Trade in the Community is evolutionary. Time there was when old trading links were still being relied on to sustain business exchanges in the area. What is being awakened now however is trade with development dimension. ECOWAS, since its inception has had a trade policy designed to increase intra-regional commerce, raise trade volume and generally galvanise the economic activities within the region in such a way as to positively impact on the economic wellbeing of ECOWAS citizens.

The ECOWAS trade policy is also meant to foster the smooth integration of the region into the world economy with due regard for the political choices and development priorities of states in the desire to engender sustainable development and reduction of poverty.

The total trade of the region has averaged $208.1 billion. Exports are projected at approximately $137.3 billion while imports total about $80.4 billion. The main active countries in trade are Nigeria, which alone accounts for approximately 76 percent of total trade followed by Ghana (9.2 percent) and Côte d’Ivoire (8.64 percent). The trade surplus of the region, estimated at about $47.3 billion is attributable to Nigeria ($58.4 billion) and Côte d’Ivoire ($3.4 billion) when all other Countries have a deficit in the trade balance.

Today, the total ECOWAS trade has increased by an average of 18 percent per year between 2005 and 2014. It is dominated by mining commodities (oil resources, iron, bauxite, manganese, gold, etc..) and agriculture (coffee, cocoa, cotton, rubber, fruits and vegetables and other products rather marketed within the region (dry cereals, roots and tubers, livestock products), etc. Nigeria, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana and Senegal concentrate 87 percent of this trade, with 79 percent of regional imports ($55,520 million per year) and 94 percent of exports and re-exports ($77,792 million per year).

A main feature of the Community trade policy is ECOWAS Trade Liberalisation Programme. The objective of the programme is to progressively establish a Customs Union among the Member States of the Community over a period of fifteen years, starting from 1 January, 1990, the date of entry into force of the Scheme. The Customs Union will among others involve the total elimination of customs duties and taxes of equivalent effect.

The ECOWAS trade liberalisation programme involves three groups of products viz. unprocessed goods, traditional handicraft products, industrial products.

The programme is meant to give several advantages to member States and their citizens as they trade among themselves. An example is given here: One of the advantages accruing to unprocessed goods imported from a member state as contained in Decision C/DEC.8 /11/79 of the Council of Ministers is total exemption from import duties and taxes, free movement without any quantitative restriction as well as non-payment of compensation for loss of revenue as a result of their importation. Provided that unprocessed products among other conditions, originate from member states of the Community and must appear on the list of products annexed to the decisions liberalising trade in these products.

There are also conditions which apply to the other categories of traditional handcraft and industrial products. In effect, this also means that the Member States shall not impose new duties and taxes of equivalent effect or increase existing ones. The rates of these duties and taxes which serve as the starting point for the elimination of tariffs are listed in the ECOWAS Customs Tariff for each member state. It is a rule binding on states that there shall be no creation of non-tariff barriers and those in existence shall not be increased.

In taking the community’s economy to the next level, trade facilitation cannot be over emphasised. It is a critical aspect of trade. It also involves private sector promotion. The establishment of ECOWAS Common Investment Market and the Development of Common Investment Code and Policy are welcome compliments. The same goes for the ECOBIZ World Market Information System which led to a positive increase in the activities of the Investment Promotion Agencies of West Africa (IPAWAS). E-commerce is being promoted in the region with a platform already developed by ECOBIZ. Relating to trade capacity building, an Inter-Institutional Committee under the ECOWAS Trade Negotiation Capacity Building project (TNCB) has now been established.

To further guide citizens and prospectors around the world, the Community Computer Centre (CCC) has begun preparations for the development of the data and information exchange software for the regional transit system (ALISA) for which the Centre has already validated the procedures manual with the regional group of experts.

All of these have created a situation where the Common External Tariff (CET) which took off in January 2015 now has a real opportunity to give a boost to the economies of West Africa while allowing citizens of the area to have a real chance of enjoying the benefits of a trade.

With the CET, member countries will be paying a uniform tariff at all borders in the sub-region. It is one of the landmarks of ECOWAS. Known as the Common External Tariff (CET), citizens of West Africa will through it, have a real chance of enjoying the benefits of a trade boost. With this development, an improvement of the implementation of the ECOWAS Trade Liberalisation Scheme (ETLS) can now also be safely expected. The CET is an important milestone on the road to the creation of a customs union for West Africa.

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