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16.08.2002 Business & Finance

Ghana Emerging as Trade Leader - U.S. Official

By Washington File
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Washington -- Assistant U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) for Africa Rosa Whitaker says she is "excited" about the far-sighted economic approach Ghanaians have taken in implementing the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), aimed at opening U.S. markets to their exports.

Whitaker, who returned recently from an AGOA Capacity-Building Seminar in West Africa, told the Washington File, "I’m really excited by what I saw in Ghana." She said the enthusiasm with which Ghanaian business and government are working to spur their export sector is impressive and could serve as a model for the other 35 nations deemed eligible under provisions of the trade act to ship exports like apparel into the United States duty- and quota-free.

The official made her comments on August 7, the day after President Bush signed into law the omnibus Trade Act of 2002, which includes changes, or "enhancements," to AGOA that widen the range and number of African exports that may enter the U.S. market.

The first AGOA bill, passed in May 2000, increased trade between the United States and the continent substantially, Whitaker noted. And now the enhancement, called AGOA II, "will further broaden and diversify our trade relationship with sub-Saharan African nations" trying to pull themselves out of poverty through export-led growth, she said.

The new law, which doubles the "caps" or limits on the entry of duty- and quota-free textile products into the U.S. market from eligible sub-Saharan nations, is a welcome move, the official said. During her recent trip to Ghana, she said, "we saw a factory built that will now produce socks that can come duty-free into the United States -- all because of the passage of AGOA II."

Whitaker said, "We also had very good results from our capacity-building seminar in Ghana, where we put people together from the private as well as the public sector." She explained that her 20-person delegation spoke to an enthusiastic audience from member states of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). A similar presentation was also held in Senegal, with more than 500 people turning out for both events, she added.

"What we did was bring [U.S.] businesspeople themselves so that they could explain what they looked for in and expected from joint ventures," she explained. "In that way it was very useful, the Ghanaians told us."

While in the region, Whitaker said, "we also had our second annual Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA) with the government of Ghana. We made a substantial amount of progress. For one thing, the government repealed a special import tax, which will help a number of American investors interested in the region. We were able also to constructively address a number of trade disputes we’ve been having in both the telecommunications and energy sectors."

Economists, such as Ghanaian-born George Ayittey of American University, credit much of Ghana’s economic progress to the influence of President John Agyekum Kufuor, a former businessman and fervent supporter of open markets who became the nation’s chief executive on January 1, 2001.

Emphasizing in his inaugural address that "multiparty democracy is here to stay in our country," Kufuor said: "We have pledged to create wealth, and we know that the main agency for the creation of wealth in all its manifestations is the private sector. My government will therefore support every feasible venture."

To facilitate Kufuor’s pledge, the Ghanaian Embassy in Washington recently launched a "Ghana Skills Bank" -- the idea of Ambassador Alan Kyerematen, himself a businessman. The bank is actually a list of Ghanaian entrepreneurs and businesspeople living abroad that can be accessed electronically by investors looking for business opportunities in the West African nation.

U.S. Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill touched on Ghana’s economic and political transformation when he visited the country in May. In a speech in Accra he declared: "Ghana is a leader in Africa and nothing better demonstrates that leadership than last year’s peaceful transfer of power following a democratic election. Respect for democracy is one aspect of ruling justly. But that peaceful transition was not only a political achievement, it was an economic achievement."

Also acknowledging that achievement is U.S. Commerce Secretary Don Evans, who recently announced that he will lead a business development mission to Ghana beginning November 12. The official will bring with him representatives from the information technology, telecommunications, energy and environmental technology, medical products, and construction equipment sectors. The delegation will also visit South Africa. (The Washington File is a product of the Office of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)

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