Business leaders back call to strengthen bond with Africa
Two local business leaders with interests in Africa have expressed support for Prime Minister Andrew Holness’ call for CARICOM countries to strengthen their bond with the continent.
Holness made the call while addressing Tuesday’s inaugural CARICOM-Africa Summit, which was held virtually.
“For Jamaica, there is potential in the agro-industry and logistics sector, and Jamaican companies have already invested in Africa. Opportunities also exist for scientific research and collaboration, investment in healthcare, technological innovation and digitisation, as well as in the creative economy,” Holness said.
“In relation to development financing, debt sustainability, and climate change, our cooperation within the OACPS (Organisation of African, Caribbean and Pacific States), Commonwealth, UN (United Nations), and WTO (World Trade Organisation) remains a strong foundation for deepening integration between us,” he added, noting that the Africa Continental Free Trade Area creates an enabling environment for the flow of investment and tourism.
GraceKennedy Group (GK) CEO Don Wehby, whose food and financial services conglomerate has invested heavily, with products being distributed in Ghana since 2014 through its subsidiary GraceKennedy Ghana Limited, backs the call.
“Our products are doing relatively well there. I believe that the prime minister is right. Based on our research, there are a lot of opportunities for CARICOM countries to invest in Africa,” Wehby said.
In Ghana, GK’s focus has been on the distribution of Grace-branded beverages - Tropical Rhythms, Mighty Malt and Ginger Beer, corned beef and Grace’s range of spices.
“It called on a lot of resources from GraceKennedy to invest in Africa, but we see it as a huge potential market,” he added.
JOINT VENTURE APPROACH
Wehby advised that Caribbean business owners approach the African market through a joint venture with African companies for the marketing of products.
“We have a third-party distributor over there, and we decided that we’re going to invest in our own business by setting up our own company there, and we have reviewed that strategy. We are now with a third-party distributor, so we are with another company in Africa to help us distribute our products,” Wehby said.
“We have seen good growth – up and down – but again, it’s not something that is short term. ... You have to be consistent and really invest behind your brand in that market,” he added.
Sanmerna Paper Products Limited Managing Director Robert White is of the same mind.
The company – which manufactures toilet paper, napkins, industrial hand towels, household hand towels, industrial toilet tissue, medical bed rolls, and other items – has identified a partner in Africa and is awaiting the green light to officially venture into the market.
“We are not just going to get up and go into Africa and do it on our own. It would be a partnership ... . They are watching the pandemic also,” White said.
“In the past year, earlier before the pandemic, Sanmerna Paper Products was looking to do an expansion in Africa. However, with the pandemic, it slowed us down, so we did not get to move on with our plans as we had planned to,” he added. “With the prime minister coming now and strengthening that call, it is good for us as CARICOM to export to Africa to do business in Africa because Africa has millions of people.”
White believes the African market can help to keep some local businesses going.