Ethiopia has tightened its diplomatic and trade relations with its neghbour, Somaliland. The world does not yet accord recognition to Somaliland, which declared independence from the rest of Somalia in 1991. But the self-declared state is acting like a proper staterecent years, Ethiopia's interest in doing business with Somaliland has been growing. Ethiopian is one of the few airlines that flies to Somaliland and Ethiopian banks work with the Somaliland Bank.
Ethiopian businesspeople export khat, cattle, milk and vegetables to Hargessa. Recently, Ethiopian state enterprises began to import goods through Berbera port. The first Ethiopian shipment arrived in Berbera last November. Since then, the Berbera port handled 25,000 tonnes of Ethiopian cargo. In addition to the state enterprises, some of the private companies in Ethiopia have shown interest in using Berbera.
Last week, officials of Somaliland met Ethiopian business people in Addis Ababa. The general manager of the Berbera port, Mr. Ali Umer Mohammed, briefed customs clearing agents and other businesspeople about the port service. Ali Mohammed said the port administration was ready to render port services to Ethiopian businesspeople.
In an exclusive interview with The Reporter, Mr. Ali Mohammed said the port administration was developing a free trade zone near the port. He said in the first phase of the free trade zone development the administration developed a 25 sq. km. of land, adding that the area had electric power, water, telephone lines and other utilities. "Ethiopian businesspeople can acquire plots of land in the free trade zone to be used to build warehouses. The cost of the land is negotiable," he said.
The Berbera port, 910 km east of Addis Ababa, has a capacity to handle 600,000 tonnes of cargo per year. Mohammed said that the Berbera port can handle up to 50 percent of Ethiopian import. As part of the ongoing effort to improve the port facility, the port administration is to buy new equipment. "We will soon buy different equipment to be used to handle cargo. We have allocated 1.5 million dollars for the procurement. And we will make the order next month," Mohammed said. "We are ready to serve the Ethiopian businesspeople," he added.
The Somaliland government is also to upgrade the road that links Ethiopia with the Berbera port. The distance from the port to the border town of Togochale is 286 km. Togochale is 700 km east of Addis Ababa. A French consultancy firm, Luis, has undertaken a study on the planned upgrading project on Berbera-Togochale road. According to Mohammed, the government of Somaliland was expecting the fund for the project from the European Commission. "We have submitted the proposal for the European Commission. And we expect them to endorse the proposal," Mohammed said.
Mohammed went on to say that the existing road to the port was in good condition. However, he said, it was necessary to upgrade it. He also said that the Ethiopian government rehabilitated the Harrar-Togochale road. "We have invited Ethiopian businesspeople to visit the port. They are most welcome," he added.
The Ethiopian Customs Authority started rendering customs services in Togochale. The authority said that it will put up warehouses and office buildings in the border town. Ethiopian commercial banks are contemplating to open branches in Togochale. Wegagen Bank, one of the private banks in Ethiopia, will soon inaugurate the first branch in the border town.
Author: Kaleyesus Bekele
Source: The Reporter (Addis Ababa