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    In Guinea-Bissau, Rebuilding Confidence to Trade


    International Trade Forum - Issue 3/2007, © International Trade Centre

    © E. Jassy

    Interview - João Bernardo Vieira

    Business success stories from other countries emerging from conflict can help inspire and motivate entrepreneurs in Guinea-Bissau.

    Guinea-Bissau is one of the world's poorest countries. Its economy is based mainly on agriculture; cashew nuts are its main export. In the 1980s, the country began structural economic reforms that helped boost growth, but civil war, combined with falling cashew prices, set economic development back. Now the Government is focusing on reconstruction and aims to diversify exports and forge new international trade links.

    João Bernardo Vieira is Trade Officer in Guinea-Bissau's Ministry of Commerce, Tourism and Craft. In Trade Forum he finds up-to-date information and trends to share with colleagues and spark ideas for trade-related technical cooperation. As part of his work to encourage small and medium-sized firms, he finds the stories of entrepreneurs from other developing and least developed countries inspiring.

    Q: How long have you been reading our magazine?

    A: I got acquainted with Trade Forum when I started working in the Ministry four years ago in Bissau. It was kind of love at first sight, because on the one hand I wanted to maximize my knowledge of trade and, on the other, I wanted to keep up to date about how countries were implementing strategies to be self-dependent. Trade Forum combines quality of information and a chance to educate you a bit more.

    Q: How do you use Trade Forum in your work?

    A: I use it to formulate ideas, to write technical papers about current trends in the field or to brief colleagues in the department on how we can request tailor-made technical assistance and capacity building that meet our needs, thus contributing to increase our exports. So for me, it's a very useful tool for my work.

    Q: Do you prefer the print or the online version?

    A: The online version requires an easy and fast connection to the Internet and no problems with the electricity supply. So, when you take roughly ten minutes to open the web site, another ten to open an article on the site and then the electricity is off by the time you are reading it, you probably aren't motivated to keep on reading. For this reason I prefer to read the magazine the traditional way.

    Q: Was there a subject or issue of the magazine that was of particular interest, and why?

    A: Actually there was one story that confirms my thesis that we Africans can do right when there is a political will - the story about how the ginger trade is contributing to the reconstruction process in Sierra Leone [issue 1/2007]. After 22 years of decline in the industry, the country was able to export ginger to several countries in Europe after meeting European standards. The Sierra Leonean Government, wanting to stimulate the economy, had identified the development of the spice sector in general and ginger production and export in particular. Obviously ginger will not resolve all the country's problems but it will definitely solve some. So, if we keep doing our homework, these success stories will loom large and often.

    Q: Are there any subjects you would like to see addressed in Trade Forum?

    A: I'd like to see more articles about cashew nuts, considering that they are our main product of export. It would be interesting to learn more about the processing industry for cashew nuts in Brazil, India and Pakistan, from inception to the final product. Also, stories of successful cooperation among small and medium enterprises in products that are not in the forefront of international transactions would be of interest.

    Q: What would be the best way for these articles to reach readers in Guinea-Bissau?

    A: Through more practical examples of what countries emerging from civil war or natural disasters are doing to boost their economy and improve the living standards of their people, in urban or rural areas. For instance, how are they using ecotourism to develop rural locations, while respecting the traditions of the local people?

    It's also important to bring in clear examples of how the private sector and business people, who were completely ruined after war, found the strength to start from scratch and establish a small business. Why this? Because I think our major problem in Guinea-Bissau is a matter of self-confidence.

    About the Ministry of Commerce, Tourism and Craft

    Guinea-Bissau's Ministry of Commerce, Tourism and Craft is responsible for policymaking in these fields. After several years of political instability resulting from the civil war, the Ministry now has an action plan, which aims to diversify exports, attract more tourists to the country's 80 islands and organize the industrial sector.

    It has taken several steps towards meeting these objectives, including elaborating a new investment code with the support of the World Bank's Foreign Investment Advisory Service. The Ministry is also working closely with the Chamber of Commerce through a forum to examine the possibilities for capturing national and international partnerships.