With a pledge to improve, Ghana's Minister of Trade sets the tone at second annual Borderless Alliance conference
Thursday, February 28 2013
Ghana’s Minister of Trade pledged to significantly reduce the time it takes to process trucks at the country’s border as he opened the second annual conference of the Borderless Alliance in Accra.
Hon. Haruna Iddrisu, Ghana's Minister of Trade, pledging to reduce delays at Borderless 2013.
“I am directing that the governing authority – customs, immigration, GCNet secretariat – should forthwith ensure that no vehicle lasts two hours at the Ghana-(Burkina Faso) border beginning on Friday this week,” Minister of Trade Haruna Iddrisu told about 175 stakeholders assembled for the opening of the conference. “We have no excuse and there is no reason that it should take longer than two hours for any vehicle to be processed.”
In a directive the following day, Iddrisu expanded the mandate to all of Ghana’s primary border crossings. Acknowledging the presence of an unacceptable multiplicity of security checks which continue to exist “under the guise of national security”, Mr. Iddrisu also pledged to reduce physical checks of vehicles.
The second annual Borderless Alliance conference brought together public and private sector stakeholders and global experts to discuss the future of trade in West Africa. The Borderless Alliance is a private sector-driven alliance focused on advocacy and research aimed at improving the trade climate, and consequently the investment and employment climates, in the region.
Public and private sector stakeholders exchanged views during discussions at Borderless 2013.
The Minister’s announcement was greeted warmly by the Borderless Alliance’s private sector members. “This is exactly the kind of thing we need to see more of,” said Francis Agbagli, the CEO of TransAlloman, a trucking company in Togo. “The members of the Borderless Alliance pledge to help the Ghanaian government in ensuring that the terms of this important milestone in trade liberalization are fully implemented.”
But stakeholders were also cautious at the pledge given previous experience: In the past, pledges have led to changes that have lasted a few weeks or a month, perhaps; then, checkpoints return, agents renew their demands for “motivational payments” and the stand-offs between truck drivers and unscrupulous agents lead to long delays and frustration.
Nevertheless, the Borderless Alliance has been able to secure sustainable change. Last year, Togo’s Minister of Security similarly pledged to remove all of the police and gendarmerie checkpoints on Togo’s 750 km – about 10 stops. Almost two years later, they have not returned.
The Borderless Alliance conference looked beyond the issues affecting transporters. Speakers and panelists from private and public sector organizations across West Africa and beyond examined the challenges facing regional trade, and discussed potential solutions.
From l to r, Burkina Faso's Minister of Transport, the U.S. Ambassador and Ghana's Minister of Trade visit exhibition booths at Borderless 2013.
Ablasse Ouedraogo, former Deputy Director General of the World Trade Organization, observed that more trade within West Africa means more opportunities for the region’s people. As Mr. Ouedraogo observed, at present intra-regional trade represents a mere 10% of West Africa’s total volume of trade; this contrasts sharply with, for example, a volume of about 65% in the European Union, and about 20% in MERCOSUR (Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay and Venezuela).
Trade in West Africa is low for a variety of reasons – not the least of which are the many barriers to trade that effectively discourage trade across the region. In interviews with the USAID Trade Hub, companies said they cannot expand because moving goods across the region is so difficult and costly. In effect, the companies could create more jobs to serve the regional market, but they cannot.
Many more challenges and opportunities were addressed by speakers and panelists, ranging from financing, payment systems, freight liberalization and attracting investment. Among the most consistently clear outcomes of the conference was the widespread recognition that all of these factors are intimately connected to the region’s future growth.
“These are issues which impact on the nature of investment that flows into the sub-region,” said Chinwe Uzu of BAT Nigeria and a member of the Borderless Alliance executive committee. “The key problem is the fact that it costs much more to export from one country in West Africa to the other, than it does to ship from China or faraway South America.”
Robert Orya, left, Managing Director of the Nigeria Export Import Bank, accepts the preliminary invitation to host Borderless 2014 in Nigeria.
Members of the Borderless Alliance held a General Assembly to discuss the Alliance’s strategy and future activities. The Alliance will explore new project activities and continue to support the USAID Trade Hub-innovated Border Information Centers, which will expand to serve traders clearing goods at the Port of Dakar and crossing the Côte d’Ivoire-Ghana border, in March and April, respectively. The centers provide information to traders and collecting data for advocacy work with the region’s governments.
Meanwhile, an expanded recruitment drive will see the establishment of new National Committees across West Africa, ensuring that traders’ concerns are brought to the attention of national and regional government bodies with an ever stronger voice. Committees in Benin, Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire and Senegal have met with officials to pursue pledges similar to Iddrisu’s.
“Time is of the essence,” said Borderless Alliance President Ziad Hamoui. “As West Africa’s population is growing fast, many jobs will be needed and food security is going to become an even greater issue.
“The old way of doing business is strangling trade. Now is the time for Africa to rise to its true place in the global economy.”
Borderless 2013: Connecting Markets was hosted by Ghana Shippers’ Authority and supported by the USAID West Africa Trade Hub. Sponsors included Bolloré Africa Logistics, the Corporate Council on Africa, the Burkina Shippers’ Council, Ecobank, the Ghana Revenue Authority, the Ghana Ports and Harbours Authority, Nexim Bank, Paterson Simons, Tullow Oil Ghana, Port of Abidjan, BAT and Scanning Systems. USAID Business Environments for Agile Markets also supported the event.
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