Free and clear: The government is taking major steps to address congestion and efficiency at ports

Increasing efficiency at its ports is key for Ghana’s objective of becoming a regional trade hub. The country currently ranks 154th on the World Bank’s 2017 Doing Business index in the trading across borders category, compared to neighbouring Côte d’ Ivoire at 150th and Togo at 117th. It is estimated that the import clearance process in Ghana takes 165 hours. As the economy continues to grow and trade in West Africa increases, the government and private sector have been prioritising the expansion of port capacity.

Physical Investments At Tema

Between 2008 and 2012 container volumes at the Tema Port grew by 48%. Tema hosts five off-dock container handling terminals, one operated by the Ghana Ports and Harbours Authority (GPHA) and the other four managed by private companies, allowing cargo to be processed outside of the port area in order to decrease congestion. Despite these facilities, the port continues to operate over capacity. In February 2016 a new off-dock reefer terminal with capacity of 850 twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs) was commissioned to meet rising demand for refrigerated storage imports.

In 2015 the GPHA and local consortium Meridian Port Services (MPS) formed a $1.5bn public-private partnership to build a new port facility, increasing Tema’s capacity from 1m TEUs per year to 3.5m TEUs, making it the largest port in West Africa. The project is expected to employ up to 5000 people, and construction is due to be completed in 2020. “This massive investment highlights investors’ confidence in the country. It is a sign that Ghana is moving in the right direction and that the journey will not end there,” Mohamed Samara, CEO of MPS, told OBG.

Annually, Abidjan in Côte d’Ivoire takes in 1.5m TEUs and Lomé in Togo handles about 2m. “Expanding the yard space with this new facility will decrease congestion and allow ships to bring in more containers without being charged for taking up additional space,” Amy Bonsu, a trade officer for Maersk, told OBG.

Embracing Technology

Beyond physical infrastructure, logistics backups often occur from inefficient processing systems. According to the GPHA, Ghana has implemented a number of new technology systems to address this issue, including an automatic ship identification system, container scanning and electronic cargo tracking. These improvements are part of the Ghana National Single Window Policy (GNSWP) — potentially the most significant technological innovation — which aims at improving efficiency and reducing double charges. This policy was initiated in 2015 to streamline the trade process. It uses an electronic data system, Ghana Community Network (GCNET), to create one portal through which all regulatory agencies involved with imports and exports can interact to expedite the process.

Keeping Pace

The GNSWP should make Ghana a more competitive player in trade, keeping pace with forward looking countries that have embarked on similar trade facilitation reform drives. “The next phase will reduce the time and cost spent by importers and exporters in securing documentation, while simplifying and harmonising the transport and logistic processes. It also aims to improve the country’s ranking in the World Bank’s Trading Across Borders category by 50% in 2021,”Valentina Mintah, CEO of West Blue Consulting, the IT company assisting with the implementation of the programme, told OBG.

The project is expected to decrease international trading costs by 50% and increase efficiency by 25%, reducing clearance time at Tema from up to 10 days to one or two. According to Albert Akurugu, senior revenue officer at Ghana Customs, they can now process 500 Customs classification and valuation reports per day, as opposed to 200 similar reports in the past. While streamlining processes have reduced bureaucracy, challenges remain. In July 2016 GCN et told the state that delays in issuing permits for freight forwarders remained a major cause of congestion.