TradeMark Africa can emulate its East Africa feats as it moves west, says CEO David Beer

By Jonas Nyabor

Posted on Monday, 13 February 2023 10:56
TradeMark Africa CEO David Beer (courtesy of TradeMark Africa)

To align with its West Africa expansion, TradeMark East Africa rebranded last month to TradeMark Africa as its sub-regional office will be headquartered in Ghana’s Accra.

This marks an important step in trade facilitation within the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) region, with CEO David Beer expecting that bureaucratic delays at the various borders will soon be cut down by at least 70%.

For 12 years, TradeMark has been working in East Africa to reduce the time and cost of trading across borders, and improve the export competitiveness of African businesses.

Among its achievements, TradeMark Africa has made annual savings worth $110m, increased exports by $549m, and raised imports by $145m in East Africa between 2010 and 2017.

Moving west, the company believes the success will be replicated.

‘Huge potential’

Beer tells The Africa Report that it intends to capitalise on the huge momentum created by the African continental free trade area to introduce reforms across the national borders in West Africa.

“We feel we can apply many of the approaches and successes we’ve learnt from East Africa to West Africa,” he says. “There is a huge potential and real political momentum behind trade facilitation here right now which we can harness.”

Jumping on the back of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) secretariat, which first invited them to consider an expansion to the west, TradeMark Africa is taking a bird’s eye view of the 1,000-km Abidjan-Lagos route, through which nearly 80% of West Africa’s trade activities pass through.

It has, however, prioritised the Ghana-Togo border for its first intervention, followed by the Togo-Benin border whose programme is still being developed.

A fact-finding team including TradeMark Africa staff and some government officials that travelled by road through the West African borders last year found that there were more than 30 border posts with different crossing protocols.

Digitisation

Deploying technology to harmonise and digitise trade systems and slash travel time at the focus borders is the organisation’s immediate task.

“We think it is important to drive down the time that it takes to cross these borders and a big part of that is digitisation,” Beer says. “We will support countries to digitise their certifications, their standards systems and their customs management systems.

“In East Africa, we have seen huge gains in the time taken to get certification to export or to complete documentation from a number of days to a number of hours. This is a big value-for-money area that will make it cheaper for countries in West Africa to export.”

Moving goods between West African countries can take more than 50 hours to complete border formalities including inspecting needed documentation.

Reducing this to an hour and a half is within reach, says Beer, citing a study. “It is also about making sure processes are automated and the right infrastructure is in place so that when you put everything together you start to see the gains and that is what we do,” he says.

The AfCFTA secretariat will provide the leverage TradeMark Africa needs to drive negotiations and forge linkages between the countries.

Green solutions

In addition to scaling up its core strength, trade facilitation through digital technology, TradeMark Africa will work around developing green transport solutions to position Africa as a partner of choice for global off-takers.

“Consumers in Europe and the US are increasingly saying they want to drive down carbon emissions for the products they get,” Beer says.

“This is a big risk to West and East Africa that produces a lot of vegetables, fruits and flowers that are air-freighted but technology now exists to switch to a combination of road and sea freight or rail and sea freight.”

Initial funding for the project has been secured from the UK Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office.

“We think that the region can be a pioneer globally to drive low carbon exports and that will massively increase the earning potential from exports,” says Beer.

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