Despite lifting ban, Egyptian commodities still absent in Sudanese market

Analysts believe the delay in enforcing the decision to lift the ban on the export of Egyptian products to Sudan is due to economic reasons, in light of the current changes and events ongoing in the country.

al-monitor A farmer shows his harvested strawberry crop in a field in the Beheira governorate, north of Cairo, Egypt, April 4, 2018.  Photo by REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El Ghany.

Apr 17, 2019

Egypt's parliament is trying to put pressure on Sudan with the key aim of allowing Egyptian commodities into the Sudanese market. Though Sudan's ousted President Omar al-Bashir announced in October 2018 the removal of the ban on Egyptian products, the decision has not been enforced yet — a matter that prompted the Egyptian parliament to raise questions regarding the reasons lurking behind such procrastination.

More importantly, in light of the current drastic change in Sudan's political scene, the question arises as to whether Bashir's decision will be enforced.

On March 24, Egypt's parliamentary Industry Committee held a meeting in the presence of Osama Shaltout, the assistant foreign minister for African Affairs, to discuss the delay in lifting the ban after receiving complaints from Egyptian exporters. The committee criticized Sudan’s failure to implement the presidential decision to lift the ban on Egyptian products and recommended holding an urgent meeting with the Egyptian agriculture minister to ensure that Egyptian exports abide by the international food safety standards.

Former Assistant Foreign Minister Mohamed Hijazi said during the meeting that both the Egyptian and Sudanese presidents agreed to lift the ban, but there are “arbitrary” measures from the Sudanese side. A committee is to be formed to solve this problem, he added. 

Mohamed Zakariya Mohye el-Din, a member of parliament's Industry Committee, told Al-Monitor, “We managed to schedule a meeting with Agriculture Minister Ezz el-Din Abu Steit to discuss this issue. On April 14, the minister met the parliament's Industry Committee to discuss the motions submitted by me and other parliament members regarding this issue. There have been no official measures to solve this issue, a matter that caused problems for Egyptian exporters.”

“It is our role as parliamentarians to call for official intervention,” Mohye el-Din added. “There should be more coordination between the ministries of Agriculture and Trade to outline the key reasons lurking behind the suspension of lifting the ban,” he urged.

In 2016, Sudan imposed a temporary ban over fresh and dried vegetables and fruits, as well as fish that are imported from Egypt, since the Sudanese Standards and Metrology Organization issued new regulations banning importers and exporters from entering some goods into Sudan.

After approximately a 17-month ban, then-President Bashir announced in October 2018 the lifting of the ban following joint talks with his Egyptian counterpart, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, in Khartoum. It is worth mentioning that during Sisi's visit to Khartoum, the Egypt-Sudan Ministerial Committee held a meeting during which around 12 agreements were signed in diverse domains.

Egyptian Trade Minister Amr Nassar, who was in Khartoum, said upon his return to Cairo on Oct. 26, 2018, that the lifting of the ban on Egyptian products exported to the Sudanese market was one of the most important outcomes of Sisi's visit, expecting a remarkable increase in the Egyptian exports to Sudan. Nassar added that the export councils will hold intensive meetings to follow up on the decision.

“We have not seen any meeting between the minister [of trade] and the export councils so far. The decision of lifting the ban has not been enforced on the ground. That is why parliament is trying to find a way out of this problem,” Mohye el-Din said.

The volume of trade exchange between Egypt and Sudan during the period from January to July 2018 amounted to more than $320.48 million. The trade balance between the two countries came in favor of Cairo, where the value of Egyptian exports exceeded the value of imports from Khartoum.

The main Egyptian exports to the Sudanese market include industrial goods and foodstuffs, petroleum products, machinery and equipment, raw materials, textiles and beverages.

In this regard, Ayman Shabana, a professor of political science at the Institute of African Studies and Research affiliated with Cairo University, opined that the ongoing political turbulence in Sudan is the key reason lurking behind delaying the implementation of lifting the ban. “Sudan is now facing one of the hardest political problems in its history. It is preoccupied with the unstable domestic affairs. The delay in lifting the ban has no political dimension. Egypt and Sudan are brotherly countries,” he said.

Sudan has been witnessing since December 2018 political instability following the outbreak of massive protests calling for the ouster of Bashir's regime. On April 11, Sudan’s army ousted Bashir and declared that it would rule the nation for two years through a transitional council. However, the political scene is still unstable in Sudan with many protesters refusing the military statement and instead calling for civilian rule.

Shabana, meanwhile, has urged not to deal with this issue from a political perspective. “Sudan's economic conditions are deteriorating. One US dollar is worth 60 Sudanese pounds. In light of these deplorable economic conditions, it is very hard to pay for the Egyptian imports,” he argued. Egypt is supporting the Sudanese people and will not take any “political” stance against Sudan, Shabana added.

It is worth mentioning that the Egyptian Foreign Ministry issued a press statement on April 14 announcing its support for the Sudanese people's choice and supporting the Sudanese military.

“In a nutshell, the devaluation of the Sudanese pounds has led to the rationalization of imports. Therefore, the Sudanese importers will incur hefty losses in light of the current local economic situation. Again, I stress [that] economic [and] not political reasons are lurking behind such delay,” Shabana said.

Regarding the suffering of Egyptian exporters due to the delay, Shabana said they can export to Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa countries. “This is a huge market including 19 countries. New horizons for cooperation can be opened with these countries on an economic level. We hope that stability will prevail in Sudan in the upcoming period, with more Egyptian products being exported to its market," he concluded.

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