It is no secret that the state of the Liberian economy is on a downward spiral with evidence of incapacities at some level of government.
This situation is adversely effecting the population as the prices of commodities and the exchange rate between the United States and Liberian dollar continues to soar.
The weakness of the economy is also being exposed further as the state experiences its third successive budget shortfall, an indication of lack of revenue generating power.
This in no way put any well-meaning government at ease and President Sirleaf admitted to some uneasiness in regards to the economy, especially the country’s exporting strength.
But let no one ignore the fact that this bizarre situation for the most part, can be attributed to the huge gap that exist within the nation’s balance of trade and this is where President Sirleaf at the Micro, Small and Medium Enterprise (MSME) Conference strongly stressed the need to address the situation in order for Liberia to become a strong export-oriented country.
The MSME conference was recently held in Monrovia, under the theme: “From Vision to Implementation – Buying Liberian, Building Liberia.”
The ironic part about the issue is that government had just begun to give tentative consideration of breaching this gap by investing more in the agriculture sector; something it thought could be done by attracting huge investment in the extractive industry.
This new move will however lead to the increment in the country’s Gross Domestic Products (GDP) and put more money in local farmers’ pocket.
Formally launching the Liberia National Trade Policy (LNTP) 2014-2019 and the Liberia National Export Strategy (LNES) 2014-2019, which outlines government’s strategy for creating inclusive growth through trade competitiveness, President Sirleaf said there is a need to generate export diversification.
President Sirleaf said the LNTP is government’s overarching strategy for steering the country towards regional integration into ECOWAS and multilateral integration into the World Trade Organization.
“Let me say we have a very strong commitment to government’s accessing the World Trade Organization because it has multiple benefits and open markets create new opportunities not only domestically but regionally and internationally,” she said.
The Liberian leader indicated that to support these businesses; the LNES will provide support to six key sectors where the best opportunities exist to generate export diversification.
President Sirleaf named rice, oil palm, rubber, cocoa, cassava, and fisheries. “Through implementing this strategy, we expect to create a vibrant and diversified export basket and open new markets and opportunities for business owners.”
She emphasized that the success of MSMEs is fundamental to the future of the country’s economy. She noted that though the number of formal SMEs remains small, it continues to grow each year. Statistics however show that Liberia currently has over 10,000 formally registered businesses.
President Sirleaf used the occasion to announce that the existence of the National Small Business Empowerment Act and the Bureau of Small Business pointing out that this new Act will legally ensure implementation of the commitment made when she delivered her Annual Message in January.
The Liberian President committed her government to ensure that small Liberian-owned, including Liberian women-owned businesses are granted 25 percent of the government’s public procurement opportunities, and that the Ministry of Commerce and Industry is equipped with a services center to help businesses to qualify to access these markets.
“This time, it’s a law. It’s one thing to have a policy. It’s one thing to have a strategy; but if you don’t make it enforceable, it becomes mere words. So, this time it’s a law,” the Liberian leader stressed.
The Liberian President also disclosed that the first project under the Liberia Innovation Fund for Entrepreneurs (LIFE) where Government through the Liberia Bank for Investment (LBDI) in collaboration with the Government of Japan have provided funds to construct a modern weaving facility to be known as the Lofa Women’s Weaving Center in Voinjama, Lofa County.
“To make that business grow, it needs to be nurtured with new investment, strengthened with new staff properly trained, and adapted to new ideas,” she warned adding more importantly, “it requires you to commit your time, dedication, hard work and honesty. Through this combination, you can grow your business to generate profit, create jobs and incomes not only for yourselves but for others.”
Speaking at the occasion, the Executive Director of the International Trade Center (ITC), Ms. Arancha Gonzalez said MSMEs is at the heart of the Liberian economy and by supporting these small entrepreneurs the country prospers because more money will come in country.
She said at the ITC, key to assisting Liberia’s MSMEs, is the need to unlock productivity, marketability, competitiveness, value-addition to ensure that they become the engines for job creation in the country and they are able to move their operations beyond the confines of their towns and cities in which they operate.
She stressed that to make that happen, there had to be the launch of a National Trade Policy and a National Export Strategy. “These are not just bureaucratic documents; they are a compass to achieve greater competitiveness starting with priority areas where Liberian companies, enterprises, entrepreneurs have a comparative advantage on which they have to build,” she said, adding that this is not the end but a start from somewhere. Two other sectors they are contemplating on including are the tourism and furniture sectors which hold huge potentials for MSMEs in Liberia.