The Chair of the Board of Zenith Bank Ghana, Freda Duplan, has urged businesses preparing to take advantage of the Africa Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA) to focus on products that have competitive advantage.
This, she said, will help small businesses seeking to export their goods to other African countries leverage the agreement to their benefit. “As a country we have to agree on our focus areas for this trade agreement. We cannot be everywhere and we cannot export everything. As a country we have to decide and focus on what we want to export,” she said at this year’s Ghana Economic Forum organized by the B&FT in Accra.
She explained that even though most businesses are upbeat about the agreement, there is however no clear communication on the focus and areas that are viable for Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs).
Recommending some areas in the agri-business sector, Ms. Duplan pointed out that the country can focus on grains and export it to other countries on the continent.
“For example, maize. We can decide to make it one of our focus areas and process maize for export,” she said, adding that this could create thousands of jobs for players in the agro processing industry.
Currently, more than 300 million people in Africa depend on maize as the main staple food crop in many homes. This, Ms. Duplan observed could be exploited to create a unique market for farmers to benefit.
Linking a success implementation of the AfCFTA to poverty alleviation, Ms. Duplan stated that poor rural farmers — particularly women could be lifted out of poverty if they have access to markets on the continent. She maintained that there must be a deliberate national policy to support SMEs to leverage the AfCFTA since countries across the continent are strategizing ahead of the implementation come January 2021.
She stated for example that credit facilities could be made available to rural farmers with a guarantee of a ready market when they harvest their produce. “We need to be deliberate in supporting these women who are farmers. Most women are very disciplined when they access credit even though they may not have collateral.”
She disclosed that a lot of work is being done in that direction in collaboration with the Bank of Ghana to improve credit to rural farmers. “Even when we talk about SMEs, most of them are owned by women. As a country we must recognize and be deliberate in making credit available to this large group of people to take advantage of the AfCFTA,” she stressed.
On her part, the Executive Director of Ghana Climate Innovation Center, Rukayatu Sanusi cautioned SMEs to adhere to standards and requirements since products made for export will be subjected to a series of tests to ensure that they meet international standards.
“You need to meet the certifications and compliance. That is why in most times we advise SMEs to work with state institutions mandated to provide these services by helping them meet the different certification,” she said.