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The 2013 Conference of the African Chambers of Commerce and Industry was held last week in Addis Ababa. The event highlighted several challenges that hinder intra-Africa trade from developing and achieving further economic growth. Capital’s Eskedar Kifle sat down with Seth Adjei Baah, President of Ghana’s National Chamber of Commerce and Industry and Acting President of the PACCI, to discuss the 2013 conference, the potential Continental Free Trade Area as well as the recent WTO Ministerial meeting.
Capital: Please introduce yourself and the Pan African Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PACCI).
Seth Adjei Baah: I am the president of the Ghana Chamber of Commerce and the acting president of the Pan African Chamber of Commerce and Industry. PACCI came together to see how we can form African unity and integration to help develop or create the environment needed for our people to make sure that Africans can produce what we use, support our own products and make sure wealth remains in Africa. That is the main aim; keep the wealth here to help enhance the development of the continent.
Other than that, we think that Africa will burst out, we have all we need, we have the resources, and we have the manpower. We need to bring the blocks and make sure that we can unite and work together to develop the continent for all.
Capital: What has PACCI accomplished so far?
Baah: We’ve helped changed the public’s mindset to help them realize that Africans need to be responsible for developing Africa. As a result people are starting to agree that Africans need to unite. As I am speaking to you now, we have around 32 countries at this conference and the fact that these people left their businesses and their countries to be here in Addis Ababa to talk about PACCI means that people are committed. People are now trying to understand the need to break barriers and come together. For example, If there is something really good happening in Ghana, we want to determine how best to bring that experience to Nigeria and then Ethiopia.
As we do that, we develop Africa as a whole, which is when we really can say we have one continent. I would like to believe that I can represent myself as an African more than a Ghanaian, if I see myself as an African, I can come to Ethiopia without being asked where my visa is. When that happens, it means I can come here without any problems. Then we can coordinate, do business and grow our economies.
Without doing business within Africa, the economy of the continent will continue to remain the same. We know that the amount of intra-African trade is less than seven percent while in Europe around 75 percent of their trade is with other European countries.
Right now, we are just exporters of raw materials and importers of consumer goods. All the wealth goes to the Western world. We need to work to keep the wealth here.
Capital: The Continental Free Trade Area that is supposed to be established by 2017 has been mentioned throughout this conference. What is your view on that?
Baah: We are looking at a situation where we can have free trade, free movement of people and free movement of capital. That will help us become one continent and help us do business. Let’s say for example I want to export something from Ethiopia to Kenya, there are barriers. The Kenyans need that product so they will look for it somewhere else. So how do we make it easier for the Kenyans to come here and how do we make it easier for Ethiopians to go there and trade among themselves so that wealth will stay there?
There are a lot of factors we are looking at to clear those barriers that are there. If I, for example, want to ship something from Ghana to Nigeria, I need to first ship it to Europe and then to Nigeria. To connect Nigeria to Ghana by air is 45 minutes, which is what we need to be able to do. When we can do business with each other within a matter of hours then we can really say we are doing business.
We need to be able to move freely, of course that has already started in some areas,such as with the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). I do not need a visa to travel to Nigeria, Burkina Faso or Togo. Just like that we need to continue and move forward and create a continent where anybody can go anywhere and do business.
Capital: What is your take on the World Trade Organization (WTO) Ministerial meeting that is to be held next week? Have the different deals proposed by the West for Africa been fair?
Baah: It depends on the point of viewyou look at it from. Most of those who bring the policies are looking at their own interests first. Let’s look at the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA), why are they pushing that on Africa? It is because the factories and the industries in the Western world are collapsing. The West wants to remain competitive so they advocate for removing the duties.
It is all because China is taking over, so they dump this agreement and make deals and rules that give them an advantage-looking out for their own best interest. Then, at the end of the day we are letting things come in freely and not protecting our own local industries. So If this continues, within the next two years, all the industries in Africa will be dead. We will become consumers, rather than producers and that is not going to build Africa’s economy.
We think that we should position ourselves to be producers and net exporters rather than consumers of others’ goods. We have to protect our markets. We have to make sure we produce what we eat and send the net and surplus elsewhere. This is what we are looking at. We need to position the private sector and the businessman to do well and do well for the continent.
Capital: What should the private sector’s role be in the development of trade inthe continent?
Baah: You see, trade is a way to break barriers. If private sector business people know when they come to Ethiopia they will do well, they will come to Ethiopia. That is why we are trying to engineer and break the barriers. If I come here and I am able to have a partnership with an Ethiopian businessperson and we set up a company to produce something, this enhances the integration we are looking at rather than looking for a European partner; we need to be able to partner with ourselves because then we can understand ourselves better. We believe that only Africans can develop Africa andonly Africans can help with Integrating the economy of African nations.
If we want to depend on somebody else to help us then we will never accomplishthis.We need to make sure that we help ourselves become stronger. The world works in a certain way, when you become strong and you improve yourself, others want to bring you down because they want to be on top.
Capital: What is your view on foreign companies doing business in Africa?
Baah: We are not saying they shouldn’t come. But when they come, Africans should be able to partner with them and facilitate technology transfer so that we will be able to learn from them and be able to expand. When we are in a position to compete, we are in a position to make good deals. That is why we need to partner up with each other and work with foreign companies on an equal partnership.