Sudan ratifies ban on Egyptian farm and animal product imports

KHARTOUM (Reuters) - Sudan’s cabinet has approved a ban on importing agricultural and animal products from Egypt, Sudan’s state news agency SUNA said on Tuesday, escalating trade tensions between the neighbors.

The cabinet urged the private sector to import products directly from countries of origin, bypassing Egypt. The statement did not give a reason for the decisions.

Egyptian Foreign Ministry spokesman Ahmed Abu Zeid said Cairo was told the decision was due to “a technical procedure”.

Tension between Egypt and Sudan over issues ranging from a land dispute to accusations of political meddling prompted Sudan to ban all Egyptian agricultural goods in March.

Foreign firms have been caught in the crossfire. Saudi Arabia’s Savola Group has had to re-route much of its Egypt-based sugar output that it normally sells to Sudan. Savola imports raw Brazilian sugar and refines it in Egypt for export.

“The volumes going there are about 20,000 tonnes a month, but now unfortunately this looks like it will be stopped indefinitely,” a source at the company said.

The neighbors have been at odds over issues that include a long-running dispute over land on Egypt’s southern border with Sudan, as well as trade restrictions and burdensome visa requirements that have threatened commercial relations.

Sudan this month accused Egypt of supporting rebels who it says want to topple the government in Khartoum. Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi had rejected the charge.

Sudan’s Foreign Minister Ibrahim Ghandour was due to visit Egypt this week to discuss the trade row and other issues, but the trip was postponed for a week, Abu Zeid told Reuters.

Amany al-Taweel, African affairs expert at the Cairo-based Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, blamed the political and other differences for Sudan’s decision.

Sudan’s economy was shaken by the 2011 secession of the south, which had been its main oil producing region. With 40 million people, Sudan is half the size of Egypt with 92 million people. Egypt also has a much bigger industrial base.

Sudan imported about $591 million worth of goods from Egypt in 2016, most of which were food items such as vegetables, fruit and biscuits, Ahmed Hamid, a director at Sudan’s Ministry of International Cooperation, has said.

Additional reporting by Maha El Dahan in Abu Dhabi and Mourad Mahmoud and Arwa Gaballa in Cairo; Writing by Asma Alsharif; Editing by Giles Elgood and Edmund Blair