SMEs urged to be attractive and benefit from AfCFTA’s enormous opportunities…

The Managing Director of FBNBank, Mr. Victor Yaw Asante, has stated that SMEs need to master the Integrated Customs Management System (ICUMS) of the Ghana Revenue Authority (GRA) and also to place themselves in a good position to attract credit from banks in order to benefit from the African Continental Free Trade Area’s (AfCFTA) enormous opportunities.

Mr. Asante was speaking at the FBNBank@25 Business Forum that was hosted by the bank for SMEs, particularly importers and exporters. The virtual Business Forum was under the theme Understanding the implementation of AfCFTA for Import and Export in Ghana’ and attracted over 200 business participants, with resource persons from the Customs Division of the Ghana Revenue Authority (GRA-CD) and Ghana Link Network Services (GLNS) in attendance.

Addressing the participants, Mr. Asante said: “It (the Business Forum) is about understanding what you need to do for your own business; how you master ICUMs and how you partner with banks like us to raise credit in order to benefit from AfCFTA. It is crucial, ladies and gentlemen. We have a US$3.4trillion economy to play in; we have 54 countries to access; we have a continent that has decided to pursue free trade, and we must take advantage of it”. He mentioned that: “With the introduction of AfCFTA, the stakes have been raised higher. SMEs in Ghana, most importantly, need to secure their registration on ICUMS in order to ensure efficient import and export of goods”.

Speaking at the Business Forum on the AfCFTA Export/Import Procedure in relation to ICUMS, Mr. Smile Agbemenu, Principal Revenue Officer of the GRA-CD took participants through the key areas of the implementation of AfCFTA including the AfCFTA Agreement Structure, the AfCFTA Key Milestone, Trade in Goods (TiG), AfCFTA TiG Protocol Annexes, AfCFTA Origin Criteria, Export Registration Process, Export and Certificate of Origin (CoD) and Import of Goods under AfCFTA.

He highlighted the importance of the TiG section, mentioning that “Customs Administrations have the responsibility to implement six out of the nine annexes under the TiG Protocols, specifically Annexes 1, 2, 3, 4, 7 and 8.  Critical among these is Annex 2, which deals with Rules of Origin”.

He explained that goods can only be imported or exported when they qualify under the five types of origin criteria.

Mr. Agbemenu also shared the procedure for registration on ICUMS under AfCFTA, and the role of designated regulatory bodies like the Food & Drugs Authority and Ghana Standards Authority. The roles of the Ghana National Chamber for Commerce and Industry (GNCCI), Ministry of Trade and Industry (MOTI) and the GRA-CD in the Exporter Registration Process were also discussed in Mr. Agbemenu’s presentation. According to him, “Exporter registration is available online on ICUMS, where it is vetted and approved by GNCCI, GRA-CD and the MOTI. Registration is for a year, so it expires at the end of each calendar year.”

Participants were given good insights into the registration process for ICUMS by Mr. Akwasi Seinti, Application Support Officer of GLNS. Breaking down the process, he indicated that “ICUMS has been provisioned to simplify the registration process. You engage the services of a declarant or a Customs House Agent. They can register you on the system. It is a very simple form that requires basic information like the location of the company, the authorised representative and the items or products you intend to trade in under AfCFTA. Once the form has been completed online, you only wait for approval – which may be given by the three agencies involved – GNCCI, MOTI and GRA-CD – after they have vetted your application”.

Mr. Seinti added: “After the exporter has been registered and the products involved also registered, then the next step – at the time of exporting, is to apply for the certificate of origin. This will be done by engaging the services of an agent who will apply for the certificate on your behalf. The system is designed such that one can apply for each of the individual items intended for export. This ensures that the three agencies can proceed with vetting the application without any delays even as applications for the other intended products are being prepared for registration.

“Once this application is successful, a certificate of origin will be issued; and it can be verified on ICUMS by the relevant government agencies. Based on this verification, the approved items can be exported.” Mr. Seinti urged exporters to start registering now in order to cut out any possible delays, and assured them that the system has in-built capabilities to deliver efficiency and eliminate red-tape.

The Group Head of Business Development at FBNBank Ghana, Mr. Azubike Obi, also addressed the participants and shared information on FBNBank Ghana’s products and services which support the business activities of importers and exporters. The range of FBNBank’s offerings he discussed covered Asset Products, Cash & Treasury Products, Regulatory Solutions and Advisory Services. He assured participants of the bank’s support for SMEs, particularly importers and exporters.

The FBNBank@25 Business Forum on AfCFTA is one of the activities rolled out by FBNBank Ghana in commemoration of its 25th anniversary celebrations this year. Since 1996, the Bank, in line with the agenda of its parent company, First Bank of Nigeria Limited, has supported SMEs in several sectors including manufacturing, export and import. The bank’s focus on SMEs was reaffirmed earlier this by the its Managing Director, Mr. Victor Yaw Asante, when he announced the celebration of its 25th anniversary.