GERD negotiations reach a dead-end

Zeinab El-Gundy , Sunday 10 Jan 2021

Egypt’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Sameh Shouky and Minister of Irrigation and Water Sources Mohamed Abdel-Ati participated in the video conference talks

Sameh Shoukry
New round of GERD talks fails in achieving any progress: Foreign ministry

The meeting on the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) that took place on Sunday failed to achieve any progress, the Egyptian foreign ministry announced in a statement as South Africa is looking into possible next steps.

According to the Egyptian foreign ministry, the online meeting failed to achieve any progress due to the differences on how to resume the talks and the procedures related to the negotiations process.

“Sudan insisted on the necessity of delegating the African Union appointed experts to present solutions to the disputed issues in the talks and to elaborate on the GERD agreement; something which both Egypt and Ethiopia rejected because the negotiation process, as well as the right to draft the texts and provisions of the filling and operating agreement of the GERD, are fundamental rights for the three countries” The Egyptian statement said, adding that the AU experts were not experts in the technical and engineering fields related to the water sources and dam operations.

Egypt’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Sameh Shouky and Minister of Irrigation and Water Sources Mohamed Abdel-Ati participated in the video conference talks.

The statement of the Egyptian foreign ministry asserted that Egypt is ready to get involved in serious talks in order to reach, in the nearest possible time, a legally binding agreement on the filing and operations of the GERD that safeguards Egypt’s rights and water interests and is in line with the decisions of the African Union office’s meetings — held in December — on the issue.

South African Minister of Foreign Affairs Naledi Pandor, who attended the online meeting, expressed her sorrow for the failure to achieve any progress, the statement said.

She also added that she will present a report on this round of talks to South Africa’s president in order to determine the next steps to be taken.

South Africa is currently the chair of the African Union.

Sudanese demands and objections

Sudanese Minister of Irrigation and Water Resources Yasser Abbas told the Sudanese Official News Agency that Sudan demanded during the meeting to change the methodology of the negotiations and to expand the role of the African Union experts in a way that enables them to play a fundamental role in facilitating the negotiations, especially after the bilateral meetings held on Saturday with the experts.

Sudan had already skipped the last meeting, according to an official statement released last week, in objection to not receiving a response to its demands of holding bilateral meetings between the AU experts participating in the negotiations and each of the three countries' representatives separately to discuss and identify points of differences, while continuing to hold trilateral meetings between the three countries' negotiating teams.

The Sudanese government warned that it would withdraw from Sunday's meeting if its demand of granting a bigger role for experts was not met, the Saudi-owned news website Asharq reported, citing Sudanese diplomatic sources.

“We cannot continue this vicious cycle of round talks indefinitely, considering that the GERD represents a direct threat to the Roseires Dam, which has a reservoir capacity less than 10% of the GERD’s capacity if the filing and the operations of the GERD starts without an agreement and daily exchange of information,” Abbas said.

Abbas revealed that Sudan has officially presented a letter to the African Union objecting in the extremist terms to the letter sent by Ethiopia to the AU, Sudan, and Egypt on Friday declaring its intention to proceed with the second filing of the GERD — estimated at 15 billion cubic metres of water — next July whether there is an agreement or not.

Ethiopia also claims that it is not obliged to notify or exchange data with downstream countries in advance of the filling and operating procedures of the GERD, which constitutes a serious threat to Sudanese water dams and half of the population of Sudan.

The AU-mediated talks have been observed by representatives from the EU, the US, the AU, as well as legal and technical experts.

The GERD, built 15 kilometres from the Ethiopian border with Sudan, has been a source of contention between the three countries since its construction began in 2011.

Cairo fears the project will significantly cut its crucial water supplies from the River Nile, while Sudan has concerns over how the reservoir will be managed.

Ethiopia says the massive project — which it hopes will make it Africa’s largest power exporter — is key to its development efforts.

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