In a strongest signal yet about the possibility of lifting the US sanctions, the Trump administration decided last week to cancel the Temporary Protection Status (TPS) for Sudanese nationals because of improvement of conditions in the country. The move came on the heels of extensive visits by representatives from various institutions that are getting their first-hand account of what is going on in Sudan before the decision regarding sanctions is taken.
In fact Sudanese media are full of reporting about the upcoming decision to the extent that one newspaper said Trump has already made up his mind on fully lifting the sanctions and that the decision will be announced even before the set deadline of Oct. 12.
Clearly there is a growing understanding that using sanction as a foreign policy leverage has exhausted its usefulness and that the three months extension period has to do mainly with the Trump administration that needs to put its own house in order first before embarking on a new policy towards Sudan.
Moreover, with the exemptions given to various sectors in the economy like agriculture, communications, academia and so on the main remaining problem was the financial transactions and of course having Sudan in the list of countries accused of sponsoring international terrorism.
Still lifting the sanctions will provide a big boost for the bilateral relations and pave the way for tackling more complicated issues like removing the name of the Sudan from that list and the debt issue.
But as far as improving the economic situation and having a positive impact on the lives of people the outcome remains questionable at best.
The case of the Gum Arabia could be a good example that can explain the situation. Given its central role in the pharmaceutical and beverage industries and the role of Sudan in this trade being its main producer and exporter, Gum Arabic was exempted from any sanctions. Moreover, it is a sector that receives considerable aid from international organizations like the World Bank, FAO, IFAD and others. The Gum Arabic sector is believed to be giving work opportunities and living means to more than five million people, including 1.5 million women, at the time it requires minimal effort to produce. As such it represents a show case for combating poverty for instance.
But despite these positive points, exports of Gum Arabic has been deteriorating over the years to the extent that the head of the Parliamentary Subcommittee on Industry and Commerce, Abdalla Masar, said that exports from this commodity have dropped significantly from 100, 000 tons to mere 12, 000 tons. Part of the problem relates to smuggling, where some 45, 000 tons are believed to be smuggled out of the country, each year, according to government data.
That brings to the fore the expected impact of lifting sanctions on Sudan. If Sudan failed to make utmost use from a commodity that has been exempted from sanctions and where the country enjoys commanding position, how is it going to benefit from the sanctions lifting?
Smuggling could be part of the problem, but not the only explanation for the deterioration in this vital sector. Missing are important policies that favor the producers, missing is the adequate infrastructures that create the much needed conducive environment that provide attraction. It is no secret that because of this wretched conditions, young people are hardly attracted to work in this field.
If recent history is any guide, the separation of South Sudan that took with it the bulk of the known oil resources did not motivate the government to come up with policies that could address the economic shock which has engulfed the country ever since.
Instead a 3-year program was followed by another 5-year one without due evaluation of why the change and more important no body was held accountable.
Nothing much has changed and it looks like there is a feeling that lifting the sanctions will lead automatically to improvement in the economic scene. Far from the truth because what is needed and seems to be in short supply is the political will, the vision and an able staff capable of putting an economic plan that can produce results.
The main feature of the current government that was formed following the lengthy National Dialogue exercise was the complete change of the economic team, which signals to the fact that how the government views the situation. Now more than three months in office that team has yet to produce tangible results.
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