Export agents hold key to growth of West African handcraft industries

Thursday, January 31 2013

Elaine Bellezza, USAID Trade Hub Home Decor and Fashion Accessories Advisor

Often, intermediaries in value chains are viewed with disdain, as a necessary evil, and often derogatorily referred to as “middlemen.” But in West Africa’s handcrafts sector, export agents who connect producers to buyers – and coordinate and facilitate orders – are critical to the industry’s viability.

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Mawuli Akpenyo is a professional exporter agent in Ghana.
Mawuli Akpenyo is a professional exporter agent in Ghana.
The USAID Trade Hub launched an effort to train export agents after identifying the critical role they play. Mawuli Akpenyo of Ghana has proven the success of the initiative and is now a sought after consultant to help build export agents in other countries.

Akpenyo, a licensed freight forwarder, has successfully serviced large and small clients from around the globe, including buyers from leading brands in the U.S. Buyers are now also asking that he begin consolidating from other exporters in the region.

“Without a good export agent, you simply cannot do business in handcrafts in West Africa,” said Harper Poe of Proud Mary, a U.S.-based handcrafts company. “The USAID Trade Hub’s work to train agents is very helpful.”

Agents understand the documentation requirements at  customs and the shipping process; armed with this knowledge and strong relationships and understanding of the needs of both producers and buyers, they make deals possible. The USAID Trade Hub trained more than 80 potential agents at the biannual Salon International de l’Artisanat de Ouagadougou in Burkina Faso in October 2012 after successful workshops were held in Côte d’Ivoire and Senegal in 2012.

The availability of professional export agents is helping to realize more orders for West African handcrafts producers. In 2012, the USAID Trade Hub facilitated deals with a major U.S. importer involving eight companies in Ghana shipping over $1 million in handcrafts. A USAID Trade Hub-supported export agent made the deals happen.

 

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