The US Embassy in The Gambia on Tuesday held a business forum at the Coconut Residence Hotel in Kerr Serign to discuss ways to promote trade between The Gambia and the US, increase financing opportunities, entrepreneurial empowerment, and provide a platform for dialogue and networking.
Speaking on the occasion, the Minister for Trade, Industry and Employment, Yusupha Kah, said the meeting was not the first time the US Embassy had taken such a laudable initiative.
“The Government of The Gambia, through my ministry, is immensely grateful to the Government and people of the United States of America," Hon Kah said. "The US Embassy and His Excellency the Ambassador have consistently tried to complement the efforts of the Gambia government in enhancing the capacity of the private sector particularly the SMEs and sharing valuable information with them in a bid to raise awareness on the market access opportunities in the US.”
The trade and investment forum, the trade minister said, would bridge an important information gap and instill more confidence in both countries' private sector operators to venture into the US market.
"I am aware that our private sector operators who are regularly exporting to the US are here with us today at this forum to share their experience. This will go a long way in demonstrating that accessing the US market is not an ever elusive dream but can be a reality,” he noted.
Mr Kah said further: “My understanding is that this forum is not just another information session, but it is also meant to be an opportunity for interaction and networking. The US market is huge, with an endless list of goods and services that could be exported. However, it is disheartening to note that US trade with sub-Saharan Africa is still very minimal and overly dominated by petroleum products.
"In The Gambia, our national statistics confirm this trend. Our total trade with the US is around a paltry 2%. The Gambia’s total trade with the US amounted to D785.4 million in 2008 accounting for 10.5% of The Gambia’s total trade. Our mid-year trade statistics review in 2009 shows total trade with the US at D96.4 million representing 2.0% of The Gambia’s total trade from January to June 2009. The main exports to the US are crude groundnut oil, fish and fishery products and worn clothing.”
Hon. Kah said that to encourage more substantive trade between the US and sub-Saharan Africa, the US Government in 2000 promulgated the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA). "This Act, which was originally to expire in 2008, and later extended to 2015, makes it possible for eligible sub-Saharan African countries to export over 6000 products duty free into the US market,” he said.
The Gambia became an AGOA-eligible country in 2003 and qualified for the textile visa in 2008. The Ministry of Trade and other partners including the US Embassy have been working tirelessly to help potential Gambian entrepreneurs and producers to export to the US under the AGOA initiative.
"However," said Mr Kah, “experience has shown that the Gambian private sector, unlike their counterparts in other countries, has not made good use of this golden opportunity that is provided by the AGOA. It is our expectation that this trend will change after this forum. We encourage private operators in The Gambia to work in partnerships/groups to enhance their capacity for their exports.”
For his part, US Ambassador Barry Wells said the purpose of the forum was to promote trade between the US and The Gambia, and continue the dialogue on how important investment is to the economic development of The Gambia.
“Many of you already own businesses, but are not currently trading with the US," Ambassador Wells noted. "We have invited you here today to inform you that breaking into the US market is not as difficult as it may seem. The US Embassy along with FCS, WATH, and EEB at the Department of State are here today to demystify the importing process and offer resources and material to help simplify this process."
He continued: "The US is more than 6,000 miles away, and beginning a trade relationship with the US takes work; however, there are a multitude of resources available to you that can guide you away from thinking that the US market is unreachable. That is a myth we are determined to dispel today.”
Ambassador Wells added: “The forum is not just about increasing trade to benefit US interests. That is why we have both the FCS here (which promotes imports from the US) here and the WATH (which promotes exports to the US). This forum is for the greater benefit of The Gambia, the growth of the economic market, and overall improvement of social development. There is no question that it is investment that makes an economy thrives. It is an opportunity for you to learn how to enter the US market and ultimately impact the economic growth of your country.”
Ambassador Wells also added that AGOA is an opportunity to strengthen commercial ties between the two countries. Currently, The Gambia’s imports and exports to the US are small and even non-existent in areas that may offer potential.
“During this forum you will hear about opportunities under the African Growth and Opportunity Act AGOA, which has been one of the cornerstones of the US strategy to jump start Africa’s economic development and encourage pro-growth policies," he told the august gathering.
'Through AGOA some 40 African nations have benefited from preferential access to American markets. Under AGOA there are over 6,400 products available for tax free trading."
The Gambia became an eligible AGOA country in 2003; however few people know about its benefits or have taken advantage of them. The US Ambassador said the purpose of the forum, therefore, was to make AGOA more transparent to the public and provide resources that may foster further trade under the trade opportunity.
BY: HADDIJA JAWARA