Tuesday, December 25 2012
The region’s third Border Information Center has opened at the Benin-Nigeria border, taking on what many traders believe may be the most difficult border crossing in the region. The USAID Business Environments for Agile Markets (BEAM) is supporting the initiative, which involves the close collaboration of the Nigerian Shippers’ Council, the Benin National Shippers’ Council and the USAID West Africa Trade Hub.
The opening ceremony featured high-level public and private sector stakeholders from both countries. Rolf Olson of the U.S. Mission to Nigeria, said the centers embody President Barak Obama’s strategy to increase trade and investment in Africa.
“In addition to the African Growth and Opportunity Act which eliminates tariffs on imports to the U.S. from eligible African countries,” he said, “President Obama has made the expansion of small and medium enterprise in Africa a key objective of U.S. Government policy in Africa.”
“West Africa’s strength as a region depends on its ability to be economically self-sufficient. This is not something that can be imposed from outside,” said Kevin Armstrong, mission director of USAID Benin. “It is something that can only be achieved by West African countries themselves.”
“The gap analysis studies conducted by the USAID Trade Hub with ECOWAS support led to two strategies – the Border Information Centers and the Borderless Alliance,” said Dr. Sola Afolabi, the business environment director at the USAID Trade Hub. “The centers provide information and assistance and the Alliance is advocating to increase trade; both are serving as platforms where public and private stakeholders can discuss problems and lobby for change.”
Traders crossing to Benin can find their Border Information Center in the offices of the Nigerian Shippers’ Council (NSC) run by Trade Advisor Olu Ogunojemite. Traders crossing to Nigeria can similarly receive free advice at the Centre hosted by the Benin National Shippers’ Council (CNCB) and run by Trade Advisor Christophe Gnimavo. Both parts of the initiative are fully funded by USAID Business Environments for Agile Markets (BEAM).
The opening ceremony brought together a wide range of stakeholders from the public and private sectors who share these goals.
Mrs. D. Shall-Holma, spokesperson for the Executive Secretary of the Nigerian Shippers’ Council and also representing the Nigerian Ministry of Transport, explained how existing initiatives had already been working towards these goals on a smaller level, and viewed the Borderless initiative as the next stage in their ongoing mission. Mrs. Shall-Holma pointed out that in 1998, the Cotonou Round Table conference of West African Shippers’ Councils resolved to take an active role in improving the delivery of goods across the region.
“These Councils have tried over years to encourage south-south cooperation,” said Mrs. Shall-Holma. “We made up our minds to engage all the institutions responsible for trade in West African countries. Borderless is by now a perfect platform in which to do this.”
Ziad Hamoui, President of the Borderless Alliance, offered some historical perspective on how far the Alliance has come in the two and a half years since its inception.
“The Borderless campaign was in fact launched here at this very border, two and a half years ago,” said Mr. Hamoui. “So I am particularly happy that the initiative is now opening an Information Center here.”
The centers hold enormous potential, he added. Since the first Border Information Center was opened in August 2011 at the Lome-Aflao border between Togo and Ghana, delays have dropped by as much as 50%.
With more than 50 members across the region – just six months ago it had less than 20 – the Borderless Alliance is contributing to the broad debate on trade barriers, which all agree must be reduced if West Africa’s economic growth is to be maximized. The Alliance will hold its second annual conference, Borderless 2013: Connecting Markets, Feb. 21-22, 2013, in Accra, Ghana.