What began as a contaminated batch of frozen strawberries has now snowballed into a trade war with the US, Saudi Arabia, Russia, Sudan, United Arab Emirates, Jordan and Kenya. Egypt has scrambled to backtrack on policies that resulted in hostilities with Cairo’s major trade partners, as well as trade rivals, at a time when Egypt is seeking to expand exports abroad.
Russia decided to suspend fruit and vegetable imports from Egypt starting 22 September, shortly after Cairo formally rejected a Russian wheat shipment, with both countries citing health concerns. Moscow has accused Egypt of haggling as a market strategy by halting the import of wheat.
Minister of Trade and Industry Tarek Kabil stated that the ministry had never received complaints from Russia about Egyptian exports before, and that exports are likely to resume after Egypt purchases wheat shipments from Russia.
Russia has a history of responding to trade disputes by limiting imports, a trend that has fallen in place after the country became victim to western sanctions and Turkish political differences, an environment Egypt previously had exploited by replacing Turkish imports with Egyptian produce.
Kenya has also joined in the trade war. Refaat El-Ansary, outgoing Egyptian ambassador to Kenya, took issue with Kenyan authorities for detaining 33 containers of imports in Mombasa after Kenya called into question Egypt’s ability to manufacture paper products. Kenya said the move was in retaliation for Egypt allowing hundreds of tonnes of tea to rot in Egyptian ports while Egypt complained that huge quantities of sugar and rice imports were impounded by Kenyan customs.
Sudan jumped on the bandwagon by banning fruit, vegetables, and fish from Egypt until “after laboratory tests are complete to guarantee safety”, according to a statement sent by the Industry and Trade Ministry to Sudan’s state news agency SUNA. The statements were an allusion to the Egyptian strawberries, over which a number of countries have raised health concerns. In a related context, relations between Sudan and Egypt soured after Sudan sided with Ethiopia in negotiations over the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam and has increased its calls for the Hala’ib Triangle border region to be returned to Sudan.
The American Food and Drug Administration and the Center for Disease Control issued a report on 13 September stating that 89 Americans who were infected with hepatitis in the US had ingested contaminated strawberries from Egypt. Victims of the hepatitis outbreak have launched several class action lawsuits against Tropical Smoothie Café.
According to reports by Okaz, Saudi Arabia has long maintained an import ban on Egyptian agricultural products. The Saudi Food and Drug Authority was among the first to institute a ban on a number of Egyptian fruits and vegetables in early 2016 after they were found to be allegedly unfit for consumption according to importers.
The UAE has also implemented tightened controls on Egyptian fruit imports and Jordan is carrying out investigations on whether the fruit from Egypt should be allowed into the country.