The creation of a common market in West Africa is critic al to the effective integration of ECOWAS member-states in the global market, Pr e sident of the commission, Dr. Mohammed Ibn Chambas, has declared.
In his keynote address at the ECOWAS anniversary dinner/lecture, held here recen tly, Chambas said “here, one is confronted with a number of key concerns,” notin g “if we were to compare with the trans-Saharan trade of more than a century ago,
then we are doing terribly on this front!
“We are to all intents and purposes marginal to the global market. Charity begin s at home, a common market built on a regionally coordinated productive capacity
is what will strengthen and enhance our capacity to participate in the global ma r ket,” he said.
According to him, “every effort must be made to correct the current unacceptable performance of low levels of production, low levels of intra-community trade, o b stacles to free movement of goods and persons, openness to dumping and cross-bor d er smuggling, and unilateral actions that tend to violate ECOWAS protocols.”
Dr. Chambas charged that member states needed to hasten preparations towards the establishment of the customs union, pointing out “economic partnership agreemen t s will only be reasonably meaningful if we create our own customs union and comm o n market in the region.”
He also said the commission’s member-states must work harder to dismantle the sy stemic obstacles to free movement of persons and goods, while also deepening the i r collaboration to at least minimise organised smuggling and dumping.
“Unilateral ban on goods originating from sister West African states is unaccept able as much as measures which discriminate against West Africans’ rights of res i dence are contrary to the relevant ECOWAS protocols and should also not be encou r aged,” the commission president emphasised.
He advocated that protectionism from any state should be discouraged, just as sm uggling, dumping and creating of artificial barriers to trade by citizens of oth e r member states should be shunned.
“Indeed, the progress made by UEMOA on this front should serve as a model and ca talyst for ECOWAS action,” Chambas posited, adding “another emerging tendency that need s to be closely watched is the resurgence of sub-regional groupings such as the M ano River Union and the Co-prosperity Zone (COPAZ).”
The ECOWAS, he said welcomed the groupings if they are meant to energise the int egration of the region as a whole and if their focus would be on the effective i m plementation of regional programmes and projects.
“However, if it means competing bureaucracy and programmes, duplication of effor ts, energies and policies already being pursued by ECOWAS, one can only send a n o te of caution that it can be counter-productive,” the ECOWAS President warned.
Describing the evolving global rise in food prices as a wake-up call to the regi on to harness its tremendous agricultural production for food self-sufficiency, h e asserted there was the need to invest seriously in agricultural production and
“The ECOWAS Common Agricultural Policy (ECOWAP) and the recommendations of the 1 9 May, 2008, Joint Extra-ordinary Session of Ministers of Finance, Agriculture a n d Trade here in Abuja, provide further details on the way forward,” Chambas said .
On infrastructural development, energy production and access, the ECOWAS Preside nt noted that the challenges to integration could not be effectively addressed i f the relevant infrastructural challenges were not addressed first or at least at
the same time.
“For production, business and trade to thrive, for people to move freely, for go ods to move freely from source of production to the distribution centres and mar k ets, for our regional market to be integrated into the global market, we need infrastructures like roa ds, railways, maritime transport, airlines, telecommunications, energy,” he emphasised.
According to him, these issues are currently being addressed on all fronts.
He stated further “advisedly, special attention is being given to the energy sec tor which is considered very strategic for the development of the rest of the in f rastructure sub-sectors and other key sectors such as education, health, among o t hers.
“We are proceeding on the energy front at three levels: enhancing productive cap acity with a regional master-plan for production and transmission, the developme n t of a white paper ECOWAS/UEMOA, the regional policy on energy access, which can serve as a blue-pr int for other RECs and the continent as a whole and the creation of a regional m a rket for energy with accompanying facilitating and regulatory institutional mech a nisms.”
Dr. Chambas disclosed “in West Africa, we have planned to tie energy access to t he realisation of the MDGs with the contribution of member states, the continued
support and advocacy of partners and the attraction of strategic investors.
“Within the next 20 years, we intend to increase current energy access in rural, peri-urban and urban areas from the current average of 10 per cent to 50 per ce n t.