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Establish arbitrating body and place economic embargo on trade violators, stakeholders urge ECOWAS

Organised Private Sector Operators, government agencies and officials of ECOWAS and development partners are pushing for full implementation of the Economic Community of West Africa States, ECOWAS’ trade liberalisation scheme to expand trade and investment in order to widen the scope of business activities in the region. This has become imperative following the economic downturn of member states and Nigeria’s bid to diversify its economy.

In response to the need to expand trade frontiers for Nigeria’s agricultural products, the National Association of Nigerian Traders (NANTS) in collaboration with Borderless Alliance and support from USAID and ECOWAS, etc. held a one-day Stakeholder Consultation on Programme for Food Across Borders (ProFAB) in West Africa. The meeting with the theme: “Facilitating Free Movement of Agro-commodities Across West Africa”, was held in Abuja.

Over 50 participants who are critical stakeholders in agriculture, security and trade value chains attended the meeting. They are representatives of public and private sectors including ECOWAS, Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (FMARD), Federal Ministry of Trade and Investment (FMTI), Nigeria Quarantine Service, Standards Organisation of Nigeria (SON), Nigerian Export and Import Bank (NEXIM), Nigerian Export Processing Zones Authority, (NEPZA), Nigeria Police Force (NPF), Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) and Nigerian Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA). Others are, NACCIMA, NANTS, Borderless Alliance, GIZ, Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA), Civil Society Coalition on Poverty Eradication (CISCOPE), Association of Cross Border Women Traders, Association of Agro-Commodities Exporters and Small Scale Farmers Association as well as intra-regional trade specialists/analysts, etc.

At the end of the stakeholders’ meeting, an advocacy Committee on ECOWAS Trade Liberalisation Scheme, ETLS, was formally set up to continuously monitor and ensure the implementation of free movement of agro commodities across the Nigerian borders.

Ken Ukaoha Esq. President, National Association of Nigerian Traders, NANTS, in a communiqué after the meeting said: “The Committee shall be meeting regularly and shall be undertaking regular surveillance and monitoring exercises.” According to him, “stakeholders noted that the inability of ECOWAS member-states, including Nigeria, to link national policies with regional policies has given the country a big drawback to the implementation of regional trade policies.” They urged “Nigeria and other member-states to align their national policies with regional instruments in order to harness the benefits of intra-regional trade, particularly free movement of agro commodities which will ultimately translate into economic wealth.”

Stakeholders, the report said, “noted that although the Protocol on free movement of persons and goods has been adopted by member-states of ECOWAS including Nigeria, implementation has not progressed as expected. Despite the fact that the ECOWAS Trade Liberalisation Scheme (ETLS) aims at removing all tariff and non-tariff barriers on ETLS-approved goods including local agriculture commodities, to intra-regional trade, there are still numerous implementation setbacks such as prohibitions on commodities of ECOWAS origin with the added complications of numerous roadblocks and checkpoints on international highways.”

The communiqué noted that the stakeholders agreed that “an inter-agency Committee be established to monitor the implementation of the ECOWAS Trade Liberalisation Scheme rooting for the establishment of a sub-regional consultation network among the private sector, Police, Customs, Immigration service and professional bodies for concerted advocacy and policy dialogue”.

They also identified “hindrances and challenges limiting free movement of Nigeria’s agro-commodities across borders in West Africa to include; lack of collaboration between among stakeholders and security services; insufficient training for cross border security personnel on the knowledge of ETLS-approved goods; poor information on the ECOWAS Free Movement Protocols; rules and standard; difficulties in accessing funding for the production; poor processing and marketing of agricultural commodities.”

Others listed are “insufficient and adaptable infrastructure and equipment for production; lack of dialogue between economic operators and institutional operators; lack of respect for regional texts and legal instruments; absence of regional trade information systems and market opportunities, lack of information sharing among key stakeholders; multiple taxation/levies and multiplication of uniformed agents, difficulties in or high cost of accessing transportation, lack of network opportunities for agro commodities producers and exporters to participate in ECOWAS trade fairs etc”.

Stakeholders, it was learned, lamented that in Nigeria, the subject of market access for local agric commodities has remained a daunting challenge to agricultural growth and development of domestic economy, particularly the income of local farmers and producers of agro-commodities. They said: “The implementation of ECOWAS Free Movement Protocols by Nigeria will ensure the easy passage of home grown commodities especially agricultural products as approved under the ETLS.

“Essentially, as Nigeria strategises on increasing its market share of global trade and making up the lost revenue, the local actors must be given the opportunities to expand their export tentacles and access to international markets. More so, given that the President Muhammadu Buhari targets agriculture as an anchor to rebuilding and diversifying the economy, it is therefore imperative and urgent to ensure smooth implementation of the ETLS as regards agro-industry by identifying and finding solutions to all impediments and infractions associated with the movement of agro-commodities along the border routes.

They also “urged President Muhammadu Buhari to establish a Supervisory Unit/Committee under the Presidency for the application of ECOWAS Protocol on the Free movement of goods and services across borders. Also ensure the adaptation of national regulations to the legal provisions of ECOWAS.” Stakeholders at the meeting noted that “a vibrant agricultural sector will no doubt lift most West African countries from the throes of poverty as over the years, they relied on exportation of raw materials and international aids to fund their budget. With an investment of $57.2 billion in agriculture in 2013 creating over 33,000 jobs, they agreed that implementing the ETLS with respect to the ProFAB programme is the way to go for the sub-region.”

The meeting further noted that it was “imperative for civil society groups in Nigeria and ECOWAS region working on regional economic integration to support and challenge national governments to facilitate the removal of existing tariff and non-tariff barriers to trade, since they encourage smuggling and other unorthodox trading activities.

Having identified lack of a recognised body that will arbitrate and sanction violators of the ECOWAS Protocols, participants recommended the establishment of an Arbitration Committee with the powers to sanction violators and possibly impose economic embargos. The vision of a larger regional market, cooperation and economic integration was the objective of the founding fathers of ECOWAS, and the objective seeks to ultimately culminate in the facilitation of increased intra-regional trade.

By: Omoh Gabriel

Source: Vanguard

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