Sudan expects ‘influx of foreign investments’ after end of US trade ban

Hotel Burj Al-Fateh in Khartoum (Creative Commons / Petr Adam Dohnálek)

Barack Obama’s decision last week to lift a decades-old trade ban on Sudan is the talk of the town in Khartoum with officials anticipating new foreign investment and a major economic boost.

The US president issued a decree just days before leaving office to end the ban effective from July 2017. A committee of incoming administration officials and government bureaucrats will meet then to implement the decision, provided that relations between the two countries remain strong.

President Donald Trump will have a veto right over the decision. However, his transition team is reported to have already signed off on Obama’s decree, which came after months of secret talks.

State-run media in Khartoum reported on Thursday that Finance Minister Badr-Eddin Mahmoud met with US Chargé d’Affaires in Khartoum Steven Koutsis and the US Deputy Consul for Economic and Political Affairs Rashida Sansui Peru to discuss the new policy.

The US and Sudanese officials reviewed “expansion of cooperation in the financial and banking sector to increase commercial exchange between Sudan and the United States through the export of Sudanese products to the United States and import of US products to the Sudanese markets, alongside cooperation in the field of aviation, railways and tourism in Sudan.”

Banking, aviation and railways are key sectors that suffered under US sanctions since the 1990s.

Mahmoud and Koutsis “affirmed creation of a conducive investment climate,” the Sudan News Agency reported. The finance minister reportedly also highlighted the opening of the Sudanese market for US companies, while Koutsis cited the desire of American companies to visit Sudanese mechanized farms.

Sudan’s high-level economic committee, chaired by the finance minister, met separately on Thursday with its own technical committee at the Council of Ministers to discuss the expected impact of the end of the trade ban and how to exploit new opportunities.

The Minister of Finance said that government needs to anticipate changes including “influx of foreign investments, enhancement of the balance of payments, stability of the exchange rate, increased exports and reduced export costs,” state media noted.

Officials are also looking into purchasing advanced US technologies in various fields.

Another meeting the same day between Sudanese business leaders, the finance minister and Deputy Central Bank Governor Hussein Yahiya Jangoul focused on follow-up steps for the post-sanctions era.

The officials are openly encouraging businesses to cooperate with foreign investors, saying that Sudanese banks should “create favorable conditions to receive and invest capital.”

Ruling party officials are also expecting a political boost from the lifting of sanctions, in particular in talks with rebel groups. Deputy Chairman of the National Congress Party Ibrahim Mahmoud Hamid says that the sanctions changes will “will have positive impacts on the economic, political and security situations in Sudan, calling on the armed movements to halt the Sudanese people’s suffering.”

Hamid, who his also a presidential assistant, said in a speech Thursday at Martyr Al-Zubair Conference Hall that the government is ready to negotiate with rebel group SPLM-North, which controls territory in two southern states bordering South Sudan.

The official slammed the rebel group for its “violations and misconduct,” citing its repeated refusal of US-backed proposals for humanitarian aid corridors to South Kordofan through Khartoum. SPLM-N has proposed alternative routes through neighboring countries.

It remains to be seen whether warming US-Sudan relations may encourage Sudanese rebel groups to re-enter talks with Khartoum. Sudan’s improving relations with Juba in the past year or so have also put a squeeze on the groups, some of which have been fighting the Sudanese government since 2003.