Africa round-up: Lagos port talk, Ghana trade law and Ethiopia finance woes

Tue 5 Dec 2023
Posted by: Benjamin Roche
Trade News

African continent being projected from phone

Reform is in the air in African trade this month, as Nigeria’s marine economy minister indicated the need for changes to the country’s shipping infrastructure, while a Ghanaian UN ambassador has called for better education and understanding around international trade law in a bid to boost the country’s business prospects – and avoid costly debts.

Port barrel politics

A host of Nigerian officials have raised expectations around the development of a Maritime Single Window in the country following comments at an event last week reported in the country’s Daily Sun newspaper.

Leading members of the Nigeria Ports Authority (NPA), the Ministry of Marine and Blue Economy, and the Nigeria Shippers Council (NSC) spoke on the measure, which is intended to ease and modernise shipping operations at the port in the country’s most populous city, Lagos.

The country’s minister for marine and blue economy, Adegboyega Oyetola, said:

“We must move beyond the original design of our ports. With the rapid development of technology and the growing population in Lagos, we need plans that will endure for over 100 years and propel sustainable growth of both the ports and the general economy.”

‘Understand the processes’

Ghana’s ambassador to Austria and Vienna’s UN offices has said that African nations need to improve their awareness of international trade law to avoid judgment debts and to improve the competitiveness of the continent’s importers and exporters.

The comments came as he attended the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL) Days in Africa 2023 event in Accra, Ghana’s capital, according to Prime News Ghana.

He made the case that existing international trade rules were designed around the “experiences and interests of developed countries”, and that they sometimes “hurt” developing nations.

“They hurt us because we do not understand the processes and the laws themselves, and when we are having contracts with investors and others, we make errors and eventually we pay huge judgment debts.

“If we have a better understanding of rules and apply them, we will be avoiding these costs.”

Ghana’s justice minister, Diana Asonaba Dapaah, also at the event, said that Ghana has adopted UNCITRAL model laws into its legal framework to improve the business landscape in the country.

She added that the country is focused on “aligning its legal system with global standards, attracting foreign investment and facilitating cross-border transactions”.

The African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) has introduced its own initiative aimed at improving trade law education in recent weeks, the AfCFTA Moot Court Competition. Its organisers say will enhance students’ understanding and help them to “contribute effectively to the legal landscape of African trade”.

Tomato no

Botswana put heightened restrictions on the import of fresh produce yesterday (5 November) in a bid to become self-sustainable in food production.

South African farmers, for whom Botswana is a strong export market, are said to be among those most annoyed by the measures.

The total of 16 items restricted for import includes tomatoes, potatoes and onions, and is set to double to 32 before July 2024.

The grace period is designed to give farmers time to plant ready for harvest next year, according to the country’s agriculture ministry.

The existing agricultural industry in the country accounts for just 5% of GDP, in part due to undercutting by South African producers, who provided 80% of the country’s food before a two-year ban implemented in early 2022.

South Africa contends that the ban, which Botswana says has reduced the country’s import bill by 71%, contravenes the rules of the Southern Africa Customs Union.

Capital flight

Ethiopia’s only foreign-owned financial services company, Ethio Lease, is set to leave the country in response to changes to regulation by the National Bank of Ethiopia, according to the FT.

The changes, introduced first in 2021, meant that all lease agreements were required to be denominated in the Ethiopian currency, birr.

The currency’s value has plummeted by half since the company began operating, putting pressure on the first group to lease imported equipment in the farming and medical sectors.

It is a blow to Ethiopia’s government, which has been working to attract investors back to the country following the Tigray War, which lost Ethiopia its tariff-free access to the US market as well as billions in foreign investment.