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Fruit exporters give GPHA ultimatum to restore licenses by March 31 or…

BY: graphic.com.gh
Mr. Benjamin Solomon, president of the Sea-Freight Pineapple Exporters of Ghana flanked by his executives.
Mr. Benjamin Solomon, president of the Sea-Freight Pineapple Exporters of Ghana flanked by his executives.

Members of the Sea-Freight Pineapple Exporters of Ghana (SPEG) are demanding an immediate renewal of their licenses to enable them export their produce to the international market.

At an emergency meeting the members resolved that if the Ghana Ports and Harbours Authority (GPHA) fail to renew their stevedoring and shore handling licenses by March 31, 2021, they will divert their cargo to the port of Lome, Togo for onward shipment to the international market.

Members of the Exporters Association, mostly farmers, are also unhappy with what they say are unnecessary interferences by the GPHA which has led to additional cost to their operations to the tune of $245,796 and 283,809 in 2019 and 2020 respectively.

In their resolution, President of the Association, Mr Solomon Benjamin also demanded a refund of the cost incurred.
He stated that the threat by SPEG to move their consignment to Lome could potentially affect Ghana's trade policies at a time when government is leading efforts towards the African Continental Free Trade Area (AFCTA).

Judgement Debt?
Taking journalists through the issues, Mr Solomon Benjamin said the association is "disappointed at the slant which was given to the issue of the supposed payment of judgment debt" which has been a subject matter in Parliament and which nearly marred the approval of the Agric Minister’s during his vetting.

According to him, the Kufuor government signed a Management Agreement (MA) with exporters of horticultural products by sea in order to promote government’s initiatives including the Horticultural Exports Industry Initiative (HEII).

In addition, “the Ministry of Food and Agriculture (MOFA) took a loan from the World Bank to rehabilitate the existing Shed 9 at the Tema Port into a modern fruit export terminal which was completed in 2006.

Two years after completion and after several deliberations as to the management of the facility, government with the consent of the World Bank agreed to allow exporters to manage the facility to ensure that cost to exporters of using the facility was as low as possible in keeping with international best practice and to complement their huge investments in plantations and the thousands of jobs created.

According to him, the role of GPHA in this arrangement was to provide FTC with stevedoring and shore handling license to operate and to apply the concessionary rate of tariff agreed to by GPHA with MOFA as contained in the MA.

Mr. Benjamin said to ensure a smooth operation of the agreement, the exporters contracted Supermaritime Company Limited (SMT) a forwarding and clearing company to do the stevedoring and shore handling on their behalf for a period of one year.

“FTC therefore had an arrangement where the equipment and personnel of SMT were leased to FTC at a negotiated fee per pallet which allowed SMT to handle fruits at the port using FTC’s stevedore licence,” he explained.

He expressed surprise that GPHA went behind them to sign an agreement with SMT to perform the same task.

“…After investigation it emerged that SMT had formed a rival company as far back as 2014, called Fruit and Export Terminal Ghana Limited (FET) with GPHA as a 25% shareholder and had allegedly granted to themselves a 25 year concession agreement to do essentially what Government had mandated FTC to do and more”, he stated.

This new company in concert with GPHA had given themselves an exclusive handling of horticultural products at the Port of Tema which Mr Solomon insisted could not have been possible because FTC still has exclusivity under the MA to handle all horticulture produce going through Shed 9, the MOFA facility.

As a result GPHA has been reluctant to renew the licenses issued to FTC on a regular basis.

“SMT and GPHA are able to do what they are doing because they hold farmers in contempt and don't think they are deserving of government support hence their decision to unceremoniously take away from them what government has provided to them to support their businesses,” Mr. Benjamin added.

He said the new arrangements by GPHA had increased the cost of exportation because they were paying more per pallet than they used to pay in the past which was crippling their businesses.

After a series of protests, government through the Agric Ministry decided to restore the previous arrangement under the MA and to ensure sanity at the point of export. This action, Mr Solomon said, cannot lead to a judgement debt to a company whose shareholders included the GPHA.

Mr Solomon indicated that if the status quo is not restored, government’s flagship policies, including Planting for Food and Jobs, One District, One Factory will all suffer because the export arm of the policies will be severely hampered by the activities of SMT.