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Britain can't wait to trade with 'terror-sponsor' Sudan Open in fullscreen

Robert Cusack

Britain can't wait to trade with 'terror-sponsor' Sudan

Sudan spends around 75% of its budget on its military and security forces [AFP]

Date of publication: 17 March, 2017

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The UK government has been preparing to massively invest in Sudan once international sanctions are lifted in July - despite the fact it is designated a state sponsor of terror.

Is this the future for Brexit Britain's trade arrangements?

The British government is looking to drum up trade agreements with Sudan once international trade sanctions are lifted in July - in spite of evidence Khartoum is allegedly responsible for the killing of millions of its own citizens.

An e-mail sent out by the British embassy in Khartoum on Wednesday asked Sudanese businesses to submit pitches to work with the British government after the United States' international sanctions are lifted in July.

The New Arab has seen a copy of the e-mail, which provides an interesting insight into the future trade negotiations Britain may look to pursue after it leaves the European Union.

"We want to see Sudanese companies operate and produce and find their way to the British consumer in the United Kingdom," Michael Aron, the British ambassador to Sudan, said in a statement.

Britain's minister for the Middle East, Tobias Ellwood, wrote in December that "the UK is pursuing a phased increase in direct engagement with Sudan."

"We have been clear with the government of Sudan that the current conflicts, human rights abuses, and business environment remain obstacles to a sizeable increase in interest from British companies.

The president of Sudan, Omar al-Bashir, is currently wanted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes and Sudan is officially categorised as a "state sponsor of terror".

Yet despite obvious moral objections - especially over a culture of rampant corruption in Sudan - the UK government appears adamant to continue opening itself to trade opportunities.

"To present [Sudan] as open to British trade before there is lasting, inclusive and sustained peace is disingenuous at best, and dangerous at worst," said Maddy Crowther, a spokesperson for Waging Peace, a human rights NGO.

"Dangerous because it will embolden and even finance a regime guilty of the gravest human rights abuses, and dangerous too because of the risks faced by British firms of entering such a brazenly corrupt business environment."

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office did not respond to repeated opportunity to comment.

Courting

A recent blog-post by the Sudanese state minister for investment mentioned said the UK Department for Business Innovation and Skills had invited a Sudanese delegation to a business conference in London in October.

The minister said the conference was an "excellent opportunity to network", before mentioning "very big opportunities for business" between Sudan and the UK.

Other Sudanese businessmen have told The New Arab that British officials have been approaching them for months.

"We've met with a number of different representatives from Britain, both businessmen and official bodies," said Ahmed Amin Abd al-Latif, a representative of Sudan's trade delegation to Britain.

Beneficent trade

The UK and Sudanese government have long argued that increasing trade will only benefit the Sudanese population, as increased trade will lead to a better economy.

Sudan has recently undertaken austerity programs - including the controversial decision to axe fuel subsidies, causing widespread protests.

Yet activists argue that lifting the sanctions are not the right way to solve this problem - as they will effectively encourage the government to continue its current policies as normal.

"If the government is so keen to encourage a thriving economy, perhaps it should stop spending up to three-quarters of its budget on a bloated military and security sector - and instead guarantee even the minimum of state spending on basic and social infrastructure," said Crowther.

The lifting of sanctions

Sudan's sanctions were lifted by the previous president of the United States, Barack Obama, in the closing days of his presidency.

Activists campaigned against Obama's executive order at the time, which lifted restrictions on Sudan's oil and gas industry and allowed for the import and export of certain approved goods and services, effective July 12.

"Sudan didn't do anything to be rewarded," said Omer Ismail, a senior advisor at the Enough Project, a Sudanese NGO.

"If anything, targeted sanctions should be tightened against those who perpetrate violence that continues to happen in every corner of the country.

"The Obama policy towards Sudan has miserably failed and all that is left is to reward a government of genocidaires and perpetrators of violence and mass atrocities."

A spokesperson for the US government said the sanctions easing was in response to "positive steps taken by the Government of Sudan over the past several months".

"[They] aim to further incentivize the Government of Sudan to continue to improve its conduct," said Adam Szubin, acting undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence at the US treasury.

The White House made it clear at the time of the decision that the decision didn't "affect (President Omar) al-Bashir's war crimes nor does it lift the state sponsor of terror" designation.

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