* Sudan banned all Egyptian agricultural goods in March
* Traders say Egyptian media comments deepened spat
* Guidelines on what products banned remain unclear
* Saudi's Savola may re-route sugar exports
By Eric Knecht and Khalid Abdelaziz
CAIRO/KHARTOUM, April 27 When Egyptian media
began making Sudan and its smaller if more numerous pyramids the
subject of jokes on nightly talk shows recently, Sudanese were
Commodity traders weren't either. They say growing tension
between the neighbouring states, deepened by a recent media
spat, has led to mounting trade restrictions that are now
throwing their businesses into disarray.
"They say those are pyramids. Don't laugh. Those are cheese
triangles," said an Egyptian pundit describing Sudan's ancient
The comments were prompted by Sudan's decision to place a
blanket ban on all Egyptian agricultural goods last month,
ramping up restrictions it first imposed in September to block
Egyptian fruits, vegetables and fish on health
Hany Hussein, executive director of Egypt's Agricultural
Export Council, says that seven months after the initial import
restrictions, Sudan has yet to provide any explanation as to
what is actually wrong with the Egyptian goods.
"We want to keep working with Sudan as it's a very important
market, but we're waiting to know what the issue is."
Traders say the media war of words has suddenly made the
situation worse, with guidelines on what products can be sold
over the border increasingly unclear and no resolution in sight.
"It's a big mess..trucks have been waiting outside Sudan
carrying Egyptian goods unable to enter," said one Egyptian
trader with business in Sudan.
Analysts say the trade restrictions are largely political
and tied to a litany of Sudanese grievances, from disputed land
in Egypt's south to Egypt's refusal to drop strict visa
requirements on Sudanese nationals while granting residency to
"When there's tension, Sudan of course uses what tools it
has to create pressure," said Attia Essawy, an expert on African
Sudan, its economy shaken by the 2011 secession of the
south, finds itself in confrontation with a neighbour far
wealthier and more powerful. Its population a bit less than half
of Egypt's 92 million, it has relied on Egypt as a top import
destination for many food items.
Sudan imported about $591 million worth of goods from Egypt
in 2016, most of which were food items like vegetables, fruit
and biscuits, said Ahmed Hamid, a director at Sudan's Ministry
of International Cooperation.
Egypt's agricultural exports have surged since it floated
its currency in November, allowing it to roughly halve in value
and making its goods instantly more attractive on world markets.
CAUGHT IN CROSSFIRE
Recent actions can rebound on Sudanese businessmen.
Sudanese importer Babkir Adam Wali said his 12 million
Sudanese pound($1.8 million) shipment of Egyptian biscuits and
sweets has been stuck since March 10.
"I'm paying 30,000 Sudanese pounds per day for trucks
carrying these goods inside Sudan, and I have bank loans
guaranteed by these goods. If they don't enter before their
expiry date, I'll have a financial crisis," said Wali.
Even larger companies have been caught in the crossfire,
like the Saudi Arabian Savola Group, which will have
to re-route much of its Egypt-based sugar production that is
normally sold to Sudan, according to a company source.
Savola imports raw Brazilian sugar and refines it in Egypt
for export to other destinations, meaning the banned sugar is
not even Egyptian.
"The guidelines are not clear at all, so at the moment we
might consider fulfilling our Sudan contracts from our
Saudi-based plant," the company source said.
Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry paid a rare visit to
Khartoum last week to smooth over relations.
Sources close to the visit said the trade issue was at the
top of the agenda, but comments by Shoukry and his Sudanese
counterpart offered no mention of a resolution.
Instead, Sudanese Foreign Minister Ibrahim Ghandour
reiterated concerns that " campaign by Egyptian media
against Sudan exceeded what is reasonable and conventional. It
went beyond criticism to abuse of the Sudanese people," he said.
(Additional reporting by Maha El Dahan in ABU DHABI and Arwa
Gaballa in CAIRO; editing by Ralph Boulton)