Egypt eyes Ethiopia trade boost as Nile row eases
Egypt’s interim Prime Minister, Essam Sharaf offered to increase
trade with Ethiopia on Friday and said a new atmosphere now existed with
regional neighbours over the vexed question of sharing Nile river waters.
Cairo has been at odds with upriver nations over their efforts
to overturn colonial era-treaties granting it a lion’s share of the river’s
Nile basin countries including Ethiopia and Uganda signed a deal
last year effectively stripping Egypt of its veto over hydro-power projects.
However, Addis Ababa said this month it was delaying
ratification until a new government was installed in Egypt to replace authoritarian
ruler Hosni Mubarak. Ethiopia had accused Mubarak of supporting rebels trying
to destabilise the country.
“We were in Uganda yesterday and today we had discussions in
Ethiopia, and the environment is completely different from the previous
period,” Mr Sharaf told journalists following talks with members of Ethiopia’s
business community and a meeting with Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi.
“With the concept that all should be winners – because we have
huge resources, based on that there will be discussions and exchange of ideas,”
Mr Sharaf also offered to increase trade between the two
“When you look at trade between Ethiopia and Egypt, it’s a tiny
fraction of total trade. We have to take care of that, to develop means and
tools to increase trade,” he said.
Egypt, threatened by rising temperatures and a growing
population, is almost entirely dependent on the Nile for its water and has been
nervously watching hydropower dam projects take shape in upriver nations.
Ethiopia is building a multi-billion dollar mega dam on its
share of the river, which accounts to eighty-five percent of the Nile’s water.
Ethiopian officials dismiss fears the dam would reduce the
river’s flow, and Sharaf said his country was willing to discuss its effects by
joining a committee of Ethiopian, Egyptian and Sudanese experts.
“There will be committees and meetings, the scope is wider: to
involve all development plans, including energy development, electricity,
agriculture and industrial services,” he said.
While Egypt and Ethiopia signed a cooperation agreement in 1993,
relations have been at a low ebb since 1995 following an assassination attempt
on Mubarak by Islamist gunmen during a visit to Addis Ababa.
Under a 1929 pact, Egypt is entitled to 55.5 billion cubic
metres a year of the Nile’s flow of around 84 billion cubic metres.
Since Mubarak’s fall, the military-backed interim government has
not openly criticised the new treaty, instead focusing on diplomatic ties in
the search for a compromise.
Egyptians are expected to vote for a new leader in December.