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Bilateral Trade: Sudan

Volume 785: debated on Thursday 16 November 2017


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what plans they have to promote bilateral trade between the United Kingdom and Sudan.

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper. In doing so, I declare that I co-chair the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Sudan.

My Lords, the Department for International Trade has a dedicated presence in east Africa to promote trade and investment, and works with DfID and the FCO to support UK businesses there. We welcome the lifting of US economic sanctions, and are tracking emergent opportunities. However, political and economic factors make Sudan a challenging place to do business. The need for reform is central in our engagement with the Government of Sudan.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that response. In the light of current preparations for Brexit, and given the US revocation of sanctions on Sudan, I hope that we can now consider Sudan as a valuable potential trade partner. What support are the FCO and the Department for International Trade rendering the UK-Sudan trade and investment forum to be held in London in December? What are the Minister’s views about areas which British companies and businesses can look into in order to undertake bilateral trade with Sudan?

My Lords, FCO and DIT officials are in contact with the Sudanese Government and providing relevant support ahead of the event in December. Following the lifting of sanctions, we are monitoring opportunities as they develop across a number of sectors including agriculture, tech, healthcare, infrastructure, energy, mining, manufacturing and oil and gas, while continuing to encourage reform across the whole business environment.

My Lords, Sudanese and women activists have played a central role in the national dialogue of Sudan, and I welcome Sudan’s steady efforts towards addressing the many obstacles beset by the prophets of doom. Can the Minister say how Her Majesty’s Government will ensure that Sudanese women are a central part of the whole bilateral decision-making process?

My Lords, the noble Baroness makes a very good point. Part of the dialogue between the UK Government and Sudan involves the promotion of employment and rights with women and with children.

Is the Minister aware that there are reliable reports of a build-up of Government of Sudan military forces in Darfur, Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile, causing great concern at the possibility of renewed military offences? What is the position of Her Majesty’s Government with regard to the promotion of trade in the context of renewed offences against civilians and violations of conditions for lifting of sanctions?

My Lords, Her Majesty’s Government keep a continual watch on activities in Sudan. Noble Lords will realise that actually carrying out a dialogue with Sudan enables us to make continued representations against human rights abuse.

My Lords, Transparency International ranks Sudan as 170th out of 176 countries in its global corruption index. It says that:

“Corruption is present in all sectors and across all branches and all levels of government”,

and that patronage and cronyism prevent the growth dividend associated with increased trade from reaching the average Sudanese person. What confidence does the Minister have that the economic growth and prosperity generated by increased bilateral trade will not be lost to a corrupt elite?

My Lords, the noble Lord made some very interesting points. At the fourth round of the strategic dialogue in October, we discussed a range of issues including the peace process, human rights, development, migration, trade and counterterrorism. We urge the Government of Sudan to engage in the macroeconomic reforms necessary to ensure that all Sudanese citizens can benefit from the lifting of US economic sanctions.

My Lords, in response to a similar Question in January, the previous Minister mentioned that,

“current conflicts, human rights abuses and business environment remain obstacles to a sizeable increase in interest from British companies”.—[Official Report, 23/1/17; col. 423.]

The noble Earl has mentioned all those already today. Can he be a bit more specific and say what actions the Government have taken to deliver better human rights conditions, for instance, and do they include the implementation of the Ruggie principles?

My Lords, Her Majesty’s Government are helping to consider all opportunities for trade. At every opportunity in our conversations with the Sudanese Government, human rights are brought up. One must remember that President al-Bashir is subject to an indictment from the ICC; that must not be far from our minds at any point. The noble Lord mentioned certain principles, and I will write to him on that issue.

My Lords, the noble Earl referred to US sanctions in his initial response. To what extent is future UK trade policy going to be beholden to extraterritorial legislation from the United States?

My Lords, we have to promote the right conditions in Sudan for trade to be carried out. When inquiries come to the department from companies wishing to export to Sudan, they are put in contact with the high commission, which outlines the challenges and possibilities in that country.

My Lords, part of my question has already been answered, but I just want to make sure. Following the lifting of US sanctions on Sudan, which used to be the main obstacle in the way of doing trade and business with Sudan, could any UK laws or regulations be impeding the flow of trade and investment between the two countries?

My Lords, the noble Lord asks how regulations in this country can be made available for finance for exporting to Sudan. There are issues at the moment as far as UKEF is concerned. We are unable to support UK exports to Sudan, as that is against OECD principles due to its unsustainable debt burden. Once Sudan has exited HIPC, UKEF would be able to consider its position in other areas.