A review of Cameroon’s oilseed sector and its challenges with the secretary general of its corporatist union
What is ASROC and who are its members?
First, I would like to thank you for your interest in issues related to secondary transformation segment of the oilseeds sector in general, and especially to Cameroon’s Oilseeds Refiners Association (ASROC), its secular arm. ASROC regroups the best of the refining industry and has seven (7) palm nut, cotton, soya and groundnuts industrial refining units.
These are the Société camerounaise de raffinage MAYA et Cie (SCR MAYA & Cie) ; AZUR SA, formerly known as Complexe chimique et industriel du Cameroun SA (CCIC SA) ; Complexe cosmétique de l’Ouest SA (CCO SA) ; Société de développement du coton SA (SODECOTON SA) ; Société des palmeraies de la ferme suisse (SPFS), Société camerounaise de savonnerie/raffinerie du Cameroun (SCS/RAFCA) ; and Société agroalimentaire du groupe Youssa (SAAGRY).
The association’s main goal is to preserve its members’ economic, commercial, material and moral interests in respect to laws and regulations in place as well as general interests; the promotion and development of oilseed refining industries; and to conduct all strategic studies susceptible of developing oilseed refining industries and deliver them to the Republic of Cameroon.
Statistically-speaking, what is the association’s contribution to Cameroon’s economy (jobs, investments and output, turnovers, taxes and duties paid to State, etc.)?
ASROC has invested so far more than FCFA320 billion in the country and employs nearly 6,000 people directly, it thus strongly contributes to job creation, and GDP and plays a major role in the supply of local and sub-regional markets in refined vegetable oils, laundry soaps, and in the development of the oilseeds sector.
ASROC alone can refine 26,374 tons per month and produce 20,095 tons of soap per month also. With a total refining capacity at the 1st processing level of 32,622 tons and soap production capacity of 33,331 tons, it can be easily deduced that ASROC produces 80.94% out of 95% of refined vegetable oils and 60.28% out of 90% of soaps used by homes, produced by the oilseeds sector for consumers. The association thus brings the State up to FCFA126 billion.
Let’s recall that in Cameroon, each month, 15,000 tons of refined vegetable oil is consumed while around 18,000 tons of soap is.
For almost 10 years now, you have been denouncing the unfair competition you face from importers in the local market. What is the situation concretely and why, according to you, does it continue despite your complaints?
A clear indication of unfair competition is a tendency to bring sales prices of imported vegetable oils below the reference price associated with tax on vegetable oils imported in Cameroon. This tendency to lower prices is due to the presence in the market of oils for which taxes have not been paid, oils that are not enriched with vitamin A, and expired oils which violate the country’s regulatory norms.
These standards include the Ministry of Finance’s decision to, on 27 March 2009, fix the reference price for tax on all vegetable oils imported to Cameroon at FCFA1500 per kg; the NC 77 2002-03 Rev.1 (2011) Norm related to vegetable oils with a specific name, and enriched with vitamin A, put into application by the joint decree dated 24 August 2011; the NC 04 Norm : 2000-20 related to the labeling of prepackaged food products in Cameroon.
At the root of the flooding of Cameroon’s markets with the oils which do not conform to regulation and unfair competition is poor governance, and corruption that cripple administrations in charge of imports, production and marketing of refined vegetable oils. Corruption dominates because of shady operators and civil servants who act in their personal interest instead of acting for the general interest.
What do you think of the quality of vegetable oils sold in Cameroon, and what is their impact on populations’ health?
Vegetable oils sold in Cameroon are mostly of good quality. ASROC’s companies that produce as I said earlier 80.84% of 95% of refined vegetable oils consumed in Cameroon are all part of the quality approach led by the Standards and Quality Agency (ANOR), though some are certified ISO 9001 version 2008 and 2015.
These companies were as a matter of fact present at the 2016 National Quality Week (SENAQ 2016) organized by the ANOR in Douala. Besides companies that are part of ANOR’s quality approach, only system and/or product certified companies took part to the event. You can therefore deduce that this is a group of refined vegetable oils composed mainly of the Jadida, Broli and Oilio soya oils brands, the Girasole and Lesieur sunflower-made brands which do not conform with the regulation and endanger consumers as they can cause cancer, diabetes and make men sterile, talking of soya made oils alone when used for another purpose than seasoning like frying or cooking. Jadida for example tried to make people believe that its products were safe by broadcasting a misleading advert which was fortunately stopped by a note from ANOR’s executive director.
So according ASROC, the torn in the Cameroonian vegetable oil market’s feet are importers. Yet, some also blame local refiners of not being examples in regards to the respect of standards and quality of products available in the market…
Let me recall as I always do that both local producers and importers are subjected to regulation in force. And each time I discuss the oilseeds sector, I like emphasizing on economic operators who are divided into the two above-mentioned groups.
Let me also say that I cannot speak for everyone. All of ASROC’s industrial units, as I told you, are part of the quality approach. I also recall that all of them were present at the SENAQ 2016 to which could take part only system and/or product certified companies, or those that are part of the quality approach.
You recently reminded the consumer movement about the role that its actors can play in restoring the market and protecting consumers. Do they have the means and most importantly are they credible enough to do this role in the current Cameroonian environment?
A tree is known its fruits and a man by his deeds, and it is vital to always remind him of his role and how important it is that he plays it. It is to this end that we, ASROC, decided to remind consumer associations of what is expected from them in order to overcome the threat that looms over our health, we the consumers. Regarding means, they are often yielded after long brainstorming and most importantly actions. About the credibility of concerned associations, we noticed that some of them really are while tackling other issues related to the protection of consumers.
On August 31, 2016, the Program for Conformity Assessment Prior to Loading of Imported Goods in the Republic of Cameroon (PECAE) will officially enter into force. What is it exactly?
Established by a decree dated July 1, 2015, the PECAE is the product of Cameroon’s government to protect consumers. Its purpose is to prevent the entry into Cameroon’s market of products that do not conform to regulatory standards and quality, and purge the market of such products if already present.
Every importer who therefore enters this market which is regulated by 106 norms must have his products reviewed at their place of embarkation by SGS or Intertek, which have been accredited by the government; prior to loading, a conformity certificate will then be issued or not by the Cameroon’s National Shippers Council (CNCC). A customs declaration statement will then be issued for goods that received a certificate of conformity and have been loaded. A delivery note then follows after ANOR has issued another certificate of conformity. That is what PECAE is about.
Do you think PECAE could definitely restore the vegetable oils sector and the Cameroonian commercial space in whole?
PECAE is essential to preserve consumer’s health, our economic zone, and our economy, because we will be covered by customs declaration joined with a delivery note, import declaration statement issued by the SGS; a certificate of conformity issued by SGS or Intertek, indicating the country of provenance of the imported refined vegetable oils, and finally another certificate of conformity issued by ANOR.
Also, in sight of the upcoming usage of new scanners which will systematically identify containers’ content, we firmly believe that it will be difficult for shady importers and subsequently purging operations will be easier to conduct and more efficient.
Regarding the production of palm oil and its derivatives, which are used by ASROC’s members as raw commodities, Cameroon currently records a “structural” deficit (around 100,000 tons per year). What does this mean concretely?
Regarding the shortage of raw palm oil which you mentioned and which is determined in function of local production and demand, it results from the insufficient production of the commodity in the country. To overcome this, the government, on request of the President of the regulatory committee for the oilseed sector, addressed to the Ministry of Finance via the Trade Ministry, approved the import of part of structural deficit at the beginning of each season. This in order to prevent inflation which could arise as a result of palm oil shortage in markets.
But Cameroon has vast non-exploited arable lands. Couldn’t refiners and palm oil producers develop joint-ventures to definitely close this gap, especially looking at the way demand grows and at possible opportunities for export?
You should be aware that the peculiar production factors that are land and financial resources in our sector of activity are not available and this makes things relatively difficult. In spite of this, refiners have started establishing plantations to reduce the structural deficit and to rely less on producers. Nevertheless, they keep depending on village farmers to boost their production.
As an operator of the agro-food sector, what do you think of the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) between Cameroon and the European Union, which entered into force last August 4?
Economic partnership agreements which are trade agreements that aim for free-trade between countries from the European Union and those from Africa, the Pacific and Caribbean (ACP), bring up opportunities in that they contribute to globalization and give access to a market of more than 500 million people. Given that we are competitive and offer consumers products that respect standards and are of good quality. Winning these markets could be done through marketing, but most importantly by promoting emerging quality products.
These agreements can help improve the production media thus productivity and competitiveness, and delocalize the production of goods and services. They can also create jobs in terms of positions and finance new jobs as new investors arrive.
However, the real concern regarding these agreements is about the subsidies to agriculture from the European Union nations to their leading companies. The subsidies could in fact lead to unfair competition which could in turn negatively affect our fragile industrial environment.