By Ousainou J. Sawaneh (Prince Ojee)
The fifth Legislature of the ECOWAS Parliament have accepted the need to support the implementation of African Continental Free Trade Area AfCFTA, which is expected to grow intra-African trade through better harmonization and coordination of trade liberalization across the continent, and advocate for the immediate ratification by all State parties/Member.
The AfCFTA was recognized as an example of South-South cooperation which would keep within the local domain wealth which hitherto went abroad through goods and services. It is projected to establish a formidable and diverse market of over 1.2 billion people.
The Gambia’s delegation was headed by Hon Kebba K.Barrow , who is the majority leader in the national Assembly, who also was the Co-Chair of thenoccassion.
This deliberations were made during a five day delocalised Meeting Joint Committee on Trade, Customs and Free Movement, Macroeconomic Policy and bb Research, Public Accounts, Administration, Finance and Budget from 3 -7 November 2020 held in Cotonou, Republic of Benin.
ECOWAS being a Regional Economic Community (REC) had its own experience of cooperation and integration policies including a customs union. Members recalled and shared experience of challenges faced by ECOWAS in its progress with integration policies and the Union.
The Parliamentarians recalled the challenges of the common currency, free movement (including non-tariff barriers), security, transportation (air, sea and land), infrastructural deficit, trans-humans, banking/settlement, telecommunication / ICT and Pharmaceuticals.
In addition, they lamented the failure of countries to observe their obligations under agreements (e.g. unilateral closure of border). Recognizing free movement of goods as a major plank of integration, they appreciated that integration would be empty if there is no free movement of goods.
The theme of the meeting is African Continental Free Trade Area: Prospects of its Achievement within a context of Cross-Border Threats (Terrorism and Insecurity, Pandemics and Protectionism)
The objective of the meeting was to acquaint Hon. Members of the Joint Committee with current developments on the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) and make recommendations to Plenary.
The meeting was co-chaired by Hon. Bida Nouhoume YOUSSOUFOU ABDOURAMANI, Hon. Kebba K. BARROW, Hon. Stephen J.H. ZARGO and Hon. Souleymane NDOYE, Chairmen of the Committees on Public Accounts | Macroeconomic Policy and Economic Research and the Vice Chairmen of the Committees on Trade, Customs and Free Movement | Administration, Finance and Budget respectively. Hon. Bida Nouhoume YOUSSOUFOU ABDOURAMANI was in the Chair.
The formal opening ceremony took place on Tuesday 04 November 2020 and it featured the following speeches:
In her introductory remarks, Honourable Sédami Romarique MEDEGAN FAGLA, Head of Benin’s Delegation of Honourable Representatives to ECOWAS Parliament, on behalf of the delegation, welcomed the Parliamentarians and other participants to the meeting.
She recalled that Africans shared a common heritage and a common territory, which encompassed the entire continent. She lamented the delineation of the territory into countries, which she explained the African continental free trade policy is seeking to reverse, in the interest of its citizens.
Hon Fagla stressed the importance of the topic, which she claimed was in tandem with the aspirations of the citizens and pronouncements of H.E. President Nana Akufo-Addo the President of Ghana and Chairman, Authority of Heads of State and Government of ECOWAS.
In a goodwill message, Aurelien AGBENONCI, Minister for Foreign Affairs and Cooperation, Republic of Benin, on behalf of H.E. President Patrice Talon, President of the Republic, took the opportunity to welcome the ECOWAS Parliament, while thanking the parliamentarians for choosing Cotonou to host the delocalised meeting of the Joint Committee on the prospects of the AfCFTA.
He underscored the importance of the continental free trade area, which he explained Benin had signed onto and gave the commitment of the Republic of Benin to the scheme.
He appreciated the benefits and need for integration and cross-border cooperation while recognising the various threats to the integrative goals. He recognised that the advent of the Covid 19 pandemic, infrastructural deficit, security concerns and protectionism had pushed back the implementation timetable of the AfCFTA.
In his address, the Speaker of the ECOWAS Parliament, Honourable Sidie Mohamed Tunis expressed gratitude to H. E. President Patrice Talon for granting the hosting of the Joint Committee meeting in Cotonou. He congratulated the administration for its achievements and the people for their peacefulness.
Addressing the presence of the Parliament in Benin, he explained that the Parliament was in Cotonou for 2 meetings holding simultaneously. The Bureau of Parliament, which was meeting to adopt the 2021 draft budget of the Parliament and the popularised Joint Committee meeting to consider the prospects of the AfCFTA. On the AfCFTA.
The Speaker expressed concern of the effects of the pandemic, security and protectionism on AfCFTA, which he said was already impacting negatively on the economies of Member States. He concluded by highlighting the benefits of free trade and the hope that the Joint Committee meeting would be able to proffer solutions to these challenges.
Giving his statement Honourable Louis VLAVONOU, Speaker of the National Assembly of Benin extended a warm and brotherly welcome from H.E. President Talon, the National Assembly and the people of Benin.
He recognised the role of ECOWAS in facilitating the AfCFTA. He explained that African integration, particularly within ECOWAS was a major plank of the foreign policy of Benin.
Finally, he spoke of solutions to the challenges confronting African integration, intra-continental trade and the role of the African Union (AU) and the 7 Regional Economic Communities (RECs) in achieving our objectives. He declared the meeting open.
The Parliamentarians also hold a Panel discussion on, “The African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA): Challenges & Prospects of a borderless Africa in a period of terrorism and insecurity, pandemics, and protectionism”
The Joint Committee invite 2 Panelists from diverse fields to give their constituency’s perspective on the prospects of AfCFTA. They represented the private sector and the Civil society.
Mr. Albin Feliho, President, National Confederation of Employers of Benin (CONEB); in his position paper gave a background to the AfCFTA and outlined the importance and role of the private sector in the implementation of the free trade area.
Mr. Feliho recalled that to strengthen the role of the private sector in this process, ECOWAS organised, on 2 September 2020, a regional virtual workshop for private economic operators to create awareness on the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA).
Speaking on behalf of employers, the West African Federation of Employers’ Associations, Mr. Jean-Marie Ackah mentioned the association’s commitment to engage ECOWAS and Member States during the negotiation and implementation of the AfCFTA Agreement.
On the challenges to AfCFTA, the presenter spoke of the Corona Virus pandemic (COVID 19) that has spread globally, with unprecedented and multifaceted repercussions, has dealt a big blow to companies, economies, global trade and international travels and has devastating impacts on livelihoods. It has drastically affected the life of companies and start-ups in an unprecedented manner.
Mr. Lougoudou CHARLES in his comments gave a background, the organizational structure of the civil society in Benin and how they relate with the AfCFTA.
He recognized that the pandemic, security and protectionism were challenges to regional and continental integration. The civil society, which he explained was in 5 sectors and 8 thematic pools related to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
He therefore appealed to the Speaker and the ECOWAS Commissioner of Trade to use their good offices for ECOWAS Member States to submit their Schedules of tariff concession and specific commitments on services.
Having received the presentations, Members commended the quality of expositions given. They thereafter made comments and sought clarifications from panelists and presenters.
Members were unanimous in commendation of the AfCFTA, which seeks to create a continental market for goods and services, with free movement of people and capital, and pave the way for creating a Customs Union.
Members were mindful that trade, even among State Parties, is most profitable where there is sufficient value-added local production, they therefore lamented the abysmal level of diversification and industrialization of African economies and West African ones, in particular.
Most African and West African economies it was noted had balance of trade deficits, because they were consumer economies exporting primary products in exchanged for finished goods. They were in effect not producing what they were consuming and therefore susceptible to become dumping grounds.
Haven extensively discussed the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA): Prospects of its Achievement within a context of Cross-Border Threats (Terrorism and Insecurity, Pandemics and Protectionism), Members make recommendations to the Plenary for consideration to the Member States, ECOWAS Commission, and recommendations to Parliament.