World-class steel fabrication in GhanaNovember 9, 2021
Mukesh Thakwani, CEO of B5 Plus, talks to The Energy Year about hurdles faced in implementing the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) and how the company is planning to expand. B5 Plus is a steel fabricator that supplies the oil and gas sector, among others.
What challenges is the implementation of the AfCFTA facing?
It is simple and difficult at the same time. Ghana can theoretically export the goods by sea and road to neighbouring countries. However, since the agreement came into effect in January 2021, governments must now make sure that other countries accept the AfCFTA and the free movement of goods.
Some countries are currently not accepting the ECOWAS [Economic Community of West African States] trade policy. I think the AfCFTA secretariat will have to do a lot to make sure every country is abiding by the law. For example, Côte d’Ivoire doesn’t accept ECOWAS-certified goods that are produced in Ghana. Governments must collaborate to make sure the treaty is applied.
What capacity does Ghana have in terms of steel production?
We are producing in abundance. We already provide for the local demand, and we export to the West African market. They should put an immediate ban on steel imports and other products produced here in Ghana. We have a world-class steel fabrication plant. It doesn’t make sense for anyone to import steel fabrications and get tax exemptions. B5 Plus is now the biggest producer of nails, wire mesh, galvanised gratings and many other products in Ghana.
We should support things made in Ghana through local labour and industry to promote growth. The government needs to push local content as much as possible and companies should be pushed to buy made-in-Ghana goods. The One District, One Factory (1D1F) programme will bring an industrial revolution. It will create many jobs and save millions of dollars in hard currency that are now used to import products. 1D1F is an excellent programme initiated by President Nana Akufo-Addo.
Can you give us an overview of your new fabrication assets?
We completed two plants in our first phase. The first is a fabrication plant, which is now the third largest in Africa and holds the largest capacity in the West African market. We currently have the capacity to produce 30,000 tonnes per year. If there is a ban on steel imports, we can increase it to 60,000 tonnes immediately. Our second facility is a melting shop that currently has the capacity to produce 250,000 tonnes per year of different steel products.
We can produce any kind of fabrication, whether for tankers, industrial warehouses, residences or commercial buildings. Currently the largest demand comes from industrial fabrication, followed by shopping malls, then tankers and trailers. We are the biggest supplier to the housing, mining and road industries. We also provide to the retail sector. There is high demand.
What services does B5 Plus provide to the oil and gas sector?
We work with various clients and companies involved in the supply and fabrication of steel products for oil and gas activities. During the pandemic, the oil and gas sector in Ghana was hit hard. We saw a slowdown, and now we see things are picking back up. We are optimistic and believe things will be back on track in the near future.
What strategy does B5 Plus take to remain competitive?
One needs a dedicated team with no cost cutting. One should be ready to deliver whatever one promises. This is what B5 Plus stands for. Our quality and service differentiate us from the competition. We are an internationally certified company. Our machinery, quality and services are on par with those of any European factory. Today’s customers are very smart. We must deliver them high-quality products. However, price is always an important factor. We deliver quality products at the most competitive rates.
What is the availability of skilled workers in Ghana?
There is a large deficit of skills due to the market having very few technical schools. Additionally, people who get trained are likely to leave the country. At B5 Plus, we have our own training centre and we’re constantly training our people. Our new fabrication plant was able to train 150 people in its first six months of operation alone.
What impact will emerging renewable energy sources have on the steel industry?
Our power requirement is huge. If we could get a portion of it through renewable energy, it would save costs while being good for the environment. The use of renewable energies is growing in other parts of the world, such as the Middle East, Europe and India. It is possible to grow renewables in Ghana as well.
How attractive is Ghana for foreign investment?
There is a large scope for growth. We must keep producing more and more.
The moment you land in Ghana, you know you’re in Ghana. It is a very welcoming place that greets foreigners with a warm reception. This speaks a lot about Ghana as an investment market.