Business in Ghana

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Epa Banku and Okro Soup. Critical News, 20th April 2014

Posted by Business in Ghana on April 20, 2014

Sydney Casely-Hayford, sydney@bizghana.com

This week has been about Economic Partnership Agreements (EPA) and how some Civil Service Organisations (CSO) are determined to “protect” Ghana by blocking the Government’s intention, if they can do so, to sign the EPA with the European Union.

We left the International Conference Center, Thursday after a somewhat rowdy interruption against the presence of Claude Maerten of the EU delegation when he requested to make a few points.  In the end, we did not quite get to question time and wrap up, the Minister was late for a flight and we all left with the blankness of wasted time.

I certainly felt so and headed for my favorite Banku and Okro soup joint, comfort food, preceded by a small bottle of Club beer.  I also like the place (can’t mention the name for good reasons) because the two sisters who run the joint are exceptionally favored by nature, with hips and style you leave extra tips with very little effort, if for nothing else than to entice a smile from either of these Madonna.

Negotiations on this EPA have been going on for fourteen years since the Cotonou Agreement.  I don’t think we should continue dragging it any longer.  What are we protecting?  Banku and Okro soup?  Import trade in the EU region in 2010 was over 3trillion dollars.  That is the equivalent of ninety-six times our GDP.

I have been accused of bias in moderating the event and I think I should state some facts.

First, you cannot accuse someone of bias who has made his stance clear.  I am for signing the EPA just as others like Third World Network and Economic Justice Network are against signing.  Two, I was asked to stand in place of Dr. Abbey after a late pull out, I was origionally billed to do a presentation.  Third, the program was drawn by the Ministry of Trade and Industry and we tried to create as much of a balance of speakers as possible within the time, which run short by two hours because of a late start.  Four, we gave as much equality to all speakers within the space of time.  I actually deliberately allowed those against the EPA to speak longer because they were in the minority.  My opening presentation did not fall on one side or the other; I recanted the history of trade conventions and presented figures from Government fiscal reports.

This is free enterprise and I think the CSOs who are against, should offer their best suggestions to give our side a better negotiating hand because we want Government to stop borrowing under the pretext of doing something for Ghanaians.  We want to trade and deal, even if the partner is white.

Our CSOs are caught in this warp that trade and competition will take over our wealth and resources.  “They” will always become richer and “we” remain poorer.  If CSOs have found out how to create wealth with trading and commercial activity they should lay it out so we can evaluate and decide where to go.

I am wondering how many more years CSOs are going to pitch themselves as enemies of free enterprise.  What they are doing is protecting their ideological assets and scare mongering of impending trade Armageddon.

There is a North American Free Trade Agreement between the USA and EU to improve their wealth. I think it is really to counter the possible overrun by the Chinese. This EPA is not just a neo-colonialist thing?  I mean come on, how much wealth really is there in ECOWAS?  We can’t even agree to trade freely among ourselves.

The Nigerians appear to have made a decision about where they sit on the EPA railing.  They are leaning towards not signing.  That throws the whole ECOWAS bloc into disarray.  But we are meeting here in Accra later this month to agree a combined protocol and maybe sign a bloc deal.  Nigeria does not need an EPA with the EU.  They have 80% of their economy as oil revenue exempted so why should they be that concerned?  But when you read this commentary by Feyi Fawehinmi and follow reader comments to his logic, all is not well with the Nigeria Government’s decision.  They are worried about what it would mean if Ghana and Ivory Coast should sign.

Bottom line is that Nigeria will do what is best for Nigeria.  Ivory Coast has signed the EPA with the EU and is waiting to ratify.  We are dithering and still wanting to negotiate some more after fourteen years.  There is no formal ECOWAS market.  What we have is independent persons and companies developing trade and commerce between themselves and their Nigerian business partners.

I thought this government, that makes money disappear faster than you can thumbprint a biometric register, to do the opposite and not sign, and I am caught off guard that they are thinking of doing otherwise.

Some CSOs still live with this idea that when Government has, then the people will receive.  It is difficult to move their mindset to business-think, hence the difficulty.  I led the discussion on the day and there were clear signs from businesspersons that anything other than signing the trade agreement would cripple them.  We have a mind-change challenge.

It is not surprising, the disconnect runs deep, but government is also to blame. Ghanaians are totally unprepared for the implications of these policy shifts; Government swings one way in a rainstorm, the other way in a tropical storm.

We can’t afford not to sign, yet the devil is in the detail.

My issue is that we were all aware that this agreement had to be addressed and there were significant implications and consequences. Ghanaians pretend there is abundant time for everything, and that time does not travel.  Nigeria’s argument is that EPAs should not divide us.  However, Nigeria says the EPA will stunt their trade.  So where do we go? Negotiate as Ghana or let Nigeria dictate the position for the rest of the region?

Where is the better life for Ghanaians going to come from?  ECOWAS?  The CSOs say they are looking after the welfare of Ghanaians but from opposite sides to Government.  They are pulling in opposite directions with the intention of ending in the same place.  Never heard of anything like this before.  Can you sign and yet NOT sign?

If Government wants my advice, it is to look again at clauses that are contentious, review our position from a business and commercial viewpoint, not be afraid to compete, and detail specific interventions to help Ghana business meet the market challenges in Europe.  Do all this within three months and be ready to sign on 1st October.

We botched up the AGOA opportunity and allowed Asian and other countries to crowd the space because they competed on price and timely delivery.  We can’t afford to turn away from the largest trading bloc in the World.

As an example Here is what I would like to see happen; a construction industry boom.  Cement is selling for ghc25 a bag, it is too expensive, like Dangote cement in Nigeria.  It costs 60% more to build a house in Ghana than in Europe and it takes four times as long to complete.

Affordable housing will lift this economy in leaps.  We need cheaper and better inputs to make this happen.  We also need to finance the costs cheaper.  Carpets, sinks, toilet bowls, furniture, curtains, air conditioners, fridges, freezers, televisions.  All the things we do not make in Ghana, so why not let them in cheaper?  Make it possible for the younger generation to own a house early in life and create prosperity together with related local suppliers.

We are being asked to exchange access to 75% of our market with better priced goods and the opportunity to sell whatever we want into a more wealthy economy within standards and quality that we all pine for.  To work hard to change our destinies and upgrade our lives to one where Ghana can proudly say, “Made in Ghana”, with a quality stamp that reflects this.

Isn’t it important that the people in this country should benefit from better and lower prices of goods?  And we have an opportunity to do this, and CSOs say they object?  For the people to have better lives?

Is there a Ghanaian who sees it differently?  Write or speak your views, engage in this dialogue, because this EPA will change our lives.

As I write, my lights are out and I have had no water for five days.  These are today’s problems, more on my mind than Claude Maerten, Banku and Okro soup.

Ghana, Aha a ye de papa.  Alius valde week advenio. Another great week to come!

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