Business News of 2014-04-01

Maritime hub concept not exclusive – GSA boss

The Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Ghana Shippers' Authority (GSA), Dr Kofi Mbiah, believes Ghana can easily become the central point where businesses in the maritime trade and transport sector in the sub-region can converge to do business.
However, for this to be possible, Dr Mbiah said stakeholders in the industry needed to commit themselves to working towards realising that vision.
While dismissing concerns that the hub concept required huge investments and resources, increased volumes of cargo and the size of the country to make it possible, Dr Mbiah said the attitude of the Ghanaian rather than the aforementioned was key in achieving that target.
Ghana has been aiming at becoming the hub within which maritime trade and related services in the sub-region will be transacted.
The gradual realisation of that target, although not properly documented, has seen governments over the years invest huge sums of money into the expansion and upgrading of facilities at the Tema and Takoradi ports and providing security and surveillance systems at the country's maritime domain while working to reduce the cost of business in the industry.
The overall aim of these actions is to make the ports the first port of call and preferred destinations for shippers wishing to move cargo into the sub-region while creating synergies that will ensure that allied services in the shipping business, such as ship repairs and servicing of vessels and other maritime industry equipment will be done in the country.
Such a plan is welcome, especially given that Ghana’s ports are in keen competition with those in Togo and Benin for cargo coming into or leaving the sub-region.
Although Dr Mbiah supports the initiative, he said it must not be limited to specific areas of the maritime industry but broadened to cover ancillary services within the sector.
"Every time we talk about the hub, we do that in only one sense of the word; may be aviation, may be the ports alone but a hub connotes more than that. It connotes also ancillary services. So, when I talk of maritime services, I'm thinking of even banking, insurance, the railway system, freight forwarding and even technology," Dr Mbiah explained.
Primary requirements
While stressing that Ghana had the potential to become the hub of the industry in the sub-region, Dr Mbiah told the GRAPHIC BUSINESS on March 20 that the country needed to focus on developing its infrastructure, upgrade the human resource and work to ease the various challenges facing the industry as it prepared towards becoming the hub of the maritime industry in the sub-region.
"There is nothing that stops Ghana from becoming the hub of the industry. It's all about our attitude; what do we put in place to represent our vision and work towards that vision? When you put the appropriate systems in place and do the right and important things and get them to work, make them work, then the hub, naturally, will come you; becoming a hub is only secondary," Dr Mbiah said.
He stressed that businesses within the maritime industry would not run to Ghana just because the country said it was the hub but because the structures such as businesses needed to operate were in place.
"Those who are looking for the hub status will come not because you say you are the hub; they will come because you are actually providing the facilities they need," he said, and explained that shippers would always want to go to places where rules and regulations were working, where there was a reliable judiciary to adjudicate commercial disputes should they arise and business operations were cost effective and peace and security were assured.
"If you put these mechanisms in place and the systems are well-lubricated and working, then the hub comes automatically," he said.
Everybody is a threat
Although Ghana's cargo throughput – the volumes of cargo passing through the nation's twin-sea ports – has increased significantly over the years, many fear the country risk losing its volumes to neighbouring Togo, Cotonou, Nigeria and Côte d'Ivoire.
The three are counterparts West African countries which operate sea-ports in the sub-region. That makes it possible for cargo vessels coming to Ghana and/or other landlocked countries in the sub-region to dock there for the cargo to be discharged and later transported by road to their respective countries of destination.
Although none of the four countries is openly pushing the other out of business, fertile policy initiatives such as Togo's decision to remove duties on selected cargoes and Côte d'Ivoire's commitment to reducing the turn-around time for vessels docking at its waters means that more ships could begin to opt for their ports over the Tema and Takoradi ports.
Should that happen, the country and the Ghana Ports and Harbours Authority (GPHA) would lose some revenues as more business will be pushed to the two countries.
Dr Mbiah, however, believes that can be avoided should the right mechanisms be put in place.
On whether or not Côte d'Ivoire and Togo posed a threat to the country's maritime business, the Shippers' Authority CEO responded in the affirmative.
"I always say that everybody is a threat at any time. Today, if you buy a crane and say that it has a boom of 30 feet; Togo can buy that same crane. So, the drivers should be the human capacity and what you do differently in terms of attitude and that is what I think our focus should be so we can get the edge," Dr Mbiah, who is currently the Chairman of the International Maritime Organisation's Legal Committee said.