Opening new doors

Published 12:00 am Sunday, August 28, 2005

The Selma Times-Journal

Several Alabama politicians back from a trip to the West African country of Benin earlier this month discussed the trip and what it could mean for Alabama exports and imports via a teleconference this week.

Ron Sparks, Commissioner of the Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries, was joined by State Senator Hank Sanders, Selma mayor James Perkins Jr. and Tuskegee Mayor Johnny Ford on the trip.

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Before the trip, Perkins said the group was searching for a innovative way to create trade between the Republic of Benin and Alabama.

While trade plans may not be finalized, Sparks believes progress was made.

Sparks said he sees potential for Benin to import Alabama poultry, corn and soybeans.

Perkins agreed.

One thing Perkins said he noticed is a need for farming implements.

For Senator Sanders, who traveled through that area in 1971, the trip was about more then simply business.

One of the project the group seemed most excited about was Benin’s cashew export business.

Currently Benin processes the cashew nut partially, but then ships it to India to be finished before shipping to America.

Through a tax-free import zone, Tuskegee is exploring eliminating India from the process with a cashew processing plant.

During the last Selma mayoral election, a similar zone for Selma was proposed in a bill at the state level.

It was killed amid political rumors, Sanders said.

Sanders said that in the spirit of teamwork, he will to support Tuskegee’s plans but he indicated that the Black Belt and West Alabama should work to get a similar free trade zone.

Sparks also discussed Benin’s interest in the poultry industry and how Alabama could become a player in it.

Currently, the majority of Benin and neighboring Ghana’s poultry is imported from Brazil.

While in Africa, Sparks said the delegation met with representatives of the Caribbean nation Trinidad and Tobago and discussed Alabama export opportunities there as well.

Apparently there is a door manufacturing facility in Trinidad and Tobago that has a serious need for Southern Pine.