Monrovia – A Ghanaian delegation is currently in Liberia to hold discussion with the Government of Liberia and other actors in the timber and forestry sectors regarding the possibility of Liberia exporting timber to Ghana.
Ghana, a heavy user of wood, is turning to Liberia for timber due to the depletion of its forests, reports say.
The deal is expected to commence as early as this month.
Ghana’s Domestic Lumber Traders Association, the mother union of woodworkers in the country, according to Joy News, says the move is important to save the Ghana’s wood industry from collapse as they are having difficulty getting timber locally to process.
FrontPageAfrica has gathered that a five-man Ghanaian delegation is in talks with the Forestry Development Authority, the Liberia Timber Association, Liberia Revenue Authority and other stakeholders to seal the deal.
While Ghana is now in a fix due to its depleted forests, Liberia sees the coming of its West African counterparts as an opportunity to boost its economy, create jobs and improve its timber industry.
Liberia’s forest resources are significant. About half of the country’s area is covered by high forests, compared with less than 10 percent of arable land.
Liberia’s forests are equivalent to about 45 percent of the remaining Upper Guinea Forest, which spans 10 West African countries from Guinea to Cameroon. They contain a number of valuable species— such as African mahogany—that are in high demand on world markets.
Speaking to FrontPageAfrica on Thursday via a telephone interview, the head of the Liberia Timber Association, Mr. Rudolph Merab said doing business with Ghana in terms of exporting timber from Liberia will strengthen ties between both countries and ECOWAS at large.
According to Mr. Merab, it is high time African countries began doing business with fellow Africa countries as done in Europe.
He added that it though negotiations are still ongoing, Liberia will be glad exporting its timber to Ghana and other West African countries instead of China and Europe.
“If we start dealing with us as Africans we will build our own country and we’ll produce something for our own good,” he said.
Offsetting Norwegian Agreement
In the midst of the Ebola epidemic in 2014, Liberia sign US$150 million agreement with the Norwegian Government to become the first nation in Africa to completely stop cutting down its trees in return for development aid.
"We hope Liberia will be able to cut emissions and reduce poverty at the same time," said Jens Frolich Holte, a political adviser to the Norwegian government, speaking to the BBC on the sidelines of the UN climate summit in New York in 2014.
Speaking to FrontPageAfrica, Mr. Merab divulged this agreement was signed at the disadvantage of Liberia.
He insinuated that the deal was a means by Europe to suppress development in Liberia and Africa and give aide in return in order to feel supreme.
“We Africans got to think outside the box."
"The neo-colonial issue cannot continue to affect us,” he said.
Speaking on the possible offsetting of the Norwegian Agreement, Merab said - “You got to learn to stop letting people fool us; they’re the ones exploiting us, especially Norway. Norway is the biggest producer of hydrocarbons.
In Norway, when you are born, you get US$17,000 a year besides free education. You and I in Liberia, what do we get.
They want to fool us because they want to mitigate the issue of how they’re polluting the system with hydrocarbons; then they tell the world they’re assisting Liberia and the Liberian forest will offset our hydrocarbon, who will believe that one. Do you think that’s what develops your country?.
He questioned the impact of funding from Norwegian Government on Liberia’s economy."
“If timber was really being produced and shipped, you think we’ll be suffering for foreign exchange?”
Mr. Merab explained that the impact of logging to the economy should not be calculated in the direct taxes, but the number of jobs it has the potential of creating.
“If you check before the war, we had more than 25,000 Liberians employed, our payroll was running something between to US$20-30 million,” he recalled.
The Timber Association President contended the revenue generated from taxes and jobs created through logging are worth more than the agreement with the Norwegian government.
“People must not come here and lie to us and we sit because we want peanuts. I told [Harrison] Karnwea that agreement is bull sh**.
I told Harrison Karnwea, if these people wants us to stop logging then they must give us what impacts our country, which means they must give us not less than US$100 million a year; so the give years they’re talking about they must give us US$500 million so that the government can develop our communities,” he asserted.
Benefits of Ghanaian Agreement
Mr. Merab clarified that the agreement with the Ghanaians will develop Liberia’s timber industry as the country stands the chance of a sawmill industry.
“They’re not looking for round log, they’re asking for saw timber. They don’t want the logs from your country.”
“They want you to take the logs instead of sending it to China, they want you to process it.
“The one that is of quality for you to send it to Europe, you’ll send it to Europe. "
"The ones that are not for Europe can be used for construction and furniture. So it doesn’t harm you, it helps you,” he said.
Joy News reported that Ghana has for years prided itself as a major producer and exporter of timber but clearly, the glory days are gone now.
Data from the Forestry Commission says about 65,000 hectares of forests are degraded every year and it’s been getting worse over the years.
“The importation will help reduce the pressure on the forests. We have over stretched the forests. When the timber comes in from Liberia, the over stretching will go down,” Joe Mann the Greater Accra Chairman for the Domestic Lumber Traders Association told Joy News.
“There is the need for government to look at re-planting but the government is failing.
There is the need for the infant plants we have in the bush to grow. Nobody will be chasing the young trees if we are importing enough timber from outside the country,” he added.
Ghana has for many years imported furniture and other such finished products from abroad but the plan to bring in the raw material itself is unprecedented.
Previous plans to import timber from countries like Guyana about five years ago failed to see the day of light because the association said they were too expensive.
The Domestic Lumber Traders Association says it has begun negotiating with the government to scrap import taxes on the timber they intend importing to make them affordable for sale in Ghana.
“If you pay high duty at the habour, you won’t be able to sell it. It is about time government removed the taxes for our members,” Benjamin Amoako Atta who is Vice President of the association explained.
Commenting on the development, Operations Director of Environmental NGO Nature and Development Foundation (NDF) Glenn Asomaning said it’s about time Ghana considered embarking on afforestation projects to restore the forests and provide raw materials for the wood industry.
“We have so much potential because we have all the land. There are companies that have established plantations and after 25 years, these trees mature. So the question is, why will we wait and get to this stage, we should get more serious about afforestation,” he noted
“We have the opportunity. We say there are no jobs. I think we should take it seriously and establish more plantations.
The government can lead the way and maybe provide the necessary incentives for the private sector to do it. It will solve a lot of the problems that we have particularly with youth unemployment,” Mr. Asomaning added.