Thursday, January 31 2013
Private and public sector stakeholders across West Africa are gearing up for the second annual Borderless Alliance conference, "Borderless 2013: Connecting Markets," which takes place at La Palm Royal Beach Hotel in Accra on February 21-22. Connecting Markets is the largest meeting place for stakeholders in trade across the region, and is organized by the Borderless Alliance with support from the USAID West Africa Trade Hub.
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The range of speakers at this year’s conference highlights the diversity of the Borderless Alliance’s membership: private sector representatives will include the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria Export Group (MANEG), global food giant Nestlé and the Union of African Shippers’ Councils (UASC); from the public sector, the Ghanaian, Ivoirian and Sierra Leonean Ministers of Trade will be in attendance, along with representatives of international institutions such as UEMOA and the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD).
Keynote speakers - including John Kufuor, former President of Ghana and recipient of the 2011 World Food Prize, and Paul Brenton, World Bank economist and editor of the influential 2012 study “De-Fragmenting Africa” - will provide expert perspectives on challenges and opportunities for West African trade.
Transport costs in West Africa remain among the highest in the world, raising consumer prices and discouraging investment. The Borderless Alliance is a broad partnership of private and public sector stakeholders which aims to increase trade by lowering the cost of transport.
“Borderless is a regional platform for advocacy and research, and we operate on the understanding that neither the public nor private sector alone can address the problems facing regional trade in West Africa,” said Ziad Hamoui, President of the Borderless Alliance. “The most effective way forward is to create an environment where state institutions and businesses can come together and share information and strategies, then develop workable action plans, and implement them. With the Borderless Alliance, we have created that space for the first time.”
The Alliance has gained broad support from private and public sector stakeholders alike.
“The ECOWAS Commission fully supports the Borderless Alliance,” said Alfred Braimah, the ECOWAS Commission’s Private Sector Director. “Today, the name of the game is inclusivity – we simply cannot run activities at a regional level and exclude national-level participation. Private sector advocacy is one of the key requirements in encouraging the free movement of goods.”
Given the relationship between investment and growth, it is no surprise that the West African banking sector will be heavily represented at the conference.
“The Borderless initiative is working towards many goals that we at NEXIM Bank are also trying to achieve in West Africa: improvement of trade infrastructure, less delays, and better financing for more dynamic regional growth,” said Roberts Orya, Managing Director of NEXIM Bank, the Nigerian Export-Import Bank. “We are delighted to work with such a like-minded organization.”
Last year’s inaugural conference set the tone for ongoing multilateral discussions about trade barriers. Perhaps the best summary of why businesses are so interested in Borderless Alliance came from a presentation on checkpoint problems made at the 2012 conference by Nestor Finalo of Nestlé Côte d’Ivoire.
“If we could remove all of these checkpoints, our transport costs would be reduced by 20 percent,” Finalo said. “That equals $6 million – that’s money that I can re-invest. These are facts, not theory, not on paper.”
This year’s conference will see even more stakeholders from all sectors coming together to discuss issues ranging from checkpoints to liberalization of transport laws. The conference will also host the Borderless Alliance’s Annual General Meeting, where members will vote on a draft strategy document, which will determine the Alliance’s key strategies in coming years.
“Last year’s conference was really just the beginning,” said Justin Bayili, Managing Director of the Borderless Alliance. “This year, with over 50 major regional stakeholders signed up as full Borderless Alliance members and many more expected to formalize their membership during the conference, it is time for us to explicitly formulate strategies to move forward as a force for positive change across the region.”