By Oumie Mendy
Bthe usiness stakeholders said they are alarmed that Banjul port is losing its competitiveness to neighboring countries due to its perennial structural problems and mounting freight and customs charges.
Speaking at a town hall panel discussion organised by the GCCI on the ‘cost of doing business’ in the private Sector, designed to provide a platform for effective dialogue between the business community and the government, several panelists mainly from clearing and forwarding agencies, argued that the GPA is losing its relevance to other ports and warned that if the trend continues, it would hamper the business environment and the issue of price hikes will remain unresolved.
Sulayman Joof, a clearing and forwarding agent, explained that freight have different components and it is calculated by distance and also the size of the cargo, and the number of days it spends at the ports before discharge.
According to Joof, while vessels stay for about 24 hours at the Dakar ports, vessels spend two to three weeks at the Banjul ports before they could be offloaded “which is why our freight is much higher than Dakar and couple with the demand in the cost of revenue, many importers have deviated the [Banjul] Ports.
“They deviated to other ports especially Senegal whose port is freer and efficient.” Joof said cashew trade which Gambia used to boast of with both Bissau and Casamance previously using Banjul port for export has also been taken over by Senegal.
“We have also lost our competitiveness in terms of transit. Globally, trade has gone up. Our transit and our imports all come in the same vessel and the transit constitutes about 60% but if our charges are higher than that of Dakar, importers and exporters will rather send their containers to Dakar. We have a freight levy that is introduced by the government which was supposed to be paid by the shipping lines from the freight that they collected. It shouldn’t have charged anything local,” he argued.
AMC Trading’s CEO, Alhaji Cherno Jallow disclosed that before 2019, 20 ft. containers of commodities from Asia were paying $1200 but this is now $1800.
“All these problems are a result of the government’s increment of GRA’s budget from D12 billion to D23 billion. Let’s say if a container was paying D70,000 and now it’s paying D200,000. If these customs duties increased, prices of commodities will also increase. GRA has to look for other means of generating revenue than concentrate more on importation, otherwise this issue of the high prices will continue and the port will continue to lose its competitiveness. That trucks in the past would pack all over the ports premises ready for export but that is no more the case because it has now shifted to other countries,” CEO Jallow lamented.
The president of the Association of Clearing and Forwarding agents, Ebrima Wally, said the introduction of business charges against the previous procedures which allows foreign shipping agencies to act as intermediaries between the ports, ships and cargo owners is affecting businesses and consumer prices.
“We will have a concession on how to tackle this problem in order to stop the exploitation of the business community by shipping lines operating in the Gambia at the expense of the masses. The port was only charging D750 to handle a container but today a 20 ft. container costs D70,000 and a non-returnable fee of D22,000 or D11,000 which is worth questioning”, Wally submitted.