TRALAC - Trade Law Centre

West African companies gain export markets

Tuesday, 07 August 2007

Source: Scoop News (New Zealand)

Ghanaian crafters of wooden furniture and other home accessories wanted to increase sales so they could expand their small businesses.

But they lacked the business know-how and funds to do that.

Now, with help from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) West African Trade Hub (WATH) - a competitiveness assistance center - Ghana-based Premium Ex-Im Company is getting its products into thousands of homes in the United States by selling to the major U.S. retailers Target and Cost Plus World Market.

WATH taught Premium's owners how to style products for export markets, and ways to improve their operational efficiency.

Kweku Forson, one of Premium's founders, said the trade hub helped his managers learn how to fill the larger orders the business received as it expanded.

"WATH brought in technical assistance for us in design and production and in finance. With that assistance, we were able to complete 100 percent of [a large Target order] on time," Forson said.

The assistance center also helps producers exhibit at trade fairs and encourages them to contact it for information about businesses with which they may want to link.

The center also helped another Premium founder, Robert Ellis, learn how to serve as an export agent for other producers.

"For the first time in Ghana, producers can show their wares to international buyers at no cost during buyer visits. This is free international advertisement for them [producers], and their production is growing," Ellis said.

Individual producers and their families also benefited from the trade hub’s assistance.

"It used to be that artisans would work for a few days and then have to go search for more work. Now, with increased exports and regular orders, there is more job stability," Ellis said.

Job-creation has helped reduce local tensions, according to Forson.

"When people have no work to do they are more likely to cause problems in the community, and that has decreased," he said.

From two sites -- Accra, Ghana, and Dakar, Senegal -- the West African hub helps businesses in 21 countries take better advantage of the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA). It is one of three USAID trade hubs in Africa.

AGOA provides U.S. trade preferences to sub-Saharan countries that are making progress in economic, legal and human rights reforms.

"Going from local to global sales is a whole-scale change in product offering, target market[ing] and production and quality requirements," said Vanessa Adams, WATH business development director.

Nora Bannerman of the Ghana company Sleek Garments said the trade hub has help her solve a variety of problems experienced by small businesses wanting to export, in areas such as in marketing, negotiating prices and packaging products to meet international standards.

"I see that WATH assistance is a total package," providing trade show sponsorship and information about international standards, skills in price negotiation and buying quality production materials, Bannerman said.

"Handicrafts is a huge, international market. If we can grow and gain a larger part of the market, other Ghanaian companies will see how to do it too," Forson said.

The trade hub also provides training for people in business and government in customs documentation, and AGOA visa and product certification requirements.