The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) is to remove roadblocks to regional integration by investing time and resources in reducing tariff and non-tariff barriers in West Africa.
Speaking at the opening of the 89th Ordinary Session of the ECOWAS Council of Ministers in Abuja, President of the ECOWAS Commission, Omar Touray said in order to diagnose the state of the region; four strategic objectives have been identified, noting that these would be the focus of “our Management in the next four years. We call this the Commissions 4 by 4 (4 x 4) comprising specific deliverables or results to be realised within our mandate.”
Touray said one of the objectives is to deepen regional integration, adding that “here we intend to invest time and resources on reducing tariff and non-tariff barriers in our Community and improve the business environment for our private sector, fully operationalise the regional payment system to reduce the difficulty of transactions in local currencies and over-reliance on international currencies (the US dollars/euros); we also intend to introduce ECOWAS VISA, at the first instance for diplomatic and service passports.”
He also stated that another objective is Enhanced Peace and Security, where there is an intention to fully implement the ECOWAS Action Plan against Terrorism, fully operationalise the ECOWAS Maritime Security Architecture, fully operationalise the National Early Warning and Response Centres, and build synergy with the ECOWAS Early Warning and Response Mechanism, and continuously build ECOWAS mediation and response capacity.
Touray also said another of the strategic objective is good governance, including good corporate governance to build confidence in the private sector, stressing that: “We will be focusing on building a stronger regime against anti-constitutional changes of government and supporting our Member States to deepen democracy. Our target here includes completing the democratic transitions in Burkina Faso, Guinea, and Mali and strengthening both ECOWAS Court and ECOWAS Parliament to play their respective roles in improving governance in our region.”
He said ECOWAS is equally interested in Inclusive and Sustainable Development, under which there is the intention to increase “our commitment to food security, regional highway development, energy access, disaster response, gender mainstreaming, and climate action.”
He added that: “Besides these four strategic objectives, we have identified two enablers, namely capable institutions and equitable partnerships. Under these capable institutions’ initiative, we intend to look at our processes and our human and financial resources with respect to partnerships.”
In her address, the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, International Cooperation and Community of the Republic of Guinea-Bissau and President of the ECOWAS Council of Ministers, Dr. Carla Suzi Barbosa lamented that the economies of the countries of West Africa have witnessed the regressive effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and the war in Ukraine-Russia, through food crisis and scarcity of other products that constitute essential goods for the regional populations.
She said: “Furthermore, our sub-region has been troubled by human insecurity and violent extremism, and more recently by new waves of coups d’état, guided by uncertain compromises — which represents elements of the fragility of some Member States in implementing mechanisms that guarantee the sustainability of the values of democracy and good governance.”
She stressed that as a consequence, “we are witnessing increasing situations of human poverty and vulnerabilities such as climate change, irregular rainfall, waves of internal displacement, forced migration, communities kidnapped by armed bandits, among others.”
Nigeria’s Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Ambassador Zubairu Dada, in his message, charged all the ministers to take the deliberations at the meeting to heart as the entire sub-region depends on them.
He said: “As an assembly of stakeholders with a collective responsibility of deciding on matters relating to integration and development in our region, it behaves on us to discuss all items on our agenda with an open mind in order to find solutions to the numerous challenges threatening our region, including the new wave of food insecurity and persistent obstacle to free trade, particularly on the Lagos-Abidjan Corridor.
“The interest of the citizens of our Community must be paramount and we need to avail ourselves of the opportunity presented by this meeting to articulate positions that will advance the achievement of sustainable economic integration and development of our region.”