Gold is the colour of opportunity, and for exporters there is no better market than Ghana. If you are looking for a low-competition market with the growth potential of Asia, West Africa and its business beacon Ghana is the way forward.
Ask the average Australian to locate Ghana on a map of Africa and most people would need to guess. But this little-known country could be the key to our future prosperity and a chance to ride a second resources boom if we play our cards right, says Greg Hull, Austrade’s senior trade commissioner in Africa. “An existing strong mineral resources sector, a strong cocoa industry and significant petroleum resource discoveries, among other economic strengths, should significantly underpin Ghana’s economy into the future,” he says. “Political stability, improved governance and a welcoming investment climate all make Ghana a very prospective market. Ghana has a dynamic port, Tema, and wide import needs.”
Situated in western Africa facing the Gulf of Guinea, Ghana is the perfect gateway for exporters looking to expand north and east. New exporters will be relieved to know that Austrade has just opened an office based within the Australian High Commission in the capital, Accra, to provide on-the-ground support.
“This [positioning] should, over time, identify business opportunities and pass them to Australian companies,” notes Hull. “The Ghanaian Government has an attractive investment regime and very proactive Investment Promotion Centre (GIPC) that can help newcomers through the prerequisite requirements relevant to their industry. Australian companies also need to be aware of the many multilateral aid and loan programs that operate projects in Ghana.”
The business environment in Ghana is very supportive of foreigners and, says Ghanaian Dr Kwame Asumadu, “It’s one of the most stable countries in Africa to do business. Its law and business practices are based on Great Britain’s laws. To a large extent, the business culture in Ghana is similar to the business culture in Australia.”
Asumadu is the secretary of the Australia Africa Business Council’s Victorian chapter and managing director of business service Asumadu & Associates. In addition to the resources sector, he mentions several service opportunities in recruitment, financial services, tertiary and vocational education and hospitality.
One thing businesses new to Ghana should note is that it may take a while to develop connections there. “Relationships need to be nurtured and built up over time,” says Hull. “However, Australians are well respected and viewed favourably by Ghanaians: there is no colonial baggage.”
Beyond the mines, infrastructure is also an area for Australian businesses to examine. “The country is now looking to develop its infrastructure so that it can be competitive internationally and attract investment,” says Asumadu. “Opportunities exist in residential building and construction, infrastructure development, roads, railway systems, transportation. In the hospitality area there’s huge opportunity to develop hotels and support services. It’s an economy at the take-off point and it is ripe for the right investment.”
And it’s not just physical infrastructure. Business infrastructure—banking, insurance, recruitment and ICT—is also required. “All these are emerging sectors,” explains Asumadu. “In the past 16 years the country has become stable politically and business is now expanding.”
For existing exporters that are keen to do more in Ghana, setting up operations there has many advantages. “There’s a free trade area for foreign companies that provides a whole range of business incentives and support services, tax holidays and the easy availability of land,” says Asumadu. “Australia can also take advantage of export arrangements, for example Ghana can export a range of goods to the European market tariff-free, using Ghanaian counterparts.”
Influential exporters could be a big help to newcomers considering Ghanaians like to deal with familiar faces. Hull says the Australian government actively encourages networking. “The High Commissioner, Billy Williams, has an excellent range of contacts within the Australian business community and gets them together when time and opportunity permits. Although few in number, the Australian mining community across West Africa know each other and pass reference work wherever possible.”
Asumadu mentions that Ghana’s role in the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) could mean even bigger opportunities throughout the rest of West Africa. “Ghana is the centre of ECOWAS, an emerging common market, so that is a huge advantage,” he says. “Companies that want to do business in West Africa are locating their headquarters in Ghana.”
One of the barriers entering Ghana is Australia’s general lack of familiarity with Africa. “Australia still needs to deepen and widen our commercial relationship across Africa,” admits Hull. “Africa is a risky and geographically challenging continent in which to do business. Although stabilising, sovereign risk is never far away. We have few government resources on the ground to help, but can provide a useful commercial perspective, at least before entering such a market.”
Africa has a poor reputation among Australians, agrees Asumadu. “When you think of Africa you think of wars, you think of HIV/AIDS, you think of corruption. But Ghana, in my view, is no different from several of the Asian ‘tigers’ that Australians do business with except that Ghanaian business culture is more similar to the Australian business culture than the Asian countries.”
On a practical level, Ghana’s distance from Australia and a lack of direct flights make it a difficult prospect, especially as the market requires a fairly constant presence. This may mean exporters are forced to employ a local partner or to set up operations there to maintain contact with the market. Time zone is also a consideration in this regard.
“The ability to service the market not easy. For bulk items, transport costs can be a issue,” says Hull. “Best if other markets in Africa are considered at the same time, especially in West Africa, but a base in East Africa or in South Africa is also a good approach.”
As a developing country, Ghana also lacks some of the facilities that may be standard in other markets, Asumadu cautions. “Companies need to be realistic and understand that Ghana is a developing country. There are areas where development may not be to the standard that you’ll find in Australia. Nevertheless, it doesn’t prevent you from getting your business off the ground.”
While the Ghanaian government embraces foreign investments and business dealings, sometimes processing can be slow, he adds. “Systems are not as fully automated as they may be in Australia. It’s a question of critical mass. As demand increases, the government can find the justification to make the investment to automate.”