On 26 July, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ethiopia said that Ethio-Eritrean trade agreements are under preparation. Hirut Zemene, State Minister for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, told local journalists in Addis Ababa that the agreements are being prepared in a way to ensure that Eritrea and Ethiopia would both benefit. However, details were not divulged for any clear timetable as to when these would be finalised or signed.
The Eritrea-Ethiopia border was opened for the first time since 1998 following the July 2018 peace agreement and return to normalcy after the Ethiopian government under Abiy came up with a rapprochement policy towards Eritrea. However, from December 2018 to April 2019, Eritrea had been closing its border crossings, which remain shut despite the 18–19 July visit to Eritrea by Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed.
Eritrea’s ongoing closure of the border is driven by cross-border trade and security concerns rather than hostility to Ethiopia’s national government. Security analysts identify that the Eritrea’s border closure has been done for three key reasons: first, to keep a check on uncontrolled cross-border trade; second, preventing the uncontrolled return to Eritrea of exiled opposition groups, organising in Ethiopia and have received an influx of discontented Eritreans since the 2018 border opening; and third, isolating the administration of Ethiopia’s Tigray regional state, which borders Eritrea and is hostile to the national governments of both countries – resisting the withdrawal of Ethiopian heavy artillery from the border area in December 2018 – and also which the Eritrean government likely suspects of attempting to use returning Eritrean exiles to destabilise the country.
Despite the border closure, it looks likely that the Eritrean and Ethiopian governments will remain committed to the July 2018 peace agreement. This continuing commitment was most recently indicated by Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s July visit to Eritrea, which included discussions on bilateral relations, cordial public appearances with Eritrea’s President Isaias Afwerki, and visits to the Nefasit-Decamhare highway construction project. This highway would be a key piece of transport infrastructure for facilitating cargo travelling between Ethiopia and Eritrea’s ports, enabling it to bypass the centre of Eritrea’s capital Asmara.
Eritrea’s Minister of Information Yemane Gebremeskel said that Afwerki and Ahmed held “extensive talks on further deepening the ongoing vibrant peace process and all-rounded cooperation” between the two countries on the basis of previous agreements. “The two leaders discussed regional developments and agreed to take requisite measures to further enhance peace process and bilateral ties of cooperation,” Gebremeskel said in a statement. “The two leaders further agreed to broaden the positive ramifications of the peace process and robust cooperation underway to the Horn of Africa,” Gebremeskel added.
Further recent indicators include continuing and regular flights by state-owned Ethiopian Airlines to Asmara; the ending, as scheduled, on 30 June of Ethiopia’s remaining funding and food provision to Ethiopia-based Eritrean opposition groups (the Ethiopian government had already largely disarmed these groups in July 2018); and parade floats featuring depictions of Ahmed and Afwerki together at Eritrea’s government-controlled Independence Day celebrations on 24 May in Asmara.
Investment by both governments in infrastructure to facilitate cross-border trade, and dependent projects is likely to continue. Key projects that will continue to receive investment include road and port construction and rehabilitation in Eritrea (likely supported in particular by the European Union and the United Arab Emirates), a railway connection between Eritrea and Ethiopia (likely supported by the World Bank and Italy), and potash mining projects on both sides of the border, whose exports would benefit from Eritrean port rehabilitation.
The re-opening of at least one border crossing for regular road cargo traffic is likely in the next six-months. The most probable border crossing to be re-opened first for regular road cargo traffic is at Bure, which leads to Eritrea’s Assab port, adjoins Ethiopia’s Afar region, and was personally opened by Afwerki and Ahmed in a joint ceremony in September 2018.
Source: New Delhi Times