With intra-African trade at low levels of 15 per cent despite different schemes to boost activities in the continent, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) has said the inability of African countries to produce exportable goods and the trade bottlenecks across borders, were responsible for the poor records.
The ECOWAS-USAID Senior Trade Facilitation Advisor, Moustapha Gnankambary, has urged enterprises to produce exportable goods in large quantities, maintaining that the continent has a large market with lots of demands yet to be met. Gnankambary stated this on the sidelines of a sensitisation workshop on the ECOWAS Trade Liberalisation Scheme (ETLS), organised by the Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI) in Lagos. He said member States are lamenting over the high level of trade malpractices being encountered across different borders in the continent, stressing the need for African countries to combat the menace for goods to move freely across borders.
In his words: “African countries are responsible for low level of intra-African trade, because we do not have goods to export. Enterprises must produce goods that are exportable, because if we do not have goods to export, we cannot increase the level of intra-African trade. We also have to reduce the hindrances on the road. There are cases of bribery, corruption and harassment across borders. We need to fight against these kinds of malpractices for goods to move freely and circulate across the continent. He said Nigeria is number one in terms of registered products and enterprises in the ECOWAS report, but stated that Nigeria with a population of over 200 million, the number of registered enterprises under the ETLS is not a good representation of the nation’s strength.
Earlier, the Special Adviser, Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Cooperatives, Oladele Ajayi, said the workshop tagged “Increasing intra-regional trade through the ETLS”, was designed to achieve integration through a common duty-free market among member States within the West African sub region. He pointed out that according to ECOWAS’ revised treaty, a common market should be established among others, through the liberalisation of trade by abolishing customs duties levied on imports and exports for ensuring a free trade area among member States.
He stated that the workshop could not have been more apt as it would open Lagos entrepreneurs to the opportunities inherent in free trade. He added that the ETLS does not only encourage entrepreneurial development in the ECOWAS region, but also increases intra-regional trade, boosts economic activities, increases West African competitiveness on the global market and GDP of member States for the better welfare of citizens.
“Undoubtedly, our dear Lagos State and Nigeria would benefit tremendously when all indigenous businesses thrive. I am therefore glad to assure all our resilient entrepreneurs of the State government’s support in ensuring that you continually receive necessary support towards maximizing the potential and benefits of ETLS,” he said.
The president, LCCI, Babatunde Ruwase said since the establishment of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) in 1975 with the purpose of promoting regional cooperation and economic integration, the commission has been making concerted efforts, aimed at enabling Free Trade Areas, a Common Market and a Customs Union among member states.
He added that the commencement of ETLS in 1979 and its subsequent expansion in 1990 to cover industrial products in addition to agricultural, artisanal handicrafts and unprocessed products which it initially covered, showed the desire of member states of ECOWAS to share a common market and remove barriers to trade within the region.
“The ETLS therefore remains the main operational tool for promoting Free Trade Area and ensuring the free movement of goods in the ECOWAS region without the payment of customs duties,” he said.
According to him, with the recent global developments around trade issues, as well as the recent developments regarding the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA) which Nigeria has already signed into, it has become necessary for all stakeholders to come together and discuss on the progress made so far on ETLS as well as the challenges facing its implementation within the region.
Ruwase added: “Lessons learned from our experience with the ETLS would be very useful as we progress with the AfCFTA. The Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry believes strongly that Nigeria stands to benefit from the ELTS if member states within the region work towards its successful implementation. It is therefore my hope that the outcome of our deliberations at this forum will help contribute towards the attainment of the goal of deepening intra-regional trade within ECOWAS and laying a solid foundation for the AfCFTA.”