Ghanaian businesses have been urged to position themselves to take advantage of the opportunities presented by the African Continental Free Trade Area Agreement (AfCFTA).

Speakers at a virtual summit on AfCFTA organised by Prudential Bank Limited were of the conviction that the nation had a lot to gain if it takes advantage of the opportunities arising and addresses the challenges that the free trade area presents.

The event provided an opportunity for participants to exchange ideas and make policy recommendations for the benefit of the business community.

The panellists at the event tackled two critical issues on the free trade agreement, namely, roles and responsibilities of relevant players and stakeholders in the implementation of the agreement as well as the exploitation of opportunities arising and the addressing of challenges.

Mr John K. Addo, Managing Director of the Bank in his opening remarks said, “as an indigenous bank that has supported and financed international trade transactions throughout 25 years of existence, Prudential Bank finds it necessary to educate its customers and the general public on the opportunities and challenges that the Continental Free Trade Area Agreement presents as well as the roles and responsibilities of all stakeholders in the new economic bloc.”

Mr Addo further said that the Bank itself is proactively equipping staff to fully understand the details and implications of this agreement as well as deploying the relevant digital platforms that will support and facilitate payments and collections in this area.”

He said “in addition, we are actively engaging all stakeholders in the AfCFTA eco-system to ensure that the Bank is well prepared to provide advisory services in relation to AfCFTA issues.”

Mr Samuel Ato Yeboah, a trade expert who spoke at the event said, “free trade integration on the continent presents a unique platform to make Africa a business hub”.

 He said AfCFTA, which came into effect on January 1, 2021, brought together 1.3 billion people on a continent with a Gross Domestic Product of US$3.4 trillion”.

He further emphasised that the private sector was crucial in the success of the AfCFTA agreement, and urged participating countries to implement policies which would make private businesses thrive under the trade system.

Meanwhile, the need for institutional capacity building to make sector regulators, including the Ghana Standards Authority (GSA) and Food and Drugs Authority alive to their responsibilities was highly recommended.

 The speakers at the programme included the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Ghana Investment Promotion Centre (GIPC), Mr Yofi Grant, CEO of the Food and Drugs Authority (FDA), Mrs Delese Mimi Darko, Director General of the Ghana Standards Authority (GSA), Prof. Alexander Dodoo, the  Commissioner of the Customs Division of the Ghana Revenue Authority (GRA), Colonel (Rtd) Kwadwo Damoah, and the Head of Services, Manufacturers and Petrochemicals Department (Ghana Export Promotion Authority, GEPA), Mr Zakaria Banda.

The rest were the President of the Ghana Union of Traders Association (GUTA), Dr Joseph Obeng, Vice-President of the Association of Ghana Industries (AGI), Humphrey Ayim-Darke, the AfCFTA Implementation Lead (Integrated Customs Management System, ICUMS), Mr Akwasi Seinti, Chief Head of AfCFTA Negotiations Support Unit (AU Commission), Mr Prudence Sebahzi.

All the speakers gave their perspectives on what Ghanaian businesses should do on the regulatory side as well as how they should position themselves to effectively tap into the large market place.

The Ghana Standards Authority boss, Prof. Alex Dodoo in his presentation said “the country must make efforts in building quality infrastructure and there should be more quality accredited private laboratories for certification processes.”

This, he noted, would promote and maintain quality standards of products and services.

The CEO of GIPC, Mr Yofi Grant stressed the need for Ghanaian companies to upscale their products to fully benefit from the opportunities that AfCFTA presents.

 On the topic of competition from foreign investors, Mr Grant was of the opinion that if Ghanaians position themselves well, they would be a major part of the value chain of such foreign investors thus providing jobs and revenue for the country.

The former Secretary-General of the World Tourism Organisation, Mr Taleb Rifai during the question-and-answer session, bemoaned the fact that tourism appears not to have been given a focus in AfCFTA engagements and urged policy makers to critically look at this issue.

Mr Ebow Quayson, Executive Head, Business of Prudential Bank in his closing remarks noted that the Bank is very much alive to its role in the whole ecosystem as a facilitator and is poised to play its role effectively.

He also stressed the need for African countries to pay attention to growing air transport links among African countries to enhance intra African trade.

He said it was vital that African airlines revamp their air cargo capacities such that jobs created will be to the benefit of Africans, else we risk losing the business to well established foreign airlines & freight forwarding companies.