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Foreign Trade

In 1989 Sudan's export earnings amounted to £Sd3,023.1 million and its imports £Sd5,373.4 million. Export earnings dropped to an estimated £Sd1,800 million in 1990, with imports remaining at the 1989 level. Agricultural products have dominated Sudanese exports since the condominium period, and in the 1980s they accounted for more than 90 percent of export receipts. Cotton, gum arabic, peanuts, sesame, and sorghum were the main commodities. Live animals; hides and skins; and peanut, cottonseed, and sesame products (oil and meal) constituted the more important remaining export items (see table 8, Appendix). Sudan has long been the world's second largest exporter of longstaple cotton, and cotton exports constituted more than 50 percent of total exports by value in the 1960s but declined to about 30 percent in the 1980s. Gum arabic was in second place until the 1960s when production of peanuts expanded to occupy that position which, however was not sustained by the late 1980s. Sesame became the third most valuable export in the 1970s. Fluctuations have occurred in the earnings of these four principal commodities as the result of weather conditions, local price situations, and world market prices.

Foodstuffs and textiles were Sudan's largest imports by value at the start of national independence. These commodities held that position into the mid-1970s, when they were surpassed by increased imports of machinery and transport equipment as the government began an intensive drive for economic development. The share of foodstuffs and textiles declined by roughly one-half during the decade, from 40.5 percent in 1971 to less than 20 percent in 1979. In 1986 manufactured goods, including textiles, accounted for 20 percent of imports whereas wheat and foodstuffs represented about 15 percent. Machinery and transport equipment, which had accounted for about 22 percent of imports in 1970, averaged 40 percent between 1975 and 1978, reaching a high of 45 percent in 1976, and dropped to 25 percent in 1986, reflecting the slowdown of economic development (see table 9, Appendix).

Government plans for self-sufficiency through the development of import substitution industries achieved limited success in certain cases. Notable was the reduction in imports of refined petroleum products that resulted from the 1964 opening of the Port Sudan refinery. Substantial savings were made in foreign exchange expenditure until the rise in world crude petroleum prices after 1973. Crude oil and certain refined products accounted for only about 1 percent of import values in 1973 but had increased to more than 12 percent in 1986. Progress has been extremely slow in sugar production, and government factories were reported in the late 1970s to be meeting about one-third of the domestic demand. After its opening in 1980, the new Kinanah sugar mill and refinery, which alone had a rated capacity sufficient to replace most current sugar imports, helped in 1981 to increase overall sugar production to 71 percent of estimated consumption. Domestic textile production had also increased greatly from the 1960s, and the share of textiles in total imports had declined from about 20 percent at the end of the 1960s to less than 4 percent in 1980.

In the early condominium era, Egypt had been Sudan's main customer. The development of the Gezira Scheme, however, resulted in large-scale exports of cotton to Britain, which by the end of the 1920s was purchasing about 80 percent of Sudanese exports. Although development of the textile industry in other European countries gradually cut into Britain's share of cotton exports, at the start of World War II that country still was the destination of almost half of Sudan's total export trade and at the time of Sudanese independence continued to be the largest customer. During the 1960s, India, West Germany, and Italy emerged as major buyers; late in the decade Japan also became a major customer. In the late 1980s, Britain remained an important export destination. Other major customers were France, China, and Saudi Arabia. In 1989 Saudi Arabia was Sudan's main export market, buying an estimated 16.8 percent of Khartoum's exports, particularly sorghum and livestock. The United States although not one of Sudan's largest purchasers, became a major customer in the latter 1980s, buying mainly cotton, gum arabic, and peanuts (see table 10, Appendix).

After the May 1969 coup, Khartoum took steps to expand trade with the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. Exports to the Soviet Union rose dramatically in 1970 and 1971 as that country became Sudan's leading customer. After the abortive communist-led coup of 1971, however, relations deteriorated, and Soviet purchases dropped to almost nil. After 1985 overtures to improve economic relations with the Soviet Union met with little response. Economic ties with China improved in the mid- and late 1980s, with exports to Beijing reaching an estimated 7.3 percent of Khartoum's total exports in 1989, making it Sudan's fifth largest customer.

Sudan's imports were provided by a wide range of countries, led by Saudi Arabia in the late 1980s. In 1989, Saudi Arabia supplied nearly 14.1 percent of Sudan's total imports, with petroleum the chief import item. Britain was Sudan's main import source until 1980; in the late 1980s it became Khartoum's second largest provider, supplying an estimated 8.3 percent of the country's imports in 1989. Britain had well-established commercial and banking operations in Khartoum and a leading position in exporting manufactured goods, vehicles, tobacco, beverages, chemicals, and machinery to Sudan. Among the ten or twelve other top suppliers, the United States, West Germany (Germany after 1990), France, Italy, the Netherlands, China, and India were most significant. Most were also major export customers.

Through 1978 Iraq had been a prime source of Sudan's imports because it was the principal supplier of crude petroleum, a function that was taken over by Saudi Arabia in 1979 after Iraq cut off oil supplies because Sudan backed Egypt in the latter's peace initiative with Israel. In the last years of the Nimeiri government, bilateral trade with Egypt was cut sharply but in April 1988, Sudan and Egypt signed a trade agreement valued at US$225 million. In June 1991, Sudan ratified a US$300 million trade agreement with Egypt. Improved relations with Libya enabled Tripoli to become Sudan's third biggest importer in 1989. In January 1989, Sudan and Tripoli signed a US$150 million agreement for Sudan to buy Libyan crude oil. The two countries signed a trade pact in December 1989, with Sudan agreeing to purchase Libyan fuel, chemicals, fertilizer, cement, and caustic soda.

Data as of June 1991

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