Business News of 2014-01-15

No ban on rice imports

…We are a liberal economy - Haruna

Minister for Trade and Industry Haruna Iddrisu has said that government’s restriction on the importation of rice to the Kotoka Airport and the Tema and Takoradi seaports should not be misconstrued to mean a ban on the importation of rice.

Government, he said, has only banned rice importation by land due to rampant smuggling and also because government wants to get “reliable statistics” on imports.

“If you ask me today as to how much rice was imported into the country, we will struggle to give you a figure…” the minister said at the swearing-in of new board-members for the Export Development and Agricultural Investment Fund (EDAIF).

“We have said import rice through accredited ports -- bring rice in through Takoradi, Tema and Kotoka. So, please, there is no ban on rice importation. We are a liberal economy but we encourage rice production in order that we can lower the imports. What is it that somebody wants to carry rice from Ivory Coast to Ghana and cannot do so from Takoradi, Tema or Kotoka International Airport?”

The Trade Ministry served notice to rice importers in October 2013, stating that "with effect from 1st November, 2013, all imports of rice shall be done through only the Kotoka International Airport, Tema and Takoradi Ports".

The ministry later relaxed the ban for a group called The Ghana-Ivory Coast Rice Importers and Sellers Association, which made an appeal to government to enable them clear rice they had already made arrangements for.

The ban was thus relaxed for those of the importers who had made financial commitments or advance payment for rice from their suppliers abroad.

There has since been a certain level of confusion in the public sphere, with media reports that there was a total ban on the importation of rice -- and that the trade ministry, without recourse to parliament, had lifted the ban.

“Before Christmas a number of Ghanaian importers had brought rice to the borders. We slapped them with a penalty, and they were not happy about it -- We considered and relaxed the ban. We are not happy destroying businesses; we will not do that. So that window of opportunity should not be misconstrued. We have not sanctioned or authorised lifting of the ban [on rice import by land],” Haruna Iddrisu explained.

Smuggling and under-declaring of imports has been a bothersome issue at the country’s borders and ports of entry, with government said to be losing millions of cedis through the practice.

The porous nature of the country’s borders in particular has facilitated the smuggling of various commodities, including rice, into the country.

“There are integrity problems at the borders. We are seeking to have reliable statistics on imports… That must guide our future policy,” the minister said.