Saturday, September 19, 2020 1:40 pm
Dr Edward Hinga Sandy is the Minister of Trade and Industry. He is passionate of sustaining essential commodities and their prices in the midst of covid-19. He spoke to ABUBAKAR HASHIM on how his ministry sustains availability of goods and services, with relative price stability in the economy
The Ministry of Trade and Industry is a key component in the procurement, production and distribution of essential commodities in any country. During the covid-19 period, Sierra Leone Ministry of Trade and Industry is in the front burner in activating Government policies and programs, to ensure smooth availability of goods and services.
COVID-19 is a national and global pandemic and in its response, the Ministry of Trade and Industry worked in close collaboration and within the national emergency measures instituted.
Cognisant of the fact that commerce at domestic, regional and global will be affected, certain trade measures were enacted in consonance with the Government’s Quick Action Economic Response Program (QAERP) wherein, Ministry of Trade and Industry championed two of the six pillars namely;
Sierra Leone is highly dependent on importation of essential commodities such as rice our staple food, sugar, flour, petroleum and other essential products. The current travel restrictions and related factors had affected prices both at farm gate level and market place. The Ministry of Trade and Industry ensured enhanced trade surveillance and monitoring of market prices to ensure availability of commodity and monitor stocks. In collaboration with The National Revenue Authority, the Ministry worked with border operators to fast track clearing time of goods at both sea ports and border posts, tax flexibility, deferred payments and bonded warehouse facility
With support of the Bank of Sierra Leone through commercial banks, a Facility of 500 Billion Leones was launched to make available short term lending and foreign exchange ready for importers to be able to procure needed stock supplies
Small and Medium Term Enterprises SMEs are most at risk, to suffer from the impact of COVID-19, as huge operating costs in the current climate makes it difficult for them to survive. The Ministry of Trade and Industry worked with the Ministry of Finance to provide financial support to small business owners such as tax holiday’s and interest rates reduction as well as launched a 22Billion Leones facility with a single interest digit. An assessment study was conducted and diagnostics study done to assess impact on SMEs.
Special focus has been given to SMES in the Agribusiness sector with technical support through a virtual platform to provide training and mentorship as well as financial support above 300 million Leones through a World Bank Project to accelerate growth in the agribusiness sector across the country
CROSS BORDER TRADE
The Ministry worked closely with the National Revenue Authority to remove impediments to trade at border posts and fostered trade facilitation through the e-pass system for the ease of movement on essential goods throughout the country and the sub region. Robust monitoring and surveillance for the Swift flow of goods to ensure price stability and discourage smuggling of essential goods. As part of its regional trade obligations, protective measures or quota systems were discouraged but rather real time trade information on availability of goods shared. Ministry of Trade and Industry also worked with Ministry of Transport and Aviation on cargo flights availability and reduction on landing charges, Toll Gates Charges and fast track ground handling time and cost of sea vessels and aircrafts.
The Ministry employed new policies to promote domestic investments in local production especially for supportive industries in light manufacturing to mitigate the challenges of global value chain shock.
A market Access Strategy was developed promoting social distancing and proper hygiene in the markets. All periodic markets suspended indefinitely and market operations aligned with curfew hours. A review of the National Trade Strategy was completed, engagement with the private sector through a systematic public private sector dialogue instituted. To date industries in oil production, petroleum and other light manufacturing industries were commissioned. Collaboration with other MDAs were coordinated for Land to be provided, Tax concessions granted and Loans provided. This has supported economic activity and provides jobs.
POST COVID 19 ERA
As a Ministry, we will continue to implement policies that are both inward- looking and private -sector driven. The ease of doing business remains a critical priority, trade governance architecture will be improved with the ongoing restructuring of the technical and professional wing of the ministry.
Sectors and products with growth potentials will be harnessed and exploited, manufacturing and industrial development will be key in the diversification agenda. Our interactions with the Bank of Sierra Leone will be strengthened to extended support to the private sector through the special loan facility program.
As the restrictions ease, the ministry will strengthen its standards and quality infrastructure for improve competitiveness.