The Centre for Transport Security Dialogue (CETSED), a transport sector advocacy institute, has kicked against a Ghana Ports and Harbours Authority (GPHA) directive that mandates Amaris Terminal Limited as the sole authorised service provider for the scanning and pre-examination of export consignments passing through the GPHA Terminal at the Tema Port.
Although the directive has not been enforced, the institute is arguing that the directive, as it stands, is grossly unfair to other export terminal operators as it could reduce their export traffic and subsequently put them out of business.
CETSED’s Research Director, Simon Gyewu, told the B&FT in an interview that: “The GPHA-Amaris Terminal deal, as it stand, is an attempt to monopolise export trade. We want the GPHA to come clear on its partnership with Amaris Terminal and the modalities of their agreement.”
He added that: “The arrangement, if allowed to continue, will breed cost duplication which could divert export traffic through the country’s ports and undermine government’s quest to bolster exports to balance trade.”
The letter, dated August 11, 2016, and signed by the immediate-past Director-General of the GPHA, Richard Anamoo, in part said: “…All loaded export containers, other than exempted export containers (EECs) intended for shipment at Tema Port (MPS/or Terminal One) shall first be scanned or pre-examined, as may be directed by the Ghana Customs, at Amaris Terminals before delivery to any of the port terminals.”
By this arrangement, the exporter will first have to scan and weigh his/her consignment at Amaris Terminal before moving the cargo to final container destination, where applicable handling charges will still apply.
But the CETSED is questioning why the ports operator, GPHA, which is supposed to supervise the export trade activities, should partner an export consolidator at the expense of other firms engaged in similar business.
“How can a regulator of a specific business be a key partner to a company that is into the very business that it is regulating?” Mr. Gyewu queried.
CETSED argues further that the GPHA-Amaris Terminal deal does not provide the level playing ground for all export terminal operators within the port community.
It is therefore asking the GPHA to revoke the directive and rather set-up minimum standards for export terminal operators and create a level field for them to compete.
GPHA sets up committee to review deals
Acting Director-General of the GPHA, Paul Asare-Ansah, confirmed to the B&FT that there is a joint venture between his outfit and the exports consolidator, Amaris Terminal.
However, he said, the directive authorising all export consignments to be first scanned through Amaris Terminal has not yet been enforced and that it is subject to review.
He said in an interview: “Currently, a committee has been set up to review all contracts of the GPHA, not necessarily to cancel, but to weigh the options and make such contracts more beneficial to the national economy.”
The global sea trade regulator, International Maritime Organisation (IMO), issued the container gross mass verification directive as a precautionary measure to control overloading of vessels in the bid to avert the increasing incident of loss of cargo and human lives at sea, setting July 1, 2016, as the approved date for its implementation across the globe.
Per the regulation, exports consignments will have to be weighed and scanned to meet an approved mass before they could be loaded onto vessels for export.
Amaris Terminal plays down allegations
Meanwhile, the Managing Director of Amaris Terminal, Alex Attakorah, has played down allegations of Amaris monopolising export trade.
He told the B&FT in an interview that: “Amaris Terminal is a local investor that has invested in a first-class exports terminal. As a solely exports terminal, we identified the services that exporters need and sought to create a one-stop-shop platform that will offer convenience and reduce cost.
So obviously, monopoly is not at play here because as a company, we are not sitting back and asking the GPHA to direct exports traffic to our terminal.”
According to Mr. Attakorah, the directive that has triggered concerns from the CETSED has been suspended indefinitely by the Customs Division of the Ghana Revenue Authority after a stakeholder forum, and has not been enforced, having been scheduled to take off effective September 1, 2016.
He emphasised: “The chunk of exports cargo are moved through the MPS Terminal. Besides, the major exports of cocoa and goods from the Free Zone Companies are exempted from the directive and so where is the monopoly?
He further explained that the decision to enforce the directive will only come from the Commissioner of Customs, upon whose request the GPHA-Amaris Terminal partnership was brokered.
He added: “Ours is a business that has invested in the right facilities to be able to offer convenient services to clients who are into exports. I think our competitors should have prepared adequately prior to the take-off of the verified gross mass regime.”
The B&FT has gathered that the GPHA-Amaris Terminal deal was born out of a request from Customs to the Ghana Ports and Harbours Authority that they will need a dedicated terminal that will consolidate export cargoes.
Such as arrangement was to make it easier for Customs to carry out inspections and checks on exports cargo in a well-organised manner as well as address the issue of congestion and scattered exports containers at the port.
Isaac Dodoo, a freight forwarder for Nestle Ghana, disclosed to the B&FT that although exports stakeholders were initially “nervous” about the GPHA directive, they have come to accept the standards and services being provided by Amaris Terminal.
“At the end of the day, what we are interested in is the quality service delivery.I had a client whose auditors wanted to see where their consignments are stacked before exports, and they were happy to see the conditions in which their goods were stored prior to export at the Amaris Terminal,” Mr. Dodoo said.
President of the Ghana Institute of Freight Forwarders (GIFF), Kwabena Ofosu-Appiah, said as an open economy “there should not be any arrangement that creates the impression that certain treatments are reserved for a certain group of people”.
He acknowledged the fact that the directive has been suspended and that Amaris Terminal has nice facilities and provides timely services butalso opined that any other terminal, if it were selected, would have had to invest heavily to enhance their facility.
He told the B&FT: “For us, we thought there are several exports terminals in place and if situations are going to be changed or rearranged, then all of them should be factored into the decision in such a manner that will bring everyone into the competition.
We operate a free market economy and for that reason we should at no point be giving any signal to businesses that a certain specialty is being reserved to a select group of people; these are the things that must inform the way we want to run our business environment.”
According to Adam Imoro Ayarna, Vice President of the Ship-owners and Agents Association of Ghana (SOAAG), his outfit will go for anything that facilitates the timely and cost-effective movement of exports.
To his understanding, the GPHA directive was to avert the situation whereby the scanning of export containers will interrupt imports flow.
He indicated: “Amaris was therefore to serve as the one-stop-shop facility to facilitate the process but other terminals can invest in their facilities to meet the standard as it was not going to be restrictive.
We will go for anything that is well-structured and effective. We don’t have anything against export terminals; all we want is that the facilities should be provided and it should be cost-effective.”
Deputy Chief Executive Officer of the Ghana Shippers’ Authority, Sylvia Asana Owu, told the B&FT that the verified gross mass regulation allows the shipper to weigh their containers at various points and still have it loaded onto the vessel once it meets the specified requirement.
She said for the purpose of security and to check against the export of contraband goods, the Narcotics Control Board (NACOB) and National Security demanded the compulsory scanning of exports which led to the GPHA’s choice of Amaris Terminal—which has facilities for scanning and weighing—in the bid to streamline the process.
“Because it is a national security issue, such an arrangement was not a bad idea. But the mode of implementation has raised concerns of double-handling and transport costs as well as delays for persons who prefer to patronise the other off-dock terminals.
We are of the opinion that if the other off-dock terminals could invest in similar facilities including the scanners and the directive was made open to all players, then it would facilitate trade and allow export cargo to move from any terminal to the shipping line,” Ms. Asana Owu said.
Mrs. Asana Owu suggested the need for discussion between the off-dock terminals and the port authorities regarding their readiness to upgrade facilities to meet the approved security standards.
She indicated: “Ultimately we want to ensure the smooth flow of business at the port; we don’t want any situation that will add up to the cost of doing business within the port community.”
Need for effective collaboration
Mr. Alex Attakorah disclosed to the B&FT that there is huge potential for collaboration among various exports terminal operators to become efficient, boost income and meet the needs of customers better as well as drive up the economic gains of the sub-sector.
He told the B&FT: “Terminal operators are key players in the port industry and there is the need for us to collaborate effectively to harness the full potential of the business.
For instance, why should I invest in a reefer terminal when my competitor owns a reefer that is mostly idle?”