Ethiopia, Sudan agree on free trade zone

Sudanese president visits Ethiopia amid tensions with Egypt

By Seleshi Tessema

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia 

Ethiopia and Sudan on Tuesday agreed to launch a free trade zone, a railway line and to promote equitable use of the water of the Nile.

The announcement came at joint press conference following a meeting between the Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn, and Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa.

Al-Bashir, who is on a three-day visit to the eastern African country, said the two countries agreed to forge closer ties and bolster cooperation in the political, economic, social and cultural areas.

“The security of Sudan and Ethiopia are the existential foundation of both countries. Therefore, we will coordinate our security, police and army to maintain peace and stability in both countries,” he said.

Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn, for his part, said that the two countries “will launch very soon a free economic zone”.

“A new railway line will also be built between the two countries,” he added.

According to a joint press statement issued on the occasion, the two countries also “appreciated the existing understanding and cooperation and coordination between them on equitable use of the waters of the Nile and the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD)”.

Sudan supports Ethiopia in the latter’s multibillion dollar dam project that will generate 6000MW electricity upon completion. Egypt has been apprehensive of the dam which it fears will minimize water flowing downstream.

Relations between Egypt and Sudan have also come under strain recently, as both claim ownership of the Halaib Triangle region, located in the borderland between the two neighbors.

According to Taffese Huluka, professor of political science and international relations at Addis Ababa University, in addition to helping cement the bilateral relations, the visit by President al-Bashir to Ethiopia may be used by the two countries to consolidate their common stand against Egyptian hegemony on the Nile.

“It may be a sort of ‘scratch my back, and I will scratch yours’ between the two countries,” he said, adding Ethiopia in return may use its international standing to support the cause of Sudan.

As a member of the Arab League, Sudan would be willing, in return, to promote Ethiopia’s interests among the Arab world, Huluka said.

Sudan would also be instrumental in easing tensions that may arise due to military build-up of some Gulf countries along the Red Sea, he added.

Last week, the Sudanese and Saudi air forces conducted joint military exercises in northern Sudan near the border with Egypt.

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