Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan agree to continue GERD negotiations on Monday

Ahmed Morsy , Saturday 13 Jun 2020

A general view of the construction works at the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) on 26 December 2019 (photo: AFP)

Egypt's Ministry of Water Resources and Irrigation said on Saturday that the fourth day of the tripartite negotiations on the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) between Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan ended with an agreement to meet again virtually on Monday 15 June.

The tripartite negotiations, which were brokered by Sudan, were initially planned to end on Saturday. South Africa, the US and the EU attended as observers in the four-day negotiations in the latest bid to seal a deal on the controversial dam. 

"The four-day negotiations demonstrated that there are many fundamental issues that Ethiopia continues to reject," the Egyptian Ministry of Irrigation said in a statement, adding that these issues include provisions that reflect the legally binding nature of the agreement, or the creation of a legal dispute settlement mechanism.

This is in addition to Ethiopia's total rejection of addressing technical issues relating to the mitigation measures for drought and prolonged drought as well the measures addressing prolonged periods of dry years, the statement noted.

The ministry said that Egypt reaffirmed that these measures are considered "essential" in any agreement that relates to an existential matter affecting the lives of over 150 million citizens of Egypt and Sudan.

In parallel, the Sudanese Ministry of Water Resources and Irrigation issued a statement on Saturday following the end of the fourth day of the tripartite meeting saying that it will prepare a consensus draft to be discussed on Monday.

"Today's meeting ended with Sudan being tasked with preparing a new consensus draft based on the comments of the three countries during their Saturday's meeting, provided that the three parties return to negotiation on Monday afternoon to discuss the draft and assess the negotiation process, and consequently the next steps," the Sudanese ministry said.

Regarding Saturday's meeting, the Sudanese statement explained that its discussions took place on the basis of another consensus proposal prepared and sent by Sudan after the previous meeting.

Earlier on Saturday, the Egyptian Ministry of Water Resources and Irrigation spokesman described the talks as "faltering," which he blamed on Ethiopia’s “intransigence.”

The ongoing stretched negotiations come months after talks stalled last February during US sponsored meetings in Washington. The US, represented by the Treasury Department, along with the World Bank stepped in last year to host tripartite negotiations that began in November and lasted till February after years-long negotiations between the three countries hit a dead end.

Following the four months of negotiations brokered by Washington, during which the three nations initially agreed on mitigation mechanisms to adjust the filling and operation of the dam during dry periods and drought, the US and the World Bank drafted a deal that was due to be signed in late February. Ethiopia skipped the last round of talks and only Egypt initialled the deal.

Last Thursday, the Egyptian irrigation ministry said that Egypt and Sudan had expressed concerns about a new Ethiopian proposal on filling and operating the mega-dam, saying it backtracks on previous negotiations.

“The Ethiopian document completely backtracks on the principles and rules that were agreed upon between the three countries during the negotiations sponsored by the United States and the World Bank. It also brushes aside all the technical understandings reached in the previous rounds of negotiations,” read the Egyptian statement.

“Ethiopia should revise its position, which impedes any possibility of reaching an agreement. Egypt stresses that Ethiopia should not take any unilateral action in violation of its legal obligations, especially the Declaration of Principles in 2015,” read the Egyptian statement.

Ethiopia has reneged on the 2015 Declaration of Principles deal that obliges the three African countries to reach an agreement on the guidelines of filling and operating the dam, telling the UN Security Council (UNSC) in a 14 May letter that it “does not have a legal obligation to seek the approval of Egypt to fill the dam.”

Article 5 of the Declaration of Principles stipulates that all three countries should reach an agreement on the rules of filling and operating the 6,000-megawatt dam before starting the process of filling the reservoir.

Ethiopia’s 22-page letter to the UNSC came in response to an Egyptian letter sent to the president of the UNSC on 1 May stressing Egypt’s "unwavering commitment" to concluding a comprehensive agreement on the GERD based on the 2015 deal.

According to the Egyptian letter, the Ethiopian prime minister sent on 10 April a letter to the president of Egypt and the prime minister of Sudan proposing they agree to an Ethiopian plan covering only the first stage of the filling of GERD.

The Ethiopian proposal was rejected by both countries, the Egyptian 17-page letter said, stressing that any agreement on the GERD must be comprehensive and "must regulate the complete process of filling the dam and its operation."

Ethiopia hopes the massive $4.8 billion megaproject on the Blue Nile will allow it to become Africa’s largest power exporter.

But Egypt, which relies on the Blue Nile for 85 percent of its freshwater, fears the dam will diminish its water supply, which is already below scarcity level.

Egypt has a water share of around 570 cubic metres per person annually, well below the water scarcity level of 1,000 cubic metres per person per year. The figure is expected to drop further to 500 cubic metres by 2025.

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