By John Okeke
Trade experts from Member States of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) met virtually on the 15th and 16thof October 2020 to deliberate on Trade development in the region.
The Meeting of Experts, which is a prelude to the 11th ECOWAS’ Ministers of Trade Meeting (ECOMOT), considered key regional and continental trade issues with a view to helping the Ministers take informed decisions on a number of recent trade developments in the ECOWAS region.
The trade developments, which include regional and continental issues such as the negotiations for the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), will have an impact on the ECOWAS’ trade objectives and therefore require ministerial consideration.
Declaring the meeting open, the ECOWAS’ Commissioner for Trade, Customs and Free Movement, Mr. Tei Konzi, highlighted the continuous steps taken by the Commission to assist Member States on regional trade initiatives and the AfCFTA negotiations. He said recent global developments, including the COVID-19 pandemic, offered the ECOWAS region an opportunity to address trade and economic development challenges. He also highlighted the AfCFTA as a complementary response to the region’s development efforts, and stressed its potential to enable ECOWAS to significantly boost its share of intra-Africa trade, improve economies of scale and establish an integrated market with the rest of the continent.
Earlier in his opening remarks, the Chair of the Experts Meeting, Mr. Mickson Opoku, recalled the importance of the discussions on key regional and continental trade issues, including consolidating ECOWAS Member States’ positions in the AfCFTA negotiations within the timelines given by the African Ministers of Trade (AMOT) and the African Union Summit.
In particular, the Experts Meeting featured presentations on the AfCFTA; Renegotiations of Tariff Concessions of ECOWAS Member States at the WTO; ECOWAS Common Trade Policy (CTP); ECOWAS Trade Information System (ECOTIS); West Africa Trade and Competitiveness Observatory; ECOWAS Non-Tariff Barriers (NTBs) Policy and Strategy; and ECOWAS COVID-19 Trade Response, as well as recommendations from the Competition Consultative Committee (CCC) meeting of the ECOWAS Regional Competition Authority (ERCA).
Bringing the virtual meeting to a close, Mr. Kolawole Sofola, on behalf of the Commissioner for Trade, Customs and Free Movement, reiterated the commitment of the ECOWAS Commission to deepening regional integration and ensuring common positions on issues relating to the AfCFTA negotiations.
In September 2020, the 57th Summit of ECOWAS Heads of State and Government in Niamey – Niger had instructed the ECOWAS Commission to complete with Member States all outstanding work on Tariff Concession; Rules of Origin and Specific Commitments on Trade in Services. The Summit called on the remaining five (5) Member States that are yet to ratify the AfCFTA Agreement to take urgent steps necessary to do so and deposit their instruments of ratification of the Agreement before the start of trading under the AfCFTA. The Summit also called on Member States that have not yet signed or ratified the African Union Protocol on Free Movement to do so.