopian Public Diplomacy (EPD) delegation had visited Sudan from Friday, May 8 to 12, 2015. Prior to the recent visit to Sudan, the EPD had been in Egypt in March on the same mission. The EPD is a state initiative the country has set up to boost relations with the international community and states. On the latest visit to Sudan, the EPD, led by Speaker of the House of Peoples’ Representatives Abadula Gemeda, met several Sudanese public representatives and organizations.
The hydro electric power plant Ethiopia is constructing on the Blue Nile River was on top of the list among other bilateral topics of boarder based relations and economic integration. The delegation had a brief welcoming session with 47 Ethiopian migrants who were evacuated from Libya with the support of the Sudanese embassy in Tripoli.
In association of its visit the public diplomacy team also visited Sudan’s biggest hydro electric power station that is located at Merowe, 350 km north of the capital Khartoum.
Growing Ethio-Sudanese economic relations
The Sudanese government had a big role in dethroning the Derg regime that was removed from power 24 years ago by the EPRDF led coalition. Since then, relations between the two countries have flourished. The deepening ties had helped redress the disagreement that broke out about 20 years ago following the attempted assassination on the former Egypt President Housin Mubarak in Addis Ababa in 1995.
The people to people relation between the two countries is growing. Though it is not officially confirmed, over three million Ethiopians work in Sudan and the number of Sudanese nationals who visit Ethiopia is growing from time to time. The long boarder the two countries share and similarities in the cultures and, in the religion of the two people are some of the reasons for the growing people to people relation.
Recently, the two countries have agreed to commence public transport between the two countries. That is a big step towards an economic and social integration of the two people.
The economic relation of the two countries has expanded from petty boarder trading to involvement in bigger investments and importation of basic commodities. Currently, Sudanese investors are engaged in several economic activities in Ethiopia such as in manufacturing, service, mining and agriculture.
Information obtained from the investment office indicated that Sudanese’s investment in Ethiopia is the second largest after China’s. The relation between the private sector of the two countries is very strong, according to Solomon Afework, President of the Ethiopian Chamber of Commerce and Sectoral Associations (ECCSA).
Ambassador Abadi Zemo, Ethiopian Ambassador to Sudan, told Ethiopian journalists that the two governments have signed several agreements to boost the economic relation. He said that the Sudanese are highly interested to commence the economic integration as soon as possible.
Representatives of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Ministry of Trade explained Ethio- Sudan Business and Investment Seminar that was held on May 11 about the economic relations between the two countries and future plans the joint commission of the two countries targets to implement. Some economic agreements are expected to be concluded at the coming joint commission meeting that will be held in June 2015.
The Ethiopian Chamber of Commerce has also signed Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with its Sudanese counterpart to expand the private sector’s involvement in the respective sides’ trade spheres.
The MoU signed concerning the Ethio-Sudan Joint Business Council Action Plan opens the door for Ethiopian private sector to benefit from Sudanese markets and other commodities distention in the region. “We will have access to link with Sudan via three transport systems which will transport products to Sudan, one of the potential markets for Ethiopian goods,” ECCSA’s Solomon told Capital.
The formation of a Free Trade Area (FTA) at the border, expansion and formalization of the border trade are other issues that are included in the MoU.
Establishment of the FTA is a crucial measure to make the much desired economic integration come true. “The two governments’ decision to form the FTA and other crucial institutions fosters the trade relation,” Solomon says. The business to business relation between the two countries’ private sector is also another area of cooperation.
Sudan imports large quantities of sesame, coffee and cattle via the border from Ethiopia and it presents a promising potential for Ethiopian agricultural products like sesame and meat. Consolidating further the two countries cooperation, the Ethiopia and Sudanese Business Women Associations have also signed a MoU.
Niguse Kebede, Director of Business Promotion Directorate in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, indicated the business opportunities in Ethiopia. He said that 504 Sudanese investors have registered to invest in Ethiopia until April 3, 2015, and health and education are the sectors Sudanese investors are most interested in. The two countries have signed a preferential trade agreement in 2002 that was enforced as of 2003. Consequently, the trade exchange between the two countries has grown significantly, according to Yeshak Tekalign, Director of Bilateral and Regional Trade Relations and Negotiation in the Ministry of Trade.
The trade relation between the two countries was USD 2.9 million in 2003, increasing to USD 300 million now. Ethiopia imports USD 125 million from Sudan while Ethiopia’s export to Sudan has reached USD 170 million.
Despite the current volume of trade, more agreements are needed to expand trade exchange between Sudan and Ethiopia. “We have signed several agreements on economic integration. Now we are focusing to implement the deals that we have signed,” Ambassador Abadi said.
Recently, Ethiopia has imported 50,000 tons of fertilizer via Sudanese Port to Amhara and Tigrai regions. That opportunity makes Ethiopia to attach some importance to the Port of Sudan which could be one of the outlets for Ethiopian trade, according to Ambassador Abadi. Last year, the two countries have signed agreements to expand the border security. Based on the deal, the countries have formed steering committees. Minister of Communication and Information Technology and Deputy Prime Minister for Economic Cluster Debretsion Gebremichael (Dr) leads the home side while Sudanese Vice President heads the Sudanese committee. The committees examine and make decisions on matters that obstruct border securities. The stability near the borders is vital to bolster trades. “If challenges are elevated, the trade relation will boost up by five folds,” Debretsion told Ethiopian journalists.
The Sudanese government gave Ethiopia vast storage space on Port Sudan free of charge where incoming and outgoing cargo can be stored. Sudan is doing its best to expedite the economic integration besides its cooperation in several areas, Debretsion noted.
The railway line that will connect the two countries is another element in the integration plan. Both nations will form technical committees which will look into the possibilities of connection by railway, according to Ambassador Abadi.
Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam
Sudan has played significant role for the deal signed in April between Ethiopia, Sudan and Egypt regarding the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD).
“The measure is historic in terms of supporting the GERD,” ambassador Abadi said. The project is being undertaken few kilometers from Sudan’s boarder. Since the commencement of the project the downstream countries (Egypt and Sudan) have been raising their concern about the water flow, while Sudan later gave its full support for the project.
The visit to Sudan is mainly targeted to give gratitude for the Sudanese people and government and also to do more clarification regarding the dam project, which will be the first ever huge project in the hydro electric history of the continent.
From the Sudanese side the experts and government officials who met the delegation have given their support for the project, while they raised the safety issue about the dam.
Ethiopian scholars who were members of the delegation have given detail technical explanation about the project and its safety.
The experts have also explained the benefit of the project for Sudan’s economy and dams like Merowe Dam Hydropower Plant.
Most of the dwellers of Khartoum, who Capital talked to, said that they are aware of Ethiopia’s hydro electric project on the river Abay. They appreciated Ethiopia’s decision to implement the project and accept the country’s development right over the river. They said that Ethiopia has the right to construct the project on the river. “We hope that it will also share the electric with us and Egypt,” the residents said.
After the five day visit the head of the delegation said that the visit has been successful and able to expand the relation of the two nations. “We have met with several representatives of the people of Sudan including spiritual leaders from Muslim and Christian communities,” he added in his speech at Bole International Airport on Wednesday May 13.