By Tunde Osho
West African leaders have frowned on the low level of economic integration of the sub-region after more than 40 years of the existence of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).
They, have, therefore, called on member states to speed up the implementation of projects and programmes within the scope of integration, cutting across infrastructure and the broader pillars of improving the business environment and enhancing the competitiveness of businesses in their respective countries.
They have, however, welcomed the bright prospects and achievements so far chalked up, especially with regard to the real gross domestic product (GDP) for the sub-region, which was forecast at 2.1 percent for 2017 and 3.1 percent in 2018, as against 0.2 percent in 2016, saying that had been due to the recovery in prices of commodities exported by ECOWAS member states and improvement in the security of oil-producing areas.
The position of the 15-member state community was contained in a communique issued at the end of the 52nd Ordinary Session of the Authority of Heads of State and Governments of ECOWAS held in Abuja, Nigeria.
The Authority of Heads of State urged member states to continue with their structural reforms, so that the effects of fluctuating commodity prices could be mitigated for their various economies to be resilient against external shocks.
On the establishment of the monetary union, it said some progress had been made by all ECOWAS institutions involved in steering the activities covered by the road map for the ECOWAS single currency and reiterated its commitment to speed up the achievement of the monetary and economic integration of ECOWAS.
It urged members to take the necessary measures to respect the main convergence criteria which were necessary for the establishment of a viable and credible monetary union.
On the free movement of goods and people, it noted that there were still tariff and non-tariff barriers and there was still harassment along the borders of member states.
The authority also adopted the ECOWAS Customs Code, noting that it was a significant instrument that would establish a common legal framework for customs procedures in all member states and also contribute to enhancing the business environment and facilitating trade within the ECOWAS area.
ECOWAS and the EPA
With regard to the economic partnership agreement (EPA) between ECOWAS and the European Union (EU), it underlined the need to re-consider the circumstances in the light of recent developments.
On human development, specifically education, it welcomed the action taken to develop human capital through the harmonisation of national policies and strategies which would encourage mobility among the youth, the sharing of scientific experiences, as well as the promotion of the culture of peace and the fight against violence and extremism.
It further congratulated the ECOWAS Commission on the preparation of a strategic framework for the enhancement of the national system for the protection of the child, to prevent and fight against violence, ill-treatment, abuse and the exploitation of West African children.
On the agricultural development and food security, it welcomed the enhancement of co-operation with various technical and financial partners for the implementation of regional and national projects within the agricultural sector.
Peace, security and democracy
The authority affirmed its commitment to peace, security and stability in the ECOWAS area, saying they were indispensable for the sustained development of the region.
It re-affirmed its commitment to unflinchingly support the fight against terrorism and welcomed the efforts that were being made at national and regional levels to prevent and forestall “this plague.”
In that regard, it expressed happiness with the outcome of the efforts of the Joint Multinational Lake Chad Basin Force in its fight against the Boko Haram terrorist group and the significant progress that had been made in the operations of the Joint G5 Sahel Force that was fighting against terrorism in the Sahel.
The authority strongly encouraged member states to better share information and intelligence among themselves, so that there would be a sound and well-coordinated fight against terrorism in the region.
In that regard, it supported the implementation of the Police Information and Intelligence System that would increase the capacity to fight cross-border crimes and terrorism and directed the ECOWAS Commission to work with ministers of security to ensure that there was proper monitoring of the system of police intelligence in West Africa, with regular reports being made to the authority.