Harvesting from where we planted

Since the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) was signed to help countries export textiles and such to the United States without the rigours associated with exports to that market, Ghana has struggled to play a leading role in that venture. Whereas countries like Mauritius among others took full advantage and exported generously to the USA, our participation has been in fits and starts.

The only reason that made it impossible for Ghana to take advantage of that excellent opportunity is our penchant for playing smart without being clever as we tried to side step the conditions under which one could export under AGOA.

One can remember the number of firms that set up training institutions to train the tailors and seamstresses how and what to do to satisfy the US market; unfortunately, all came to naught leaving our local entrepreneurs unable to exploit that lucrative business.

Despite our state of unpreparedness, we have been lucky in that the few who followed the specifications and standards to export made some gains. With AGOA’s lifeline extended to 2025 it is about time that we redoubled our efforts to penetrate that market. Figures show that our apparel exports increased from approximately US$ 500,000 in 2010 to US$ 8.5 million in 2017. This figure is expected to double again over the next two years.

But looking at the amount made through AGOA, we believe we could have achieved much more than that if we have stuck to standards as spelt out by the Americans. The officials at the Trade and Industry Ministry seems to have realized where we fell short and are prepared to help retrace our steps. This was the point the sector minister Alan Kyerematen was harping upon when he disclosed that government will focus on setting up standards in the textile and garment industry.

“The inability of Ghana to benefit significantly from AGOA can be explained by looking briefly at one main challenge of not being able to meet applicable standards in the US market. This is a challenge that can be overcome,” said the minister and they must be overcome if Ghana is to make any headway in her strategy to make the exportation of non-traditional products the focus of her activities.

At the beginning of AGOA, government was always telling the potential exporters on what to do and not do. Now that we have identified our shortcomings it is time government comes back with renewed vigour and vim to properly educate the exporters.

Sticking to applicable standards should not be just for the textiles and AGOA-related businesses alone – standards must be made to apply in everything we do especially when it comes to manufacturing and exports. Many of us have stories to tell about the bad treatment we have been subjected to from our hairdressers, seamstresses, tailors and almost all personal service providers. We have never held our providers to higher standards and that’s what is translating into our inability to take advantage of situations to benefit ourselves and country.

In tracing our footsteps to the basics, we need to rigidly keep to applicable standards as far as the textiles and garment industry is concerned. We must pay attention to the variety of fibres, materials and finishing used in the production of these articles. This must go along with the description of care processes and ultimately size standards that would ensure safety and quality for products that come out of our factories. The standards must apply to the slits and kaba, kente, smock, among many others that are of Ghanaian origin. That’s the only way we can reap from where we have sown.