Ministry speaks on Gambian cement producers’ concern

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By Alagie Manneh

A week after Gambian cement factory owners expressed concern over the fate of their businesses in the wake of an influx of cement from Senegal, The Standard yesterday reached out to officials of the Ministry of Trade and other authorities over the matter.

Local cement producers Jah Oil, Salam and Gacem are concern that they could be forced to lay off staff as they struggle to remain competitive in the face of a potential Senegalese takeover of the market.

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However, the deputy permanent secretary at the Ministry of Trade, Assan Gaye, said as an Ecowas member state, it would be difficult for The Gambia to prevent Senegalese or citizens of other member countries from doing business in the country.

“The issue is not that there are no cements coming into the country or it has been illegally dumped in the country from Senegal. What we are saying is how can we address the issue of The Gambia’s signatory in the AfCFTA as well as all the many Ecowas protocols that we are signatories to?” DPS Gaye explained.

Mr Gaye revealed that investigations are underway to determine if some of the cements from Senegal should be sold in The Gambia. “[Because] when it comes to businesses in Senegal, they have Ecowas certificates and are able to bring goods that are certified in The Gambia. What we are trying to establish is whether some of these cements that the Senegalese are bringing into the country have the right documentation and quality to be sold in The Gambia. This is where we are right now as a government, working aggressively to make sure we bring sanity in the industry,” he said.

He said when the local cement producers first raised the issue, a meeting was called headed by trade minister Seedy Keita who led a delegation on a three-day visit to the provinces including  to all the border posts and enquired from customs officers in terms of what is coming into The Gambia.

DPS Gaye advised Gambian cement producers to assess their selling prices, and the quality of their products to be able to compete and meet the needs of the country’s development in terms of infrastructure.

Papa Secka, the director general of Gambia Standards Bureau, said it is only an accredited laboratory that can judge if the Senegalese cements in circulation in Gambian markets meet standards or not. “It is only at that stage that we can declare whether product A, B, or C is substandard or not,” Mr Secka said, responding to claims that Senegalese cement is of low quality.

The director of investment & industrial development at the trade ministry, Fabba Jammeh, said under the Trade Liberalisation Scheme (ETLS), a trade instrument designed by the Ecowas, one can sell his/her products in any of the Ecowas member states. “Today, most of the cements that are coming are coming under the ticket of the ETLS. The others that are not coming under the ticket of the ETLS are paying duties to the Gambia government and we are making revenue.”

Mr Jammeh advised the local producers to instead toughen up and stand up to the challenge. He said that the government has invested “billions” into supporting the local industries in the past four years alone. “We are giving them a lot of incentives, from special investment certificates to duty waivers to sometimes moratorium.”

He said the government has been providing all these measures to enable the local producers to stand up to the competition from outside.    

Mr Jammeh said there is an “element of truth” in the suggestion that because Senegalese sold at a cheaper price, Gambian businesses will struggle with their higher prices.