Friday, November 5 2010
West Africa continues to surprise people:
• When the world economy trembled under the weight of its worst financial crisis in generations, West Africa’s economy continued growing apace. (Many expected the region’s economic progress of the last decade to be wiped out.)
• When new rules on axleweight seemed doomed as truckers refused to budge from port parking lots, reason prevailed and the limits are now ensuring roads and highways are not prematurely destroyed. (Many predicted chaos.)
• And When the World Cup brought the world’s attention to the continent in July, a West African country went the farthest – only a dishonorable hand prevented a semifinal appearance. (Many said African teams “weren’t ready” for success on the world stage.)
What is surprising is that people are surprised. Business in West Africa is profitable – as many investors are discovering and that the region’s entrepreneurs have always known. It is also the most effective way to alleviate poverty, as a multiplier effect study showed. (see related story)
“The business sector is where the sustainability lies,” Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf told the United Nation’s Millennium Development Summit in September.
As the fiscal year for the USAID West Africa Trade Hub ended in September, promising signs abound from 12 months of direct assistance to companies in six targeted sectors and higher level strategic work on the broader issues affecting the region’s competitiveness.
“Dynamic entrepreneurs and business opportunities have improved West Africa’s competitiveness,” said Vanessa Adams, director of the USAID Trade Hub. “Changes slower than many business people would like, but it’s clear that there is marked improvement in many dimensions.
“There’s still plenty to do – but there’s a palpable sense that it is do-able.
The USAID Trade Hub was initiated under AGOA in 2003. The Hub focused on the proven potential of increasing exports cashew, shea, apparel, handcrafts, fish & seafood and specialty foods sectors.
Teams were set up to work on targeted systematic problems for business in the region – issues no single company could resolve on its own: the high costs of transport and telecommunications, limited and expensive access to finance, and inconsistent implementation of regional trade policies.
For teams working in each sector and in each component area, the fiscal year ended on positive notes.
Fiscal year 2010 ended on a highnote- through participation in 22 international trade events – from the Fancy Food Show in New York to the Ambiente gift fair in Germany – the Trade Hub assisted 515 companies from 13 West African countries in linking to almost 3,000 professional buyers.
Market linkages activities – using internationally respected industry brands developed with partners across the sectors – led to increased orders for the companies, which directly created 987 jobs – 252 for women. Indirectly, increased business created thousands more jobs and more household income, as the multiplier effect study undertaken by an internationally respected economist demonstrated.
Additionally, more than two dozen buyer tours of the region directly linked importers in international markets to producers in West Africa.
“I really appreciate when someone makes a complex task easier,” said John Hayden of Jamtown, which imports djembe drums to the U.S. “I see the Trade Hub as true facilitators not just of exports but of the entire exporting process. I couldn’t do this work without it.”
Highlights of the year’s work included more than two dozen new handcrafts products collections from West African exporters, developed with Trade Hub support. All of the collections were picked up by international buyers who have lamented the lack of new product from the region for years.
“The mantra for handcrafts is ‘product, product, product,’” noted Elaine Bellezza, the handcrafts advisor at the Trade Hub. “Buyers are excited by the innovative products artisans have produced – and it will keep them interested in West African handcrafts in the future.”
In March, the Trade Hub organized the largest international conference for the shea industry – the only event of its kind in the world. More than 300 stakeholders participated in Global Shea 2010: Maximizing Quality, Expanding Markets, in Bamako, Mali, and direct results within six months of the event included a plantation of shea trees planted in northern Ghana, an exchange visit that brought Malians to Ghana to learn best practices and the launching of an international alliance to promote the industry worldwide including every major stakeholder in the sector (see related story).
“Shea is without doubt the most important resource collected in the Sudano-Sahelian countries,” said Mali’s Prime Minister Modibo Sidibe in his remarks to open the event. “The conference is an ideal forum to emphasize the value of and to promote internationally the shea industry.”
U.S. Ambassador Gillian Milovanovic echoed his thoughts.
“The impacts of the business connections you will make at this conference will help to transform the shea industry – and with it the lives of millions of people in West Africa,” Milovanovic told stakeholders. “The U.S. Government continues to be committed to supporting the growth of high potential export industries, such as shea.”
Another with high potential is cashew - and that potential is being realized thanks to the African Cashew Alliance, co-founded by the USAID Trade Hub in 2005. Processing of cashew in West Africa increased from 500 metric tons in 2006 to more than 5,500 in 2009. Local processing creates hundreds of good jobs in the region and transforms people's lives. See more in related story on Multiplier Effect.
Similar job creation can happen in apparel. In May, American and Pakistani companies opened an apparel manufacturing factory, immediately creating almost 100 jobs – with 500 more expected by the end of the calendar year.
“I want to keep my earnings in a bank,” said Linda Laryea, 30, and newly employed in the factory. “I want to save money, acquire land, and build my own house.”
Laryea currently takes care of her mother and grandmother, and with her earnings, she will be able to give them money for food and clothing.
In August, an enhanced AGOA Resource Center opened in Benin – the third to open in the year as the Trade Hub and host institutions saw the enormous opportunities to be realized by improving services to business. The centers are also helping to develop national export strategies in their respective countries – in addition to Benin, the enhanced services are now available in Cameroon and Mali.
“We can use AGOA to increase the competitiveness of our processed agricultural products,” said Sakoma Keita, general manager of Group Agridef in Mali on the day the new center opened in Bamako. His company produces processed tomatoes, mangoes, potatoes and onions.
“AGOA has a positive impact on farmers,” he said. “If we can export processed tomatoes to the world, it creates a stable market for the tomatoes that they cannot sell on the local market.”
The launch of Borderless, a multi-stakeholder advocacy campaign to remove trade barriers in West Africa developed jointly with advertising company,Publicis Ghana, was a highlight for the transport component. The campaign has raised awareness and built the alliance of public and private sector stakeholders necessary to alleviate the debilitating effects that the high costs of transport and lack of harmonized regional trade policy are having on the ability of exporters to compete in international markets and to attract investment.
“The Borderless brand helps people understand the substance of the problem, and connect emotionally to the vision of a West Africa with efficient trade,” said Kofi Amoo-Gottfried of Publicis Ghana. “It attracts attention and then builds awareness through other materials, like the website, www.borderlesswa.com.”
The awareness is driven further by USAID Trade Hub research on why transport costs in West Africa are so high – and what stakeholders can do to reduce them. A comprehensive study of costs on the Tema-Ouagadougou corridor, which includes almost two dozen recommendations to reduce costs, has mobilized public and private sector stakeholders.
The USAID-UEMOA initiative to monitor road harassment on primary trade corridors, launched in 2006, continues to inspire action to resolve the problem. Bribes and delays at numerous checkpoints choke off trade – they need to be eliminated. Cote d’Ivoire and Senegal joined the initiative in 2010, which led to specific policy initiatives in Ghana, Mali, Senegal and Togo.
In each country, civil society organizations have launched advocacy campaigns to remove checkpoints. In Mali, a CSO trained gendarmes as peer educators while in Togo a televised debate allowed tomato traders to explain how delays and bribes are driving up prices. The Abidjan-Lagos Corridor Organization has partnered with the Trade Hub to disseminate the Borderless message to stakeholders in Benin and Nigeria.
Borderless gave new urgency to the USAID-ECOWAS partnership to achieve true regional integration. Trade Hub teams interviewed hundreds of public and private sector stakeholders in nine countries to analyze the gaps in the implementation of the ECOWAS Trade Liberalization Scheme.
"The gap analysis reports provide concrete verifiable information for us to actually be able to advocate with various governments for key policy and strategic decisiosn to be taken," said Alfred Braimah, head of the ECOWAS private sector directorate. "The Trade Hub believes in rolling up sleeves, getting into the frontlines and delivering results rather than just talking. The reports give us concrete examples that we can move on."
New Trade Hub initiatives in access to finance are bringing bankers and other financial institutions closer to the opportunities in nontraditional export sectors. When these opportunities get a good hearing, it is not hard for stakeholders to take the next steps. Partnerships with IFC’s Global Trade Finance Program, Root Capital and the Grassroots Business Fund as well as three regional service providers are turning opportunities into real business. See more at www.financetrade.org
The release of eBizBox II – including a series of training workshops for exporting companies and a regional conference on how exporters can use ICT solutions to increase productivity and cut costs – was the top highlight for the telecommunications component. It’s getting easier – and less expensive – to use the Internet and exporters can reap enormous benefits.
Solution Oasis, a company that produces shea butter beauty products, participated in the workshops. Francesca Opoku, the company’s founder and CEO, said she had overcome the idea that putting up a website was simply too hard.
“That was the biggest obstacle – thinking that it couldn’t be done,” she said after a September workshop on websites implemented by Google and USAID’s Trade Hub. Her new site won accolades from her classmates in the workshop.
Opoku’s new attitude is dead right: It can be done in West Africa. Business is not only possible it’s expanding in all directions. The fiscal year that ended Sept. 30 was scarcely noticed at the Trade Hub’s offices in Dakar and Accra – there was a lot more business to do.
|West Africa Road Governance Reports|
|23rd USAID/UEMOA Report (1st quarter 2013)|
|22nd USAID/UEMOA Report (4th quarter 2012)|
|21st USAID/UEMOA Report (3rd quarter 2012)|
|20th USAID/UEMOA Report (2nd quarter 2012)|
|19th USAID/UEMOA Report (1st quarter 2012)|
|18th USAID/UEMOA Report (4th quarter 2011)|
|17th USAID/UEMOA Report (3rd quarter 2011)|
|16th USAID/UEMOA Report (2nd quarter 2011)|
|15th USAID/UEMOA Report (1st quarter 2011)|
|14th USAID/UEMOA Report (4th quarter 2010)|
|13th USAID/UEMOA Report (3rd quarter 2010)|
|12th USAID/UEMOA Report (2nd quarter 2010)|
|11th USAID/UEMOA Report (1st quarter 2010)|
|10th USAID/UEMOA Report (4th quarter 2009)|
|9th USAID/UEMOA Report (3rd quarter 2009)|
|8th USAID/UEMOA Report (2nd quarter 2009)|
|7th USAID/UEMOA Report (1st quarter 2009)|
|6th USAID/UEMOA Report (4th quarter 2008)|
|5th USAID/UEMOA Report (3rd quarter 2008)|
|4th USAID/UEMOA Report (1st half 2008)|
|3rd USAID/UEMOA Report (4th quarter 2007)|
|2nd USAID/UEMOA Report (2nd- 3rd quarter 2007)|
|1st USAID/UEMOA Report (1st quarter 2007)|
|Joint Regional Reports on Road Governance|
|2nd Trade Hub / ATP / ALCO Joint Regional Report on Road Governance (Sep. 2010)|
|1st Trade Hub / ATP / ALCO Joint Regional Report on Road Governance (Mar. 2010)|
|Trends in Transport and Logistics on the Tema-Ouaga-Bamako Corridor (May 2013)|
|Trucking to West Africa’s Landlocked Countries (Sep. 2010) - Market Structure and Conduct|
|Implementation of Axle Weight Rules in UEMOA Member States (Jul. 2010) - Lessons learned from Transit Traffic in Ghana|
|Transport & Logistics Costs on the Tema-Ouagadougou Corridor (Apr. 2010)|
|Transport & Logistics Costs on the Lomé-Ouagadougou Corridor (Jan. 2012)|
|The Truck Driver’s Guide to Ghana (Aug. 2010)|
|Required Interstate Documents for Ghanaian Truck Drivers|