British High Commissioner to Ghana Jon Benjamin delivered a speech at the launch of the UK-Ghana Chamber of Commerce.
Hon Minister for Foreign Ministry, UK businesses represented tonight and all of you attending this important event, you are very welcome to the Residence and thank you for joining us.
It’s wonderful to be able to host tonight’s launch event for the UK Ghana Chamber of Commerce (UKGCC), a project that has been some time in the making.
When I arrived here over two years ago it struck me that there were many successful national chambers of commerce in Ghana but no UK Chamber so I was extremely encouraged that the UK’s Department for International Trade chose Ghana as one of 40 countries worldwide in which to set up a new Chamber of Commerce, specifically in this case to support and increase bilateral trade between Ghana and the UK.
This is part of a wider UK Overseas Business Networks Initiative – an ongoing partnership between the British Chambers of Commerce in the UK, the Department for International Trade and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. The aim is to transform the support available for British SMEs looking to do business in growing global markets which they may however be entirely unfamiliar with. It is also a crucial part of the UK Government’s ambitious drive to double the UK’s exports between 2010 and 2020 to £1 trillion and to increase the number of British companies exporting overseas by 100,000 in that same period of a decade.
Our Director of Trade at the High Commission, Sharon Ganney, along with Songhai Advisory here in Ghana started this project by conducting a feasibility study in 2014. That demonstrated a strong demand for a Chamber of Commerce from UK and Ghanaian business. So in short order we began the process of putting in place the mechanics to set up this Chamber, and just 18 months later here we happily are formally launching it.
The Chamber, known officially as the UK-Ghana Chamber of Commerce (UKGCC), will promote, foster, and represent UK business interests in Ghana – directly helping UK companies to identify market opportunities and providing them with a first point of call when looking to do business in and trade with Ghana. This will be another avenue for UK exporters to access high quality market support. It will represent the interests of UK investors looking to bring investments to Ghana and provide tailored support to existing UK investors.
The Chamber will also support Ghanaian companies who want to link to the UK in ways that can help their companies to grow. Over time, and as the Chamber develops, it will be able to provide services to help Ghanaian companies who want to export to, and invest in, the UK.
So the Chamber’s aims are ambitious. But there are challenges aplenty. The external environment is much less favourable than it was and remains uncertain; commodity prices continue to fluctuate; international markets remain volatile. Global trade growth is expected to remain sluggish this year as it has been since the global financial crisis, according to the World Trade Organization. A sharper than expected slowing of the Chinese economy, worsening financial market volatility, and exposure of countries with large foreign debts to sharp exchange rate movements all contribute to this. But we still believe that the long-term growth potential and likely trajectory of global trade is extremely promising. And we believe that trade can in the long-term do far more than aid in helping developing countries attain full economic development and reduce poverty.
The challenges to global trade growth can be seen in miniature in our own bilateral trade relationship. Bilateral trade in goods and services between the UK and Ghana fall from £1.3 billion in 2013 to £1 billion in 2014, according to the latest figures available. It doesn’t look as if the full 2015 figures due out soon will be much higher. But we still aim for that overall figure to recover and, indeed, reach a record high by 2020.
Of course, we must at the same time recognize that UK companies have a huge choice as to where they trade and invest worldwide. In doing so, they are naturally driven by hard business calculations, not sentiment. So, market conditions and sound economic management in Ghana will be a key consideration for those companies we are encouraging to become involved here.
In that respect, we note the continued progress the Government of Ghana has made in tackling various macroeconomic challenges in line with its programme with the IMF which we trust will remain fully on course. Such progress is essential to boost investor confidence and growth, along with action to tackle other potential barriers to business, such as the regulatory environment, including licensing rules, customs procedures and land registration issues. And of course the thorny issue of corruption which cannot just be ignored and where we look for progress along the lines of the public commitments the Government of Ghana made at the Anti-Corruption Summit in London on 12 May.
I can, however, assure you Minister that these are not just exhortations or mere words on our part. As a close friend of Ghana, we are happy to be making a major investment through our Department for International Development to promote some of Ghana’s most promising start-ups with the best potential for creating jobs for young Ghanaians, and to build up a more structured public-private dialogue, aimed at further improving the overall business environment. As an example of that support, our Business Enabling Environment Programme will be hosting a Better Regulation Forum here in Accra later this month, the aim of which is to draw on both local and global experience to ensure that the public-private dialogue in Ghana responds better to business needs. I hope that many of you will be able to participate in that Forum.
But as with all challenges, the wider economic issues I have outlined also represent an opportunity for diversification and growth. Our aim through the Chamber is, again, to develop the UK offer of goods, services and investments and the UKGCC can assist businesses to navigate the waters.
Now, with regard to our bilateral trade, it would be remiss of me to avoid the obvious elephant in the room, or in this garden at least. So, you may be wondering how the recent historic decision of the UK people to leave the European Union will impacts on the UK’s trade offer?
Well, let me confirm that Brexit, as it has become known, does means Brexit. The UK will leave the EU and we will make a success of that process. While our future relationship with the organisation that is the European Union is still to be determined, we are not somehow leaving the continent of Europe. We will want the strongest possible economic links with our European neighbours, as well as with our close friends in North America, the Commonwealth and other important partners around the world, including of course Ghana.
In economic terms, Britain is ready to confront what the future holds from a position of strength: we have the highest employment rate in our history, low and stable inflation, and rising real wages. The budget deficit has been cut by almost two thirds from its post-war peak in 2009-10 and banks are required to hold more capital reserves than before the financial crisis, hugely strengthening the resilience of the financial system. Capital requirements for the largest banks are now ten times higher than before the crisis. That means banks can continue to lend to UK businesses and households during challenging times.
More generally, the UK has the talent, law, institutions, infrastructure, and the most competitive environment in Europe to endure as a magnet for inward investment. If we secure the right deal for Brexit, the UK could become an even more attractive place in which to live and invest. Meanwhile, the UK’s value proposition remains intact. Indeed, recently we saw the acquisition of the UK chip designer ARM by Japanese SoftBank: that shows that not everyone is suddenly hitting the pause button on their investments and that many still see great opportunities in the UK. The UK is fundamentally resilient, including its financial services industry in London, which remains the world’s leading global financial centre. In May this year we took a Ghanaian trade delegation of 15 CEOs of leading financial institutions to City Week, one of the world’s major financial services events in London. They are making connections and developing business between the UK and Ghana.
Looking ahead though, we will continue to maintain strong trading relationships with countries around the world including Ghana. New trade deals aren’t of course agreed overnight. With some countries, we will be able to build on existing frameworks; with others will have to negotiate trade agreements from scratch. These negotiations will be wide ranging: including sector requirements from agriculture to financial services as well as regulatory issues such as customs, competition, and procurement. In the meantime, however, we remain a full member of the EU. So, with an interim Economic Partnership Agreement duly ratified by the Ghanaian Parliament, including after very strong support from the Honourable Minister over several years, Ghana will continue to enjoy duty and quota free access to the UK market, thereby, we hope, creating much needed employment opportunities in Ghanaian export companies.
As I close, I should say that we had hoped that Adam Afriyie, MP, the UK Prime Minister’s Trade Envoy to Ghana would join us for this launch event. He sends his sincere apologies for not being able to do so as he is under doctors orders not to travel whilst he recovers from a back surgery! I know that he very much wanted to support this initiative in person this evening and is sorry to miss it. But he did send the following message for me to convey to you.
Ghana and the UK have a long history of friendship and trade: our shared values make us natural partners in the global market place. I know the challenges that business owners face and I believe that UK and Ghanaian companies, working together, are well placed to face the challenges of trading in the 21st century – whether it’s Ghanaian agro-business exporting value-added products to the UK market or UK engineering firms helping to build the future power grid in Ghana. As the UK Prime Minister’s Trade Envoy to Ghana I am delighted to support the launch of the UK-Ghana Chamber of Commerce. This new organisation will provide a big boost to our existing bilateral trade links and ensure that UK-Ghana trade continues to be successful, innovative, and dynamic.
In thanking Adam for those words, there are a number of other people I would like to thank for their contribution to this launch:
To the Executive Council of the UKGCC, who bring a wealth of business expertise: Chairperson Anthony Pile, Vice Chairperson Steven Gray, Executive Council Members, Damien Malins, Koreih Duodu and Abena Osei Poku. Thank you for your dedication, support and commitment to help this exciting venture succeed.
To the founding member companies of the UKGCC : Hogan Lovells; G4S; Barclays Bank; Vivo Energy and Vodafone. Without your support the UKGCC would not be possible.
To Kissy Agyeman-Tobogo and Nana Ampofo from Songhai Advisory and, to our own Sharon Ganny whose perseverance and patience over the last 18 month to get this off the ground has been unfaltering.
And to Lydia Alomatu at the High Commission for setting up this wonderful event tonight and to all of you for attending and supporting this excellent initiative.
My final message to you is simple: the UK is open for business like never before and the UK Ghana Chamber of Commerce is now live and working hard to put its new mission statement into action, namely to “create networks and connect businesses”.
Tony Burkson, the CEO of the Chamber will tell you more about the role of the Chamber and the services it will offer shortly, but before that I would like to welcome again the Honourable Minister of Foreign Affairs, Hanna Tetteh, to say a few words.