Ethiopia, Saudi Arabia vow to strive for major breakthroughs in priority areas

Recent exchanges and consultations between high-level delegations of Ethiopia and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia have opened up a new era of cooperation between the two countries, offering the objective of developing future trajectory of their bilateral ties and expanding previous long-term multi-layered links between the two peoples. These high-level contacts, mapping out the future of Ethio-Saudi Arabian ties, aim to base bilateral ties in the major priority areas, ranging from agriculture and trade to renewable energy development and tourism.  They also demonstrate a political will and the sense of urgency to explore prospects for more diversified cooperation beyond traditional links in the face of new challenges. Prime Minister Hailemariam's official visit to Saudi Arabia and his talks with Saudi officials last month provides an example of the importance of expanding links beyond the issues of peace and security in the Horn of Africa and the Middle East to other fields including agriculture, cattle rearing and fattening, leather and leather products.

This month, a Saudi Arabian delegation headed by Abdurahaman bin Abdlmuhisin Alfadly, Saudi Arabia's Minister of Environment, Water and Agriculture, visited Ethiopia. Prime Minister Hailemariam met the Saudi delegation and underlined Ethiopia's interest in exporting value-added products in general and products of agriculture in particular. He emphasized that export-oriented agricultural investment areas would be better geared towards the generation of employment opportunities. He underlined the huge potential for investment in livestock and vegetable development among others.

The Saudi Minister, who acknowledged Ethiopia's enormous potential in agriculture, also held talks with Ethiopia's Minister for Farming and Natural Resources, Dr. Eyasu Abrha, on possible ways of acquiring 100,000 hectares to invest in alfalfa production for animal forage and livestock processing. He said a joint Ethiopia-Saudi Arabia technical team to conduct a feasibility study on the agro-ecology sector in order to help implement the project would be set up. Dr. Eyasu, stressing that Ethiopia aspired to become a middle-income economy by 2025, noted that the Second Growth and Transformation Plan had identified agriculture as a crucial area for economic growth and industrial sector development. He investment projects like this Saudi project would play a fundamental role in creating of jobs, generating hard currency, and opening markets for smallholder's livestock activities.

These contacts, cementing mutual trust and a common understanding of possible mutual benefits, offer the prospects of providing a real basis for the full spectrum of bilateral ties between the two countries. They also demand all-rounded interaction, embodying process of common development to help the two countries move on the road of sustainable peace and co-prosperity in the region. The Prime Minister's meeting with Saudi officials last week was another case featuring the paramount importance of expanding bilateral ties in various areas, economic, trade, and investment as well as security and regional issues. Similarly, the Prime Minister's visit to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia last month and his talks with members of the Saudi business community, reviewing the state of the bilateral relations with the framework of economic diplomacy,  stressed the need to elevate business interaction to new and higher levels. It was in this context that Prime Minister Hailemariam encouraged the business community to bring their enterprises and invest in Ethiopia.

Consultations between the high-level government officials play a paramount role in encouraging people-to-people ties featuring historical, linguistic, societal, cultural and spiritual links grounded in the firm landscape of an ancient inter-civilization exchanges. Tourism is one aspect of this that can be fully embraced by both countries to expedite people-to -people ties. These can further encourage all-rounded bilateral and people-to-people ties. This public diplomacy aspect gives reality and meaning to the growth of bilateral ties and will encourage creativity and innovation. It will also allow both countries to increase their economic and political ties as well as usher in a flourishing future in the 21st century.

Concretizing links over renewable energy and infrastructure was a point raised by the Senior Advisor at the Royal Court of Saudi Arabia, Ahmed Alkhateeb when meeting Foreign Minister Dr. Workneh Gebeyehu on December 15. Mr. Alkhateeb who is also board chairman of the Saudi development fund, indicated that Ethiopia and Saudi Arabia enjoyed excellent ties in the political sphere but suggested the need to inject greater impetus into the economic field. He said Riyadh would provide the necessary support for its citizens who invested in Ethiopia. Mr. Alkhateeb also held talks with Prime Minister Hailemariam on various issues of common interest. They agreed to work in concert in the field of renewable energy, and Mr. Alkhateeb expressed Saudi Arabia's interest to develop and import energy from Ethiopia to Saudi Arabia. During the visit the Saudi delegation which included representatives of the livestock, energy, finance and industry sectors, met five other ministers, including the Minister of Livestock and Fisheries, Professor Fekadu Beyene. Ethiopia has the largest livestock population in Africa and Saudi investors could benefit greatly from investment in the sector. The delegation also visited the Great Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) during their visit to look at the capacity for renewable energy that the Dam will generate.

These visits all offer the possibilities for Ethiopia to synergize the development strategies and comparative advantages of Ethiopia's Second Phase of the Growth and Transformation Plan with that of the development vision and potential of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, for the benefit of a further growth in Ethio-Saudi relations.