Fruit exporters have issued an ultimatum to the Ghana Ports and Harbours Authority (GPHA) for the renewal of their export licences by March 31, 2021 to enable them export their produce to the international market.
The exporters, who are members of the Sea-Freight Pineapple Exporters of Ghana (SPEG), have said that if the GPHA fails to renew their stevedore and shore handling licences by March 31, 2021, they will be forced to dump their fruit at the port and divert their cargo to the port of Lome, Togo, for onward shipment to the international market.
The Exporters Association also bemoan what they say are unnecessary interferences by the GPHA which have led to additional cost to their operations – to the tune of US$245,796 and US$283,809 in 2019 and 2020 respectively.
In a resolution passed by members of the Association at an emergency meeting held last week, the group says the GPHA must also fully refund the cost incurred to association members.
The resolution comes hours after Fruit Terminal Company (FTC), a group to which SPEG belongs, issued a petition to Parliament in support of approving the Agric Minister, Dr. Afriyie Akoto during his vetting, who had been accused of abrogating a contract that could lead to a US$50million judgment debt.
President of SPEG, Solomon Benjamin, insists the claim against the Agric Minister and the threat of a judgment debt were hollow and of little effect. 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 toward the African Continental Free Trade Area (AFCTA).
Taking journalists through the issues, Mr. Benjamin said the association is “disappointed at the slant which was given to the issue of the supposed payment of judgment debt” that has been a subject matter in Parliament and nearly marred approval of the Agric Minister.
According to him, the Kufuor government signed a Management Agreement (MA) with the 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 Tema Port into a modern fruit export terminal, which was completed in 2006.
“Two years after completion and after several deliberations as to management of the facility, government – with 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 stevedore and shore handling licence 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 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 whereby the equipment and personnel of SMT were leased to FTC at a negotiated fee per pallet, which allowed SMT to handle fruit 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 cahoots with GPHA, had given themselves an exclusive handling of horticultural products at the port of Tema – which Mr. Benjamin 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, the GPHA has been reluctant to renew the licences issued to FTC on a regular basis. He said the new arrangements by GPHA has increased the cost of exportation because they are paying more per pallet than they used to pay in the past, which is crippling their businesses.
After a series of protests, government through the Agric Minister-designate decided to restore the previous arrangement under the MA and to ensure sanity at the point of export. This action, Mr. Benjamin, said cannot lead to a judgement debt to a company whose shareholders included the GPHA.
He said if SMT and its allied company want to be players in the horticulture business, they can set up their own farms and harvest their commodities for export, rather than seek to profit from the sweat of the exporters – most of whom are farmers.
Mr. Benjamin 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 activities of SMT.
“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 to support their businesses,” he added.