Ghana asked to exploit intellectual property rights for wealth creation

Mr Paul Boateng,  a diplomat and a law maker, has stressed the need for Ghana to exploit intellectual property rights over rich natural products unique to the country in its quest to maximise the gains from international trade.

“We ought to be in the business of identifying these products and the scale of the opportunities and strategies to maximise the potential gains from them and getting value out of this”, Mr Boateng stated.

“If we do this we can materially add to the wealth of not only Ghana but Africa too,” the Rt. Hon Boateng told the GRAPHIC BUSINESS in an exclusive interview shortly after a plenary session of the just-ended 7th Africa Investment Forum in Accra.

He said identifying such unique products, branding them and devising marketing strategies should be augmented with internal enforcement of copyright laws .

“I want to see this strategy adopted alongside a robust copyright law enforcement to protect intellectual property that is within Ghana and Africa in general. We can see this in the design of traditional cloths and the counterfeiting that is going on,” the diplomat who is very familiar with Africa stressed.

Presently, the country is struggling to protect its industries, particularly the textile industry, because the designs and cloths used are imitated outside and brought in cheaply to compete with what is produced here in the country.

Today, out of more than 20 textile industries in Ghana since independence, only five are managing to keep their heads above water.
The US Department of Commerce has also estimated that counterfeit goods — including music, movies, electronic goods, food stuffs,  automotive  parts  and  pharmaceuticals,   among  many  other  things — account for seven per cent of all global trade.

This equated to almost US$350 billion in lost revenues and millions of jobs gone wanting worldwide.

Information and communications technlogy (ICT) alone creates about 10 million direct jobs and contributes approximately US$1 trillion to the global economy.

With a worldwide piracy rate of around 37 per cent, which stands above 80 per cent on the average for Africa,  means the continent is losing approximately US$1 billion each year because of software pirates.

There are no ready figures for what Ghana could be losing out on intellectual property in general.

However, broadening the discussion, Rt Hon Boateng said African countries had authentic products, articles and raw materials unique to them that, should pave the way for them to add value and market them in the international market place.

For example, the quality of the Ghanaian chocolate was veritable and compared with any kind from across the world, the Togolese black soap had proven to have magnificent properties for the skin and quality that beat its competitors, and the Ethiopian coffee could also stand the test from any part of the world, Rt. Hon Boateng said.

Other distinctive African products include the world best cocoa bean from Ghana and coffee from Ethiopia, the Sudanese Baracat cotton and the Namibian Marula oil.

He said Africa had many such products and areas of activity and with ingenious sales models, the process could benefit the farmers that produce them.

Rt. Hon Boateng said there was huge potential to increase export income from applying intellectual property tools to the development and marketing of products from Sub-Saharan Africa.

His worry is that such unique products and intellectual property had been left at the mercy of foreign merchants who take advantage to enrich themselves, a situation he wants reversed for Africa to play a befitting role in international trade, adding value to raw materials, brands developed and protected with the enforcement of intellectual property rights.

The former member of the British Parliament, Treasury Secretary and UK’s High Commissioner to South Africa, said the recent global economic crisis presented enormous challenges amidst opportunities to African countries, which did not cause the problem but bore the brunt of it.

“The challenge is to manage the risk and maximise the opportunities else the consequences can be very devastating,” the Rt. Hon Boateng stressed.

Therefore, he wants African countries to turn to its regional market, which had not been explored in the last 50 years. The continent trades more with its traditional partners, USA, France, Italy, Germany, UK, The Netherlands and Japan, accounts for over 70 per cent.
Intra-regional trade is less than 10 per cent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

This compares with intra-regional  trade in Asia which accounted for more than 50 per cent of total trade in East Asia.

The good news for a workable intra-regional trade is the growing population of the region, and its increasing middle class. Africa’s population hit the one billion mark last year, with over 60 per cent of the population below age 30.

However, since 2005 there has been a sharp shift to emerging economies, namely Brazil, Russia, India and China, which are now Africa’s largest trading partners, although enormous potential exist domestically.

The Right Hon Boateng, consequently wants African countries to revisit the issue of regionalism and push it to succeed, stating that the European Union did not have it easy and so regional bodies in Africa, such as Southern Africa Development Corporation (SADC) and ECOWAS should first look at co-operation agreements.

“They can start with one-stop border posts to reduce travelling time, they can harmonise customs unions, ensure easy customs control at the borders among others,” he stressed.

This is where development partners, the World Bank and other international finance institutions, should step in and help African countries to close their infrastructure gap, which currently needs US$33.1 billion for maintenance and US$60.3 billion additional capital investments annually for the next 10 years.

Ghana used to have an unimpeded trading route to Mali. The situation is not the same presently. Ghana’s rail system has also collapsed and makes the transportation of bulky goods to the port very cumbersome because the roads linking the countryside are not in the best of shapes to enhance easy movement.

Rt. Hon Boateng said integration also required frank and open dialogue between governments and the private sector as well as civil society to ensure transparency and trust in the process.

The Managing Director of the World Bank, Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, supports regional integration in Africa because of a growing labour force that could develop a huge consumer market.

“This is a huge opportunity which businesses should look at exploiting and governments should help spur growth and provide jobs,” Dr Okonjo-Iweala said.

She said while intra-regional trade has been increasing steadily in the last eight years, “these numbers could triple with the right policies and incentives.”

The World Bank Managing Director said for the region to successfully embark on regional integration, there should be political commitment from leaders in the region and sub-regions to actively pursue and strengthen regional trade agreements.

“Africa policy makers should consider regional integration as an integral part of their broader strategic development policies with a view towards greater trade facilitation,” Dr Okonjo-Iweala stated.

Between 1999 and 2006, intra-African trade increased by 14 per cent, while its trade with the USA increased by 26 per cent and 61 per cent with China.

Source: Graphic Business

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