Building business collaboration between Sudan and Pakistan - Osman Elmahdi Osman
Osman Elmahdi Osman, Manager, Fairs and Conference Directorate, Sudanese Free Zones and Markets Co. Ltd., speaks to Enterprise in this exclusive interview
How can Sudanese Free Zone and Markets Co. Ltd. play a role in promoting the economies of Sudan and Pakistan?
Sudanese Free Zone and Markets Co. Ltd. is the only public shareholding company in Sudan. A part of it is owned by the government and a part by the private sector. It is the only company in Sudan that owns free zones which are very important economic organs for upscaling the economy and promote exports and imports in Sudan and into markets of Africa beyond Sudan. We have a free zone in Port Sudan which is around 2200 kilometres away from Khartoum and we have another free zone in the suburbs of Khartoum, some 75 kilometres to the north of the city. We expect that if the Pakistani markets are linked to the free zones in Sudan, it could serve as a strong tool in promoting trade between both countries.
How do you see the potential for Pakistani goods in Sudan?
Well, that can come in many forms. Pakistan is a producing country and Sudan is a big market open to Pakistani products and investments and both being Muslim countries is another advantage. So we think that by close coordination and close contact and planning, we can create a positive opportunity for building economic relations between Pakistan and Sudan.
Which Pakistani goods would be in most demand in your country?
Pakistan is predominantly famous for its textile industry and Sudan is in need of that. Food items, surgical instruments, apparel, construction material, marble, tiles and ceramics, among others, have a very positive market in Sudan. I think there are huge opportunities for the two countries to develop economic relations.
Which Sudanese goods have a potential market in Pakistan?
Sudan is an agricultural country. We have vast production of animals and agricultural products, which I see Pakistan is also in need of. We are the third producers of gum arabic in the world; we produce sesame, sorghum and a wide range of agricultural products.
Do you see any scope for Pakistan’s services sector in Sudan?
Mainly health, education and tourism sectors have a good chance for Pakistan to get a considerable market share. Now we have Lebanese, Indian, Chinese and Europeans who are extensively involved in the services sector. Pakistan is performing quite well in this sector and can easily capture a good share in Sudan’s big market.
Could the trade bodies of both countries play a role in fostering stronger trade ties with each other?
That is the reason I am here. We have good trade bodies in Sudan and Pakistan. But, I think they lack the link; they lack coordination. We have the Employers Union which is like the Federation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry in Pakistan. We have a big body, very influential, and having close links with the government. Here in Pakistan there are many Chambers of Commerce and their members are involved in various sectors of production. So, I think coordination will bring them together. It is a matter of awareness; people are not aware of Pakistani products and the same is the case with Sudan. Proper coordination would fill this gap. Moreover, one of the important messages from the President of the Karachi Chambers of Commerce and Industry which I am taking back to Sudan is
to introduce Pakistani trade bodies to Sudan.
What are the incentives that SFZ offers to facilitate investors?
It has two channels. Firstly, the free zones are a major facility that can help Pakistani investors penetrate into the Sudanese markets, because free zones are not subject to customs rules in Sudan. Through free zones, Pakistani goods can be manufactured and stored in Sudan and moved to other markets beyond Sudan. We also have a major economic activity in Sudan in the form of a strong Exhibition industry. SFZ is the only company in Sudan which possesses the major venue for exhibitions; this was built in the 1970s. We are a member of the Global Organization of Trade Fairs (UFI). We normally attract exhibitors and investors to introduce them to Sudanese markets through the International Khartoum Trade Fair and also through organizing a number of specialized exhibitions. These exhibitions serve as a national platform, where the investors can get in touch with the government and private sector and establish their acquaintance with the Sudanese market.
What role has the International Khartoum Trade Fair played in promoting Sudan’s economy?
The Khartoum International Fair is an old activity. It started in 1978 and now attracts exhibitors from all parts of the world. We normally have exhibitors from Asia, North America, Europe and other parts of the world, all under one roof. We organize the fair annually and are keen to have participation from all countries. Pakistan is a regular participant which is the reason I am here to strengthen greater penetration opportunities for Pakistan in the Sudanese market.
We are involved in major development
projects in Sudan, to reach all the 15 states of this big country. In particular, Pakistan can go beyond Khartoum to these states which have their own legislations and own financing systems. Through fairs and exhibitions, investments can be channelized to the right markets. I am here to get the best Pakistani companies in the front line that can do business with Sudan. We are seeking companies to be involved in long-term projects and commercial exchange of large volumes between the two countries. That is the importance of the International Trade Fair of Khartoum in this context.
Which mutual areas of trade can be strengthened to build collaboration between Sudan and Pakistan?
We go into both lines - consumer goods and infrastructural or development projects. For consumer goods the Sudanese market is open to Pakistani products in textiles, in readymade dresses, in food items, etc. All products exported from Pakistan can have a chance in the Sudanese market. Also, I am seeking Pakistani companies to get involved in development projects. We have a very encouraging development Act in Sudan for the investors to do business there. In Pakistan there are good companies which can be involved in the sectors of electricity, road and bridge construction, water and in industry and technology in general. These are long-term projects which can contribute to the development of the country.
How has your visit to Pakistan assisted you in devising future trade and investment strategies?
This is my first visit to Pakistan. I came with a simple idea to promote the International Trade Fair of Khartoum in general and to promote the activities of the Sudanese Free Zone and Markets Co. Ltd., but after my meetings with the Chambers of Commerce in Pakistan, Global Exhibitions and Marketing (GEM) and also with Economic advisors at the Sudan Embassy in Islamabad, I have realized that there is a huge potential to cooperate with all these concerned bodies. It came to my mind that, to do this, we need a form of representation in Pakistan to support our activities in Sudan. Pakistan can contribute a lot to my exhibitions and it can also avail the opportunities in the free zones of Sudan. We have discussed opportunities with Global Exhibitions and Marketing (GEM) to represent the International Trade Fair of Khartoum in Pakistan. I have also discussed options with our Embassy and have received initial support.
Now we are in the process of installing an agent in Pakistan to support our efforts and to promote relationships in the exhibition sector between our company and the trade in Pakistan. I will also seek support of the Business Federation of Sudan called the Employers’ Union and motivate them to strengthen links with Pakistan.
So, I think my visit has come up with different benefits. It gave me a new vision to develop a relationship at least in the exhibition sector between Sudan and Pakistan. For our part we are going to extend it to the last. In the private sector we will be able to undertake a number of positive plans. And this may generate interest of the official government concerns which will give similar results. This has been affirmed to me by the Ambassador that he will extend his full support at the private sector level
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