Four decades after ECOWAS’ establishment on the ideals of regional trade, integration and free movement of people, goods and services, a host of Ghanaian businesses coming to attend the Gambian Trade Fair were delayed for a week at the Mali-Senegalese border.
The week-long drama at Senegal and Mali’s border post call Mutaara had required a cumbersome paperwork and was brought to the attention of the secretary general of the Senegalese chamber of commerce who could not change the status of things.
These revelations were made by Sarata Jobarteh of the Gambia Chamber of Commerce and Industry at the institution’s annual meet-the-press ceremony at Kerrjula in Bijilo.
“We have people coming from Ghana and had to spend one whole week between the borders of Senegal and Mali call Mutaara… because they would not allow them to pass. We contacted the secretary general of the chamber of commerce in Dakar, Senegal and he acted but nothing came out of it,” Jobarteh said, as she spoke on GCCI’s efforts at attracting other businesses in the region to attend the fair.
“So one of the trucks had to go back Senegal—it is a French system and we find it difficult to understand—it was a paper issue that held them a whole week at the border. Later one of trucks got the paper and all of the people offloaded their goods into that trucks and headed for The Gambia but they arrive a day before the trade fare ended.”
She added: “I think this is a paper that we need to advise them to get before they start coming and I understand it is not an easy paper to get. The person, who issues it, gives out two a day and I was made to understand one can spend a whole week struggling to get one…”
The GCCI is a voluntary, not-for-profit, private sector organisation whose membership is made up of companies from all sectors of the Gambian business community i.e. Trade & Commerce, Agriculture, Industry, Tourism, Transport, Telecoms services, Finance & Banking.
In the last few years, the mantra within the heads of states and governments of ECOWAS has been that they are transitioning the region from that of states to that of people; a dream that shares no semblance with border restrictions.
According to recent statistics, trade between the 16-member countries— Benin, Burkina Faso, Cote d’Ivoire, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea-Bissau, Liberia, Mali, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Togo, Cape Verde, Guinea, Niger— countries is at 10% and between West Africa Monetary Zone countries is at 1% and in the whole of Africa it is 12%.
Back in December, the GCCI’s CEO, Alieu Khan, told The Standard in an exclusive interview that the region has a “long way to go” in the area of free movement of people and goods across borders.
“Officials that are in charge of implementing the regional trade protocols have to do a better job,” he said in an interview on the sidelines of the WANZ ministers’ forum in Banjul, last year December.
“Intra-regional trade is very important. Look at the impact that it has in Europe and other blocs and the amount of market growth they have experience and the number of jobs created as a result of increased economic activity caused by intra-trade. Tax base equally increase with increase in trade so does the operation of ports and many other things.”
But despite problems in implementation of regional trade protocols, Secka, informed journalists that a host of other businesses from Guinea, Mali and Burkina Faso have come though the arrivals from neighboring Senegal was severely slashed due to the fire incident that engulfed Grim Pavilion trade centre weeks ago.
“Unfortunately, a few weeks ago, the Grim pavilion which house the international vendors got burnt totally. So we lost 99% of our vendors who would have come from Senegal…,” Secka said.
“In fact, a couple of them who came said they only came because they did not want to miss The Gambia’s trade fare—because they have clients in the country and wanted to ensure that they meet them…Having said that, we still welcome people from Guinea, Burkina faso, Mali and others and we will continue to do this. We will intensify our marketing efforts to reach a wider international network.”
Secka welcomed the announcement made by the finance minister during the budget speech over the reduction of corporate taxes by 20%.
“We are pleased to know that the finance minister has reduced corporate tax to 20%. This is all in response to the desires of the business communities on what are commercially acceptable…So we continue to engage the Government on all the challenges that comes up any time,” he added.
Meanwhile, the GCCI president, Momodou Jagana, has presented to journalists the activity report of the institution during the course of 2015 which captured, partly, meeting they have had with Government over taxation issues, fixing of foreign exchange rate, favourable environment for private businesses and a lift on the ban of importation of rice in the country, among others.
Jagana observed that 2015 has been a very challenging year for Gambian businesses as it were for the economy.
“2015 has been a very challenging year for the economy… We will continue to collaborate with our members and continue to raise their issues to the Government to create a much more conducive economic environment that will create more jobs,” he said.
“But I think one of the major challenges is access to finance for business in the economy.”
He added said their theme for the 2015- 2016 fiscal year is “supporting sustainable enterprises” which includes the use of “technology” to maximize efficiency in businesses.