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Opinions Thu, 14 Feb 2019

Dicussing the concept of honorary consuls with Ghassan Antoine Yared

Over the years, I have had several interactions with colleagues, friends, family relations as well as some key stakeholders from various sectors on a wide range of diplomatic related subjects.

Through these interactions, I discovered that not a lot of people have insight into the operations of diplomatic missions apart from the consular services they offer.

This isn’t different from people’s understanding of the role of honorary consuls.

I recently had a conversation with Hon. Ghassan Antoine Yared, the Honorary Consul of Peru and Chairperson of the Government of Ghana and Local Authorities relations committee of the Honorary Consular Corps of Ghana on the concept of honorary consuls.

He also serves as the Chief Executive Officer of Forewin Ghana Group of companies, a distribution & marketing company operating in Ghana from 1993.

Describing Honorary Consuls, Hon. Yared indicated that they are not career diplomats but persons designated by a foreign government (sending /representing state) to primarily look after affairs of their citizens and bilateral relations such as trade, education, cultural, economy and others in another country (receiving/host state).

Though honorary consuls are recognized under international law and the Vienna Convention, they are distinct from diplomats in terms of their functions, immunities and privileges.

“Honorary consuls may be citizens of the country they are representing; however in some cases they are locals of the host state. They usually are engaged in another job and are performing the duties of an honorary consul on voluntary basis. Honorary consuls have limited authorization to act and conduct on behalf of the sending state with their primary duties consisting of protection of economic interests, cultural and trade relations between the sending state and receiving state, some consular acts, issuance of temporary passports and in some instances dealing with legalizations and visas”, he highlighted.

There is a widely held perception that business persons are often selected as honorary consuls which was confirmed by Hon. Yared.

“The appointment of business persons as honorary consuls is indeed a growing trend with sending countries opting for local business persons with business connections in the receiving countries they are to represent. Therefore, a key characteristic in becoming an honorary consul is to have a business background with established business connections in the host country, necessary for the successful expansion in commerce between the two states”, he stated.

On the difference between honorary consuls and ambassadors, Hon. Yared specified that “an ambassador is the foreign diplomatic representative from one head of state to another and his or her duties revolve around diplomatic relations between the two countries by resolving disputes, forming alliances, negotiating treaties, strengthening economic relations, promoting cultural and military exchanges and for a variety of other purposes. On the other hand, an honorary consul is an official representative of the government of one state in the territory of another, normally a resident of the later country, acting to assist and protect the citizens of the consul’s own country and facilitate trade and friendship between the two countries”.

In 2016, Hon. Yared was appointed as the Honorary Consul of Peru after a successful interview process and shared his experience.

“I was excited about the opportunity to serve not only Peru but also Ghana and fellow Ghanaians. In 2017, we organized a trade mission to Peru in collaboration with the Ministry of Trade and the Ghana Investment Promotion Centre (GIPC). We successfully completed the visit to Lima accompanied by a delegation of Ghanaian businessmen and were received by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and were also introduced to Pro-Invesrion, the Private Investment Promotion Agency of Peru, the Ministry of Energy and Mines and the Ministry of Foreign Trade and Tourism”, he recounted.

As the chairperson of the Government of Ghana and Local Authorities relations committee of the currently thirty-member Honorary Consul Association, Hon. Yared detailed the mandate of the committee.

“Ghana is aggressively developing its infrastructure and capabilities, driving local and international investors to invest and participate in the growth of the Ghanaian economy and future. My first priority is to educate the public of the role of an honorary consul, gain recognition and support from the host country, our beloved Ghana. When the Ghana Government is able to develop the relations with the thirty Consuls, it will become a great value for the country to drive investments through the Consuls”.

Responding to how he effectively combines both roles, Hon. Yared said “leading the Forewin Group of companies has always been my joy and my business. Serving Peru and Ghana is my pleasure and when you combine business and pleasure, you become passionate and love what you do. When you love what you do, you will never work a day in your life”, he emphasized.

Hon. Yared urged the government of Ghana to appoint a Consul in Peru in order to enhance bilateral relations - business and cooperation between the two countries and especially when Ghana does not have an embassy in Peru.

According to him, it will be a great value for Ghana to appoint honorary consuls abroad and it is something he fully supports and advocates for adding “my ultimate objective is to get the Ghana government’s assistance and promote the appointment of additional honorary consuls for Ghana abroad. This would facilitate our job in developing international and bilateral trade and cultural relations and also get maximum benefit for Ghana without incurring any additional cost”.

Elaborating on the benefits a country is likely to derive from appointing honorary consuls, Hon. Yared said “the appointment of honorary consuls is a cost effective approach to diplomacy as honorary consuls are usually not remunerated. It creates increased network of the representing state in the host country through increased consular coverage in most of the major cities of the host country as well as increase in trade, investment promotion and tourism between the representing and host countries”.

In wrapping up our conversation, Hon. Yared further stated that “I can say on authority that all the members of the Honorary Consular Corps of Ghana are happy to serve both our sending states and our beloved country, Ghana. Gaining recognition from the Ghana Government and support is necessary and I am working hard to achieve these objectives. The prospects are great and the future of Peru - Ghana relations looks very bright”.

Columnist: Chris Koney