The US Ambassador to Ghana, Gene A. Cretz, has identified Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire as two of West Africa’s most vibrant and important economies.
Speaking at the inauguration of the 5th Border Information Centre, he said the centres were set up to tackle the delays and attendant needless costs at border posts of the two countries.
He said business activities in both countries sustain the livelihoods of millions of people across ECOWAS and that greater business activity means more profit – companies expand and create jobs – and generate more revenue for state coffers, allowing for more professional customs and immigration services.
“When the borders become more professional, there is pressure on drivers and transporters to be more professional as well, which drives down their costs. In a nutshell, economic activity expands,” he said.
Ambassador Cretz said the opening of the centre was yet another signal that efforts to increase regional trade were progressing, and together, West Africa’s regional competitiveness is being jointly accelerated.
He explained however, that these businesses, even when they operate regionally, may as well be on the other side of the continent when it comes to trade.
“As studies by the USAID Trade Hub show, it is simply too difficult to do business across borders in West Africa. My counterpart U.S. Ambassador in Côte d’Ivoire discussed how the new Border Information Centres are working to make it easier to move goods across the border,” he said.
He said it was important to note the high optimism about economic development in West Africa, so much so that this view had its own name: “Afro-optimism,” and that there were very good reasons for the optimism.
He said activities of the USAID Trade Hub and West African leaders had led to the remarkable improvement in trade, acknowledging that the leaders and USAID Trade Hub worked ceaselessly to reduce restrictions along trade corridors.
“We have made progress. Last year at the Port of Tema, despite a huge increase in the volume of cargo handled there, delays for goods destined for Ouagadougou declined by 25 per cent, according to a USAID Trade Hub study,” he said.
The ambassador observed that there were a number of other examples as in 2011, Togo eliminated all police and military checkpoints along its national highway followed by Niger which eliminated seven of 10 checkpoints on its national highway, and truck drivers had credited this achievement to the joint efforts of USAID, UEMOA and ECOWAS.
He said an added factor was the emergence of broad public and private sector cooperation to pursue improvements and that in less than two years the borderless alliance had grown from six members to more than 60.
The alliance, he noted, “built strong relationships among and between companies most affected by delays and harassment. It has raised awareness of the problems affecting regional trade to national, regional and international audiences. And it has helped stakeholders devise solutions to achieve improvements.”
These improvements, he stressed were having an impact as economic activity in West Africa was growing, and the region continued to attract investors both domestic and foreign, adding that conservative estimates of growth indicate that West Africa will achieve at least 5 per cent growth in GDP over the next 10 years.
He also explained that one reason for that optimistic forecast had to do with initiatives like the Border Information Centre, which continued to push for improvements on border transportation corridors as the initial improvements had created a virtuous cycle leading to more improvements, which in turn leads to greater impacts – and less poverty.
Story by Moses Dotsey Aklorbortu, Elubo/graphic.com.gh