Egypt will help cultivate 5,000 acres in a northern region of Sudan this season in the first step in an agricultural agreement between the two countries that will eventually expand to one and a half million acres and allow Egypt to achieve self-sufficiency in wheat production.
Samir El-Sayad, Egyptian Minister of Trade and Industry, announced the plan during a conference convened by the Sudanese and Egyptian governments that was held at Cairo’s Semiramis Intercontinental hotel on Tuesday morning.
Among the attendees were Ayman Farid Abu-Hadid, Egypt's Minister of Agriculture, and Sudanese ministers for industry, agriculture and foreign trade.
Sudan immediately signalled a shift in relations by overturning trade restrictions on Egyptian produce. “Sudan has cancelled the export ban on some Egyptian products such as oranges and tomatoes which was put in place 5 months ago,” said Abdul-Halim Al-Mota'afy, the country’s agricultural minister.
Other development plans for Egypt and Sudan were announced at the conference. Chief among them were plans for a 2 million square metre industrial zone in Sudan to benefit the agro- industry and pharmaceutical sectors and provide facilities for livestock processing.
Also mooted were joint projects to produce 2 million additional tons of sugar -- cane and beet -- to fill the yawning gap faced by the Egyptian people, and a proposal for founding a quarantine area in Sudan to ease the import of live Egyptian cattle.
“These projects require large finance,” said Sudan's Foreign Trade Minister, Fadl Abdalla, throwing the burden on the private sector.
“Two thirds of development plans in Egypt are sponsored by the private sector,” agreed Al-Sayad.
When asked by Ahram Online about the future of companies that invest in Sudan and the legal accountability of their owners, Al-Sayad was sanguine.
“There was a call between the Attorney General and I to inquire about the current situation of the factories and companies that have involved owners in cases of corruption and he told me there is no prejudice against these companies and they will continue to operate at full capacity,” he said.
The owner of Citadel investment bank, Ahmed Heikal, who has been investigated on graft charges, is among the Egyptians with significant investments in Sudan. Heikal has numerous fertiliser and agricultural goods concerns in Egypt’s southern neighbour.
“Even the freezing of funds was on the personal accounts of the owner not the company's accounts,” added Al-Sayad.
The Sudanese response was more blunt. “We don’t know any thing about these businessmen…we just care about investments,” they said.
Meat imports will be key to Sudan-Egypt trade, but will be closely watched, said the Egyptian delegation.
“We have to increase the supply of meat through the importation of large quantities so that we can reduce prices in the domestic market. Any monopolistic attempt in this process are totally rejected and all importers will be treated alike,” said Egypt’s Minister of Agriculture when asked by past ‘meat monopolies’ and previous irregularities in the supply of imported meat.