The inter-agency Taskforce on foreign retail trade set up by Government to enforce compliance of trade regulations on foreigners engaged in retail business in the country will commence its operations today.
Consequently, all foreign retail shops closed by Ghana Union of Traders Association (GUTA) for flouting Section 27 of the Ghana Investment Promotion Centre (GIPC) Act, Act 865 – which reserves retail trading solely to the prerogative of Ghanaians – will be opened for assessment and inspection by the special Taskforce.
The exercise is expected to end 3rd September, 2020 and it will cover three regions, namely, Greater Accra, Ashanti and Eastern. This follows recent clashes in the retail sector where Ghanaian retailers have strongly protested against foreigners in retail trade against the GIPC Law that reserves the space for local retailers.
However, this law conflicts with the ECOWAS protocol on trade which stipulates the removal of trade barriers and harmonization of trade policies for the establishment of a Free Trade Area, a Customs Union, a Common Market and an eventual culmination into a Monetary and Economic Union in the region.
Per the ECOWAS protocol on rule of origin on trade, GUTA insists that foreign traders from the ECOWAS sub region are only permitted to trade in goods that are manufactured in their respective countries and as such, any attempt to trade in goods that are not permitted under this regulation will demand that such traders satisfy the GIPC conditions on retail trade in the country.
Already, the President Nana Akufo-Addo has assured GUTA that there is no ambiguity in the laws establishing retail trading business, insisting that in as much as the regime favours the local business community, it will be inappropriate to not enforce it accordingly.
An earlier assessment carried out by the Committee on Foreigners in Retail Trade has established that about 95 percent foreigners engaged in retail business in Ghana do not have the required business operating permits and all the necessary documents to operate.
This implies that the overwhelming majority of all foreign retail traders, most of whom are Nigerians, are operating illegally. Government has indicated that all foreign retail traders who do not meet the requirements will have their shops locked up but giving the room to acquire the legal documents before resuming operations. However it is still unclear whether the requisite legal requirement includes compliance with the minimum capital stipulated for foreign enterprises as stipulated by Ghana’s investment code or simply enterprise registration and business operating permits as required of all businesses, Ghanaian owned enterprises inclusive.
However trade analysts warn that the current initiative may cause unintended supply chain disruptions since wholesaling of many of the goods in which Ghanaians and Nigerians are competing at the retail level is predominantly in the hands of the latter. If they decide to cut back their wholesale activities in protest to the regulatory interventions in the retail sector, product shortages may arise.
Furthermore there are worries that Ghanaian traders may take advantage of the closure of Nigerian shops to raise their prices as happened last year when a similar – albeit short-lived – exercise was carried out.
Nevertheless, speaking exclusively with the Goldstreet Business, President of GUTA, Dr. Joseph Obeng indicated that the Ministry has already engaged with them and they have been given firm assurances that this time, the roadmap and timelines for the exercise will be followed accordingly.
“Primarily, it is not our duty to enforce laws by closing shops, but because of frustrations of so many years of protestation which is not yielding anything”, he noted.
However, the Nigerian traders in Ghana are not happy over the repeated attacks. Some Nigerians, who recently spoke to the media, lamented the inaction from the government and police after the repeated attacks on Nigerian traders in Ghana.
These frustrations have persuaded the leadership of the Nigerian Traders Association of Ghana to urge their members to resist the attacks from the Ghanaian traders.
They described the attacks as illegal and unwarranted giving that, the numerous allegations from the Ghanaian counterparts regarding the sale of fake goods by the Nigerian traders are consistently false and borne out of jealousy.
“We cannot live in this illegality anymore,” they maintained, adding that if the Ghanaian traders want them out, they should buy all their goods and they would pack and leave the country.
The President of the Nigerian Union of Traders Association Ghana (NUTAG), Chukwuemeka Nnaji says the Ghana government must protect their members at Abossey Okai, Circle and other areas in Ghana, from threats and intimidation from the Ghana Union Traders Association (GUTA).
According to him, GUTA in their recent threat is asking all Nigerian traders to close their shops on Wednesday, July 28, 2020 and subsequently submit their business documents to the association for perusal.
He said the Nigerian traders do not have challenges if government agencies are involved and tasked to review their documents.
He also added that while they are allowed to trade under ECOWAS protocols in Ghana, they may have no option but to leave the country.
GUTA and Nigerian traders in the country have in the past few months been on bad terms following series of actions taken by GUTA to stop the Nigerians from trading within the retail space.
NUTAG however indicated that the ECOWAS protocol of Free Movement of Persons, Goods and Services should not be breached, but rather implemented in the spirit of brotherhood and diplomatic reciprocity.
Meanwhile, during a recent meeting between GUTA and the Trade Ministry, the former has indicated that the timelines and roadmap put in place gives them assurance of a successful exercise.