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China, ECOWAS seek to deepen trade ties

Mar 26, 2012, 1:11 PM | Article By: Baboucarr Senghore back from Accra

Ghana last week played host to the second edition of the ECOWAS-China business and trade forum, with the hope that a strong partnership would emerge to enhance production capacities, address supply side constraints and boost intra-West Africa trade.

Organised by ECOWAS in collaboration with the Ghana Chamber of Commerce and Industry at the Accra International Conference Centre, the two-day forum brought together investors from China and the sub-region.

Among others, it was aimed at maximizing the inflow of foreign direct investment (FDI) from China into ECOWAS countries, as well as to develop partnerships in six key areas with Chinese firms.

The forum saw presentations by key business, trade and investment discussions by private sector and government operatives from the two sides, and one-on-one networking sessions.

It focused on attracting additional Chinese investments into the power sector and development, healthcare and pharmaceuticals, agro-food and allied services, mining, as well as information and communications technology (ICT).

The forum followed a high-level ministerial delegation’s visit in June 2011 to China led by the immediate past President of the ECOWAS Commission, James Victor Gbeho, during which they presented critical integration projects, mainly in Ghana and Sierra Leone, to the Chinese government, the EXIMBANK of China, China Development Bank and the China African Fund.

 The delegation, among others, discussed with ECOWAS ambassadors in China, as well as the China CAMC engineering Company Limited, the Ghana Gezhouba group, and also visited Hubei provincial government, and the Wuhan municipal and Sichuan provincial governments to showcase investment opportunities in the ECOWAS region and regional integration projects.

According to officials, the achievements of that visit included the signing of several memoranda of understanding and contracts between key Chinese institutions and the governments of Ghana, Nigeria and Sierra Leone.

The rise of China as one of the economic powers in the world has been an interesting case study, and ECOWAS member states needs to learn from them, experts at the forum said.

Over the past two decades, the growth rate recorded by the Chinese economy has been incredible.

Financial experts forecast that the Gross Domestic Product of China shall hit $9,982.08 billion in 2015, with a growth rate put at 10-12 percent per year between 2010 and 2015.

“This forum should provide us with a platform to better advance the cause for greater equity in the global economic arena, so that more and more countries in the ECOWAS zone could enter the highway of development,” Ghana’s Vice President John Dramani Mahama said, in a speech read on his behalf by Ghana’s minister of foreign Affairs at the opening session.

Mahama called on governments in the sub-region to provide every opportunity to the private sector operators to play their role in stimulating growth and employment in their respective economies, stressing that while governments had a role to play, in the long run sustainability would only be achieved through the growth and expanded output of the private sector.

He expressed the hope that participants on both sides would understand the business opportunities available in the ECOWAS zone, and equip themselves with the right strategies and plans to maximise returns on their investments.

Mr Kadre Desire Ouedraogo, President of ECOWAS Commission, said the regional body was ready and prepared to work with China to take the relationship to the next appreciable level that would be sustained with more actions and mutual benefits.

“It is also important to state that in conformity with our vision of an ECOWAS of the people, we want to assure China and our private sector operators that ECOWAS will build with you, a mutually beneficial and sustainable partnership through which, the social and economic development of the people shall be and remain a first-class priority,” he said.

Mr Ouedraogo expressed the hope that the forum would help develop a strong partnership to effectively promote economic development between China and ECOWAS.

Mr Yu Ping, Vice Chairman of China Council for the Promotion of International Trade, underscored China’s commitment to her trade relations with Africa, and that the forum would help to strengthen this relationship.

The President of the Federation of the West African Manufacturer’s Association (FEWAMA), Alhaji Bashir Borodo, complained that some ECOWAS states have fallen victim to the Chinese onslaught on their private sectors leading to their closure, as well as threatening to break the existing bond and friendship.

Ghana’s deputy Trade and Industry Minister, Dr. J.S Annan, announced plans by his government to implement a five-year industrial sector support programme (ISSP) intended to encourage growth in the business sector.

The project, he said, will cost 350 million dollars.

He encouraged Chinese investors to take advantage of fair trade policies existing in West African states to expand their investments.

The maiden event in China in 2008 saw over 1,000 participants from West Africa, including 200 private sector operators and 150 government officials, and focused on stimulating Chinese investments in energy, mining and petrochemicals, construction, textile and light industry, as well as pharmaceuticals, agriculture, financial services, machinery, electronics and telecommunications.