Episode 3 - Identifying Trade Opportunities
Nadia: Welcome to another episode from the series of Insights Malta-Ghana that together with my colleague, Dr Robert Lepre, and our resident guest, Mr. Christopher Busutill-Delbridge. We would like to welcome our guests today, Dr. Asare, who is the CEO at the Ghana Export Promotion Authority. And Mr. Anton Buttigieg, the CEO of Trade Malta with whom we are going to discuss trade between both respective countries.
Welcome Dr Asara. Welcome, Mr. Anton Buttigieg.
Dr Asare: Thank you. Thank you. Thank you for inviting me.
Nadia: Thank you for joining us today, we're very honoured to have you on our program. So we would like to start a little bit when we both know that both countries are going through, obviously, the pandemic COVID. We're still not out of the woods yet. Not only Malta and Ghana, but the rest of the world. And obviously, we're going through challenges on the how businesses are going through various challenges, as well as opportunities, however. So perhaps we can start by mentioning the challenges that exporters are facing in both respective countries, perhaps Dr Asare, you would like to start?
Dr Asare: Good morning, once again, it's morning in Ghana, and I'm so privileged to be part of this discussion. You know, that this whole COVID situation is not just a health issue, but an economic issue as well. And we are looking at it as such, in our part of the rules here.
So it's been very stressful for exporters, because they cannot even go about their normal duties as everybody is aware that we were quarantined for a bit. But when we came out, GEPA decided and GEPA, I want to tell you about GEPA before we even delve into the question. GEPA is the mandated organization by government is a government agency or the Ministry of Trade and Industry that is in charge of faster, facilitating exports, non-traditional exports in Ghana.
So what did we do with exporters during this COVID era, which was very challenging? People, exporters couldn't do what they do best. They couldn't go to trade shows they couldn't explore, they couldn't come out and do their businesses and all of that. It was a big challenge. And it has affected the economy, it has affected even our progress as an organization, because we depend mostly on import levels to push exports. And there was no imports coming in, as we expected. So it's affecting the interventions that we plan to do this year in support of export. So it's been quite challenging.
Nadia: Thank you very much, Dr Asare for that. Anton. Perhaps you would like to share with the audience, the Malta side no, how the value chain was affected from our side.
Anton: First of all, thank you for organizing this. It's always a great pleasure to meet our Ghanaian counterparts. It also reaffirms, you know, our growing and strong partnership that we have together. As an agency here in Malta, we obviously responsible, have same responsibilities as GEPA where we promote Malta based companies to X.
I must stress that the challenges for exporters have not been created by COVID. Prior to COVID, we were already seeing a severe challenge to in to the international trade regime, as we know it. And what COVID has brought about has brought about further uncertainty to businesses, which is, I think, one of the main, you know, enemies of businesses uncertainty. And on top of that, I think, a further acceleration of protectionism, and again, an attack on the current international trade regime.
A small island, very open economy. All these things put together do not definitely do not help our exporters. On top of that. You also need to add difficulties where we've had countries blocking exports from other countries or imports from originating countries and increasing cost in transportation, whether it is goods, whether it's other freight. And all this uncertainty is unfortunately putting a lot of pressure on local exporters.
The main issue here is what are gone in the coming months what what's in store for us, it's very difficult. So we are in a very crucial period where it's very difficult for businesses to predict what's going to happen in the next two, three months. Now going forward into 2021, what is one two business look like, in the next year?
Nadia: Did the pandemic creates a new opportunities unfolding Dr Asare, from your view, from our point of view, as well, apart from the challenges?
Dr Asare: Yes, I would say so. It created some new opportunities. For instance, we are on the path of industrialization. And I was glad to notice that when this pandemic started, and we couldn't import some of the things that you would normally import. Industrialists and other organizations that manufacture certain produce, quickly switched to producing some of the things that you would combat some of the effects of the COVID, like our mask, and hand sanitizers, and soap and all of that, suddenly, there was an eruption of people manufacturing all of these products, it was very refreshing.
And then we realized also that we are taking our hygiene more seriously now, where we have taken it for granted. All, so many opportunities came out of this, and I'm only saying that there was a silver lining in this dark cloud, and people took advantage of it.
Chris: It's very interesting to hear this from both sides of the organization, I can say how we lived it, from inside a company that's been affected by COVID. And that's also sitting in between Malta and Ghana. We are based in Malta as a company and we are working with industrializing companies. So we support them. And what happens to us is, with all the variables that Anton was mentioning, we needed to start reducing the variables in order to take effective business decisions.
So the first thing we said is, okay, let us say that this is going to be here forever. With that mind-set, we set out how would we work? Because definitely every business is built on relationships, we cannot travel. So how do we meet our counterparts? Well, I agree with Dr Asare that the opportunity is brought about work through a Catholic catalytic effect that COVID created. And I'm very proud to say that in these days, we are actually working on our first joint tender with the Ghanaian company, and in collaboration, because this is the future, we are here they are there, they cannot come here, we cannot go there. So we need to communicate. And we need to coordinate to have boots, feet, ears, eyes, on the ground, in Malta and in Ghana.
And that is how we are trying and effectively managing to reduce the variables and still operate and make, create opportunities for us. The costs are lower. So that is one opportunity to be even more competitive, because you don't need to travel. What do you do with those extra profits, you can pump them into your digital presence, which is much more needed nowadays. But more of that later, maybe?
Roberta: It's great to hear you, you know, some insights which are on such a positive note, Chris. However, one can't ignore the fact that as also Mr. Buttigieg mentioned, there are challenges that also precede COVID. In fact, I'm aware that both countries both Malta and Ghana have some specific challenges when it comes to the financial services industry in particular, some banking practices which might, to a certain extent, create more headers for businesses to set up and operate in each respective country. So maybe we can touch upon that a little bit. And maybe we can hear a little bit about what's being done in this regard.
Anton: Sure. When it comes to payments, again, this is a problem that precedes COVID. We are a small country with a fairly limited amount of banking opportunities, despite having a global bank like HSBC, here in Malta, and even looking back, but it has the correspondent banking issue for us as a country has been a problem. And I'm sure that Chris along with other businesses have been experiencing this. Positively, however, I know that a good number of Maltese companies already doing work in Ghana with their Ghanaian partners. And they have no issues whatsoever receiving payments from Ghana to do with the problem that we're experiencing mostly now was sending payments from a motor to Ghana. And we it's not a secret that the government has been trying to attract new banks to the island.
From our end, we're also trying to help financial institutions to enter into new arrangements for correspondent banking agreements. It's not an easy. It's not easy. There's no easy solution, unfortunately. But I think from that end, we as a country are more economical, more disadvantages position that. And I think that this has to be addressed, swiftly, especially with the Continental Trade Agreement that is coming up in Africa. If we want to trade with Africa, we need to have a solid financial infrastructure behind us that does not hinder or our entrepreneurs and make it difficult for them to do partnerships with not only our Ghanaian partners, although they are our preferred partners, in this case, but down the road, we need to find a solution for that.
Roberta: It's not an easy task, because one needs to strike a balance, obviously, between efficiency and also having the right checks in place. Dr Asare, so I don't know if you would perhaps share your views on this matter?
Dr Asare: As Anton said, I don't think we are having issues with that. So I have not heard of any issues with that coming up between Malta and Ghana since we started doing business with Malta. Any issues that will arise, I think we will look at it dispassionately and address it.
Chris: I must agree with Anton on my part. I think it's a local issue more than anything. So local being Malta, we have encountered this, we still encountered this. And I think that the solution will not lie in Malta because we need the solution now. So the solution is once more the partnership agreement with companies in Ghana, that may be ironic they have access to better finance than we do.
Nadia: Interesting enough. Now take going forward, I think Mr. Buttigieg, the fact that we have, and Dr Asare, we've started working. We've been working on this relationship on this partnership between more than Ghana, not from the start of the pandemic. But even before we had three divisions, we organized not only one trade mission, but even I think, I think to at least, yes, and there are trade agreements in place, there are plans in place. So obviously, this is a very good start. And that's what we would like to continue even us for sure as a country because the commitment is there. But perhaps we can elaborate a little bit more what has been done to date. And going forward. Despite the challenges that we're facing, and both countries are facing, how are we going to invest more in this relationship so that we assist and act as a vehicle for both businesses in both countries?
Dr Asare: We were very excited when we signed about five multisector MOUs with Malta really, it sends a very strong signal and to other countries in Europe and very ready to do business with Malta and make Ghana the gateway to Africa for Malta. During the second Ghana-Malta Business Forum, which was even held in Accra. The Minister, Mr. Silvio Schembri said that Malta has placed Ghana at the top of his lists for new efforts in furthering trade with the African continent. And this made us so proud.
So in furtherance two that we at GEPA and I can also say that for GIPC, Ghana Investment Promotion Centre and all the other actors in the trade ecosystem in Ghana, were supposed to work closely with Malta to, to make this materialize to help foster that kind of relationship to trade and all of that. I don't like saying that because of the COVID. But it has really played a major part in how things have slowed down. Because we were so eager, I was eager to talk to Anton about how we were going to make this happen, practically, to personalize it. Bring Ghana to Malta bring Malta to Ghana, in practical terms, and somehow this whole situation stalled it.
But I believe that this situation is going to be forever as my colleague from Evolve talked about this is a normal thing that we assume that’s how it’s going to be, how are we going to work around this situation and make it happen? So for me, this is the event this talk, this conversation we are having is the beginning of making that work, operationalizing everything that we've been talking about all these MOUs that we've been signing and all of that it's [unintelligible] somewhere and appreciate you starting up.
For me, this is the beginning of it. So I hope that the conversation will continue between Anton and I about how we are we do certain things or work with a situation as it says and make it happen.
Anton: Yes, if I may add on top of that, I think there's both governments have worked swiftly, in a very short period of time and in three years. Ghana has High Commission in Malta, and Malta has opened its first Sub-Saharan High Commission in Accra.
There are a number of agreements, amongst which also a double taxation agreement, which again, is pretty much ready, but due to COVID has not been ratified yet on the Ghanaian side, but I'm sure it's on the on the, you know, urgent list on once things go back, go back to some normality. So we have worked on the background. I think there are there's the infrastructure in place.
Both High Commissioners, are very approachable. They can help businesses to do the initial contact, initial introductions here in Malta during the period where travel is limited. I think this is an important period where you, I urge businesses to contact both High Commissions so that they reach on their behalf, partners on the ground. And they are the officials in the High Commission can do at least some preparatory work. So that hopefully when things normalize, and we can restart, traveling, hopefully, coming again to Ghana with another business delegation. It's a continuation of a conversation that was already started. So I think we need to use this time to make, to get homework to start doing the homework and then, you know, formalize everything when things hopefully become more predictable.
Roberta: What is the general feeling that Mr Buttigieg, amongst those who were originally interested in exploring opportunities in Ghana and whose plans have now been stalled? Are they still eager to explore that or is it difficult to sustain the interest now?
Dr Asare: I would say that it hasn't been difficult to sustain the interest. It hasn't been difficult. Most of our businesses are really looking forward to working with Malta. And we stay in touch with them and we give them you know, we let them know that we are still on course, nothing has been derailed. It's just a glitch in everything but so we try to keep the momentum and the interest.
Roberta: Okay, so you communicate… Yeah, I think we have some connectivity issues. Apologies for interrupting. I was just wondering whether you are in contact with perhaps some peers to, like your company were interested in exploring opportunities in Ghana? And do they feel that with the digital tools available to them, can they still pursue those plans?
Chris: Some do, some don't. And I am in touch with most of them. Some have seen this as an opportunity, maybe one of them, because less have less competition. And some, you know, just give up, and I think they weren't mentally prepared in the first place, and they just wait or it wasn't the right time for their company.
Everyone has his own decisions to make. But whatever I can say is that all the support I have requested, Trade Malta are helping us in this program, thanks to Anton. This was one of the ways and I'm extremely happy. And I'm sure that you, Roberta and Nadia, you're happy like me, as well to hear Dr Asare say, how grateful she is for this type of program to kick off, again, the good work that has been done. Have come around to and was also saying that another time that this is a great opportunity, and a great platform for businesses and business people and authorities to come together. However, on my part, yes, trade Malta, the High Commissioner himself. So I've been finding all the support we need, opportunities aren't lacking. It is really from the part of a Maltese business, Ghana is a land of opportunity for us. So I'm sure that if Ghana is seeing itself, and it is the gateway to Africa, we see ourselves as a gateway to Europe.
So for Africans, and for Ghanaians this would be also a great opportunity. So yeah, it is and I encourage everyone to take this extremely seriously, the support we've been having even for this program, Dr Asare is here, she's giving us your time, our CEO from Trade Malta is here, he's giving us his time. And we had and we'll have other distinguished guests on this program. So definitely, if that is not proof of the goodwill, and the opportunities that lie ahead, what is?
Nadia: Very interesting indeed, Chris, I believe as well, we had a lot of response both. Even from our side, when we came up with this idea together with Roberta and yourself from for businesses, we found a lot of support, as you mentioned, both from the High Commissioners as well as from the authorities on both sides. And indeed, it might seem that COVID is a little bit of a deterrent in the sense that because obviously we can't be physically there, we can't physically meet our businesses and business development. We all know that it takes time it takes time to nurture relationships, it takes time to build trust, policy does not lose that momentum, which we have already started. Because there's a good opportunity, there's a good platform, which we which will enable us to create greater things in the coming months.
Roberta: In fact Nadia I would say it's a fantastic opportunity for those that are hit by COVID. Because it gives them the opportunity also to explore new ideas, new markets, so perhaps it could also be a solution. So the challenges that some businesses could be facing locally.
Nadia: Indeed, especially when it comes to their minds to consider changes, consumer behaviour. So obviously looking at other opportunities, other markets could also be beneficial for both parties. And is there anything else that you would like to add and share with our audience as a closing remark? Dr Asare, and Mr Buttigieg as well as yourself, Chris?
Anton: From my part, what I can say is that this has been a planned relationship in the sense. We had done our homework, and we were looking for a partner, a strategic partner in West Africa. And all the market research and all the research we were doing were pointing us in one direction which was Ghana. A lot of things which you know, fell into place. We have common governance structures within government within also the private sector. Once we went on the ground, all the all the research we had done, practically proved correct. A business, a Maltese business or European business that wants to set up shop in Ghana is relatively straightforward, you will find also very good partners to do business with. And it's also an excellent launching pad, if down the line, you want to look at other possibilities, countries within the region, which for us are more challenging because of language barriers or cultural issues.
I think having the right partner in Ghana will give you the opportunity and possibility of exploring other business opportunities within the region.
Over these past three years, we've had numerous requests from Maltese entrepreneurs wanting to do wanting to know more about Ghana and do business in Ghana. And I think so far, we've done good progress, I think there's still much more to do. But I think this relationship is still at its early stages. But however, very promising. And as I said, many times before, we'd like to see more Ghanaians coming to Malta with their ideas.
We're also very good launching pad into the European Union, into the northern parts of Africa and we'd be very happy to make the necessary introductions. Privately at government level, to these institutions, whatever they are private or, or government, so that we can share our experiences and help these companies grow. It's within our remit. I think with the right effort, we can take this relationship much, much forward.
Nadia: Thank you.
Dr Asare: And I would like to say that I'm so excited about this whole conversation and I would edge, edge Malta to take advantage of the African Continent of Free Trade Area Commercial Hub, which is now in Accra. So that makes Accra the commercial hub of Africa.
So when you are in Ghana, you as virtually in Africa, in the middle of Africa, not only in the middle of Africa, but in the middle of the world. Ghana is in the middle of the world, so we can touch base with everybody. And it makes it even easy to touch base with Malta, I understand that if there's a direct flight from Malta to Ghana, it will be just four hours. So very soon, I'm looking forward to as having an international, you know, flight that goes directly to Malta, to ease… for our business to our to business people to be able to meet easily. Ghana is positioned, as I said, in the centre of the world, where is the best place to do business and in the centre of the home.
So we have skilled and young workforce, we try to make it very easy to do business in this country. I'm looking forward to this relationship, I'm looking forward to it growing, I have a very strong feeling that the relationship we have with Malta is going to grow beyond bounds. For some reason, when we came to Malta, that's how we felt. And when there was a reciprocal visit to Ghana. That's what I think I sensed in most of the people who met with the Maltese business group. So I'm so looking forward to us doing business together, and the help that we can give each other going forward.
Nadia: Thank you very much. Thank you. Thank you very much. Chris, would you like to add anything or any other comments as a business?
Chris: I have one appeal. If you haven't started, start to trade Malta. If you have started intensify. If you were there and established, you don't need me. So good luck.
Dr Asar: I want to say one last thing. Your Ambassador in Ghana, it's one of the best. I mean, it keeps us on our toes. And I think it’s the reason why this conversation is even we haven't forgotten that but he cannot let us forget about Malta. He is more a Ghanaian than a Maltese and I’m very happy about that.
Nadia: Indeed. He's the one who assisting myself, Roberta as well as Chris and organizing all these episodes the series he's very active. He's also part of our series and the various episodes with the High Commissioner of Ghana and Malta.
So, with on this note, we thank you very much for your time. We thank you for being with us. We're very much looking forward to have many more of these episodes and insights. Thank you.