Interview: Stefan Dercon Chief Economist of UK Department For International Development (DFID)


Following the US decision to finally lift economic sanctions from Sudan, which were imposed since 1997, a large number of international companies, including from the UK have shown interest to invest in the resource-rich country as the Sudanese government steps up efforts to create a conducive investment environment.

Companies and firms are eager to open markets in Sudan, which will lead to strategic partnerships including between foreign investments and the Sudanese private sector in the coming period. The lifting of the economic embargo is also expected to encourage investment by facilitating banking transactions and increase foreign exchange resources, which will positively influence the Sudanese economy.

The large number of suspended factories would return to the production circle following the decision to lift economic sanctions on the country.
The US administration’s decision will allow the restart of a large number of suspended factories, which used US technology before sanctions years ago. 20hartoum were imposed on K A number of economists and businessmen are currently arriving in Sudan assess the situation and to help open up new investment opportunities.

Arwa Mohamed and Fatma Eisa of the Sudanese Media Centre (SMC) sat down with Stefan Dercon Chief Economist of UK Department for International Development (DFID) to discuss further these developments.

Q. Let us begin with the objective of your visit to Khartoum, and what are the topics addressed in your meetings with Sudanese officials?

Well, the UK and Sudan are now holding regular strategic dialogue and during the last round of the strategic dialogue in London, the UK offered to provide support with the macro-economic reform process in Sudan. Now in the wake of the lifting of the US economic sanctions and thats actually an important moment because there’s now a real opportunity to start thinking about what the next steps should be in terms of getting the economy ready for furthering investment and economic development in this country.

So with the various officials we are going to just discuss the areas of opportunities and challenges, and also just think through the possible concerns that may be in terms of the kind of macro-economic reform that we could try to have in this country.

Q. So what has been achieved in terms of the economic relations between Khartoum and London since the beginning of the strategic dialogue in 2016?

It’s important to remember of course strategic dialogue, is not just about economics. It includes nine areas on broader issues of development, human rights, and trade issues and so on but of course the economic part is an important part for us. And it’s a really important moment to actually do some work around the economic peace. The lifting of US economic sanctions should

be the first step towards getting the economy moving forward and actually taking advantage of global opportunities, so the progress is largely to do with that economic sanctions have been lifted, now we need to just make sure the content of what reform program would be like and gets further developed. This is something that the UK its very keen and willing to provide support to items of the thinking about it and how and what can be done in this respect and hopefully during the visits we can strengthen these opportunities further.

Q. Following the lifting of economic sanctions and the openness of Sudan to the global financial and trade market, will the big British companies come to invest in Sudan and in what areas?

Well, one of the things is that to have a successful economy the main and most important part is to actually making sure that your environment is attractive. And so to actually say which British companies will come where, its actually to a large extent and important to remember that what the government will do in terms of businesses and regulating environment will be responsible for what kind of firms will be coming to into the country.

So we know there is interest from British firms, we know interest from global firms to come here. But a lot of work needs to be done in terms of making further progress in making it an attractive place to do businesses in terms of regulation, the businesses environment and of course the most important macro- economic questions including the exchange trade and related issues to create much more macro-economic stability. Which firms will come, I don’t know but I can tell you there’s definitely interest.

Q. There have been talks between Khartoum and London regarding the issue of debt relief. What role can the UK play in helping Sudan in this matter?

Well, there are many aspects in terms of moving forward with debt relief, so I think as a part of strategic dialogue, there is definitely a recognition that Sudan have been asking for support in its quest for getting debt relief and actually moving the economy to the next step.

Now, to be able to get the international community to agree to debt relief, definitely quite a lot of progress has to be made in series of areas. There are a number of areas that have much more to do in political spaces we shouldn’t ignore them, but there’s definitely also on the economic side were just very careful preparation of how to try, how to handle this. There is going to have to be a process to have a credible offer to the International Community that after debt relief an economic environment will be here that will also deliver to all people, that will create growth and jobs for the population as is indeed needed, and actually where the UK definitely has to help that dialogue in term of making sure that we help in terms of the design and increasing credibility of some of the commitments relating to policy that the country is making.

So again my visit is exploring various areas where we can think with our counterparts through it, we know that one of the prizes, the big prize for Sudan may will be debt relief.

I would simply say it’s just important itself to help the country to get a sensible economic environment to get investment here to actually get also policies in place that will deliver for poor people the jobs and social services for these populations, so we will help them and the prize is there at the end of the horizon as well. But I would also like to stress how important it is to say some of these reforms because we would like to see that it’s not just debt relief, we would like to

see peaceful prosperous country that actually delivers for its populations including for its poor people everywhere.

Q. What are the gains that may be achieved in the Sudanese-British economic forum which will be held in this week?

So, the Sudanese British economic forum is actually a great event. It’s a way of showcasing the opportunities that there are in Sudan to the British investors and I am sure there will be investors from other countries as well.

I think it’s great that the foreign minister is traveling to for this to the country, the Deputy Governor of the Bank of Sudan is also going and I think the State Minister of Investment as well as, and it’s great to have a high-level presence, because I think it’s important for Sudan to present its self as being ready for business. We know our ambassador Michel Aron is also going over there to address the conference. We shouldn’t see this as the only event of this nature that should take place, I think it’s very important as part of Sudan reengaging with the world in economic terms that is goes out and does more in these kind of events and definitely in London, we would very much welcome, that this will be the first of many of these kind of occasions to meet with British and other businesses in the UK.

Q. Will the UK contribute to supporting the training and capacity building programs that Sudan needs? Have the areas that will receive this support been identified?

So, definitely is going to be important that the capacity of the various parts of government that deal with the economic matters that they strengthen the support in one way or the other. So it’s really important because there is no way that the country will do the required economic reforms both in macro-economic terms or its business environment and regulatory environment unless it really owns these reforms itself. They must be Sudanese grown, they must done by Sudanese people, they must be done by technical staff in the various ministries. We can help to make sure that the kind of expertise, and ideas and challenge they need we can help with. That can take various forms and hopefully during my visit we will hopefully discuss some of these opportunities and how they can support and hopefully the end result should be that there is a clear capacity inside government that the reform agenda can actually be implemented. I have to add that it’s just as important that it’s not just that there is capacity but that there is willingness to implement it. Ownership will have to mean that the politics of the country are aligned with this economic reform agenda. Because without that, we can keep training people to do the analysis but we need willingness from political powers to act.

Q. How is UK helping Sudan with external debt?

So it’s no doubt that you come back to this question. We know that it’s important to the government. During the strategic dialogue process this has already been raised and we are definitely committed with helping the process. The various steps that need to take place are important. It’s an important prize for Sudan to be able to move forward in its economic ambitions. But many of the things that need to be in place to be able to achieve this, at least on the economic side are very sensible. So we are willing to work with you on that process and I want to emphasize that many steps we take in the process are very valuable per say including in

terms of getting your economy set up in ways that are conducive for investment and growth and for job creation and for poverty reduction.

Q. We come to the end of our interview, would you like to add anything?

I am grateful for the time you took to talk to me and I just want to emphasize that I am excited to be here. This is a fascinating place, we’ve had fascinated conversations and I look forward in the next few days to have many more of these discussions. And not just with government, we’re also talking to the private sector, academics and other non-state actors to get a good sense of what are the concerns but also what are the opportunities in the country in terms of moving forward with economic reform and poverty reduction agendas.