Ghana yesterday expressed worry about the uneven nature of product lines and countries exporting items to the United States under the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) and called for a broader product base in order to satisfy the demands of the US market.
Addressing a workshop of business operators from 18 West African countries in Accra, Mr Allan Kyerematen, Minister for Trade, Industry,Private Sector Development and President's Special Initiative (PSI), argued that statistics derived from the West African Trade Hub (WATH) showed that 85 per cent of all AGOA exports were from the petroleum and petroleum products sector. Besides, very few countries were participating in the programme from the non-petroleum product sector, he said.
The workshop, the second on the Continent, is under the theme: “Expanding Export Opportunities”. It is co-ordinated by the WATH and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and is intended to stimulate non-oil exports, assist private sector participants and further the work of the regional trade hub programme, which provides training, technical assistance and contact opportunities to export-ready producers.
Mr Kyerematen said even though the textile and garment sectors were most attractive, "we need to explore other sectors satisfactorily to ensure that we have the full benefit of what the US market stands to offer us."
He urged countries participating in the programme to work efficiently to support companies signed up to position themselves adequately to take advantage of the immense benefits that AGOA offered.
AGOA was introduced in 2000 by the US Government as a window for African countries to leap onto the US market under a special programme, where specific products of economic advantage to each country was produced under set standards for retail shops in the US.
AGOA waives duties on more than 6,000 products that Africans can take advantage of in the duty-free area. AGOA comes to a close in 2008 and Mr Kyerematen asked AGOA participants and countries to move fast on all fronts.
He said the three-day workshop was a definite means to, not only, share ideas on the way forward but also to take practical steps with resource persons and retail executives from the US on expanding their supply and product base.
Ghana, according to statistics, has capitalised on AGOA's duty free advantage for manufactured apparel and is now Africa's third largest AGOA exporter after oil and gems.
Mr Kyerematen said Ghana had developed a strong policy framework, trade policy and trade sector support programme to see to the implementation of the AGOA programme. He said the country was now moving from a macro-framework level to the enterprise level. "In this move as entrepreneurs, you need to understand the US market and produce to meet the capacity of the sector concerned."
Ms Pamela Bridgewater, US Ambassador in Ghana; said the US Government was committed to developing a sustainable relationship with Africa and would ensure that their economies were strong and participatory. She said AGOA was still a major item and would be implemented to the hilt and more companies and countries should come up to participate.
Ms Vanessa Adams, Coordinator at WATH, acknowledged Ghana's leadership role in AGOA activities in the West Africa Sub-Region and expressed the hope that other companies and countries would experience the success stories under the programme.
She said experts, including representatives from US retail houses that sold clothing such as Polo, Ralph Lauren, Magic, Shastra Home would talk about how to prepare a business plan, when and how to buy new and used apparel equipment and how to compete with Asia in home décor and apparel.
Other areas are analyzing costs versus revenues and how to tap into niche markets, like African-American, fair-trade and plus-size. A gala fashion show is lined up to climax the workshop to spotlight the most popular garments from a dozen producers in the Sub-Region.