While physically, Ghana and Trinidad and Tobago are more than 6,500 kilometres away, the reality is that we are actually much closer than we think.
This is what Dr Afua Asabea Asare, chief executive officer of the Ghana Export Promotion Authority (GEPA) said she found most striking during her time in this country as part of a Ghanaian trade and investment delegation. ‘We are closer than we think we are. We (in Ghana) think you (in T&T) are so far away from Ghana and you think we are so far away from you but we are closer than you think. For me, it surprises me that we don’t even know how close we really are as a family,’ she said.
Asare made the comments during a sitdown interview with Express Business at the Hilton Trinidad and Conference Centre. ‘We should not even think about distance, we should think about how close we are in everything that we do. The weather is just like home. When we drove through town it reminded me of some parts of Accra (the capital of Ghana) so for me we should not even think about the distance we should think about how we could bridge this gap in the minds that we have,’ she said. ‘We see ourselves in everyone that we meet,’ Asare said.
This sentiment was reiterated by Reginald Yofi Grant, CEO of the Ghana Investment Promotion Centre (GIPC).
‘In fact, you look like a good friend of mine. I will have to show you a picture of him,’ Grant said as he swiped through his phone.
Executive director of the Inter-American Development Bank Robert Le Hunte, who led Republic Bank in Ghana said it is something that he too experienced during his time in the West African country.
Opportunities are there for us when Republic Bank chose to invest in Africa, driving the decision in spite of the distance was the massive potential, and more than a decade later Le Hunte, who was the major driver of the decision still holds that Africa is a good place to invest in.
And the time to do so is now, he said. ‘Normally businesses go (into areas) then banks follow after so we have a unique advantage, the opportunity is therefore there for us,’ he said. Asare said she would like to see a Ghana Trade House established here so that people can see how similar our cultures and appearance are. ‘We are looking at establishing a Trade House here to bring the cultural aspect, the trade aspect and everything together in a space where people can come in and see what we offer as Ghanaians. So we can actually meet and understand each other and grow as a family,’ she said. And we cannot let the challenges stop that, she said.
‘If they were able to bring the people from Africa all the way here (during the Transatlantic slave trade) then it was not so far for them. Why can’t we work on getting even closer together now?’ she said. But apart from the people, Grant said the two economies seem to also have a lot in common. ‘There is a lot more that makes us alike, than makes us different and we should leverage on that,’ Grant said.
‘For us in Ghana, partnerships for linkages and trade are key because we do have significant raw material for which we want to add value and then export, and I believe that T&T is really the industrial powerhouse of the Caribbean so there is a lot to learn. But there is also a lot to trade not only in goods but services, particularly in the oil and gas sector where Trinidad and Tobago seems to have built some capacity and experience which they can leverage in Ghana,’ Grant said. Entry point into African markets on Thursday, Phoenix Park Gas Processors Ltd (PPGPL) signed a Technical Services Agreement with The Gas Gathering Limited (TGGL) of Ghana, a private consortium.
Under this agreement, PPGPL will be providing technical and commercial advisory services, drawing on its expertise in the fields of process and mechanical engineering, project management, process operations, and commercial.
Grant said Ghana can be seen as an entry point into the African markets. ‘I keep emphasising that the African market is probably the most important market in the world today with 1.4 billion people, 60 per cent of that under the age of 35 so that is just an emerging market waiting to happen,’ he said, ‘But not just an emerging market but it is also potentially the world’s next pool of talented labour,’ Grant said.
Le Hunte said when you go into the African market you get exposed because of the free trade agreements. He said by 2050 one in every four people in the world will be of African descent based on the population growth data. ‘Now like everything else, if something has potential you don’t wait until all the potential is found out or realised,’ he said. ‘So there is a lot of concern about transportation and connectivity and one hears that and those are what I consider challenges. And I agree air transport direct links would make it a lot easier, however, that is just one of the challenges but it is not insurmountable in light of the size of the market and the potential that you are going to realise,’ Le Hunte said.
Because there is no direct airbridge between Ghana and T&T travel between the two countries currently takes around 15 hours. Le Hunte said Ghana has tremendous potential in agriculture such as pineapples, mangoes, cocoa, and bananas. ‘And what we have is excellent potential in manufacturing and therefore what Ghana is looking for is a sort of partnership. Partnership where there is cultural ties and partnership where expertise can be brought together so to me this is a marriage made in heaven because they have a lot of raw materials and we have a lot of manufacturing potential,’ he said.
Asare lauded the discussions that the Ghanaian delegation was able to have in T&T. ‘We are always looking out for partnerships, especially for small businesses out there. You are advanced in industrialisation and there is where we want to be. Manufacturing is very important to us so we want to partner with industries here to grow ours in Ghana as well. It is all bout partnerships,’ she said.
Grant said both T&T and Ghana have been working on a bilateral investment treaty which should be finalised by the end of this year. ‘This would lay the ground rules on how we should operate and accordingly, we are also going to negotiate a double taxation avoidance treaty. Those are the things that need to be taken to give clarity and confidence on both sides,’ he said. ‘What is even more important is that we have been here so we are also expecting to see a trade delegation a cultural delegation coming over to Ghana,’ Asare said. The Trade Ministry announced the possibility of a cultural contingent participating in the ‘Taste of Ghana’ event in December, a major Ghanaian cultural event that features the products, music, art, fashion and culture of Ghana and the Diaspora.
MOU on trade and investment
The TTMA, together with exporTT, also committed to work towards a trade and investment mission to Ghana early next year.
‘Both parties expressed a commitment to accelerating the ongoing negotiations for a Reciprocal Protection and Promotion of Investments Agreement (RIPPA), with the aim of reaching an agreement by the end of 2023. To help foster future relations and ensure that such discussions led to tangible results, Minister Gopee-Scoon underscored the need for and her support of a Memorandum of Understanding on Trade and Investment between both countries, the Trade Ministry stated in a release earlier this week. Le Hunte said this country’s Trade Minister leading a mission to Ghana would be an important step for both countries.
‘In life, you want to build momentum but before you have momentum in physics you have to have movement and therefore the movement is the little things that we do along the way to build the momentum so I think those are the short-term goals that we could start to look at,’ he said. Trinidad and Tobago and Ghana established formal diplomatic relations in 1967. In 2022, Trinidad and Tobago exported approximately $30 million in both energy and non-energy products to Ghana.
BY JOEL JULIEN