The Head of the European Union, EU, delegation to Nigeria, David MacRae, has said that the organisation is committed to achieving an economic partnership and trade agreement, EPA, with the Economic Community of West African States, ECOWAS, that would be mutually beneficial to all parties and interests.
The Ambassador, who was speaking on Monday at the 9th annual ECOWAS-development partners' coordination meeting in Abuja, said tremendous progress is being made towards finalising the agreement soon.
Mr. MacRae said a balanced ECOWAS-EU partnership trade agreement would increase the economic ties between the two regions, foster development and regional integration in West Africa and bring bilateral trade relations among them to conform to World Trade Organisation, WTO, established rules.
He said the meeting would afford the EU the opportunity to discuss the progress made so far and explore ways to move the process forward and ensure better alignment of EU and other development partners' on-going and planned support to the needs of the region.
While acknowledging the progress towards the Common External Tariff, CET, to set the basis for the transition to the customs union and a common market in full convergence with the West African Economic and Monetary Union, WAEMU, he said that the formal adoption of the CET would facilitate the conclusion of an EPA with the EU.
"New projects would soon be adopted by the EU to support the ECOWAS Commission and members states in the effective implementation of the CET, the customs code, trade policy, investment policies, the removal of obstacles to trade, improved quality infrastructure and other related policies," he said.
He stressed the need for ECOWAS member states to put economic integration protocols and commitments into practice and to further develop mechanisms for improved results monitoring, evaluation and reporting of the implementation of regional policies at national levels.
The head of delegation reaffirmed EU's commitment to partner with ECOWAS to promote its objectives and principles of establishing a peaceful West Africa that respects human rights, democracy and rule of law; foster growth and help achieve the millennium development goals, MDGs, and reduce poverty through regional economic integration.
The Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for West Africa, Said Djinnit, highlighted the progress recorded so far in the economic and monetary integration in ECOWAS through the establishment a region-wide single currency by 2020 and the finalization of the ECOWAS Community Development Programme to enhance regional integration in West Africa.
Mr. Djinnit said the long-term stability of the sub-region can only be achieved through improved democratic and economic governance, combined with an enhanced regional integration, pointing out that the ECOWAS Commission has to focus on critical areas, namely management of natural resources, including extractive industries, so as to ensure a more equitable share of dividends.
In doing this, he said particular emphasis should be placed on the creation of economic opportunities for the more vulnerable, including women and youth; in an effort to pave the way for sustained peace, social cohesion and stability in West Africa.
He drew attention to the issue of cross-border threats to peace and security in West Africa, saying a region that is increasingly exposed to the penetration of drug trafficking, organized crime, piracy and terrorism, constitute areas where the coordination between the UN and ECOWAS would continue to expand in the years ahead.
While welcoming the recent decision by the ECOWAS Commission to extend by two years the regional action plan against drug trafficking, organized crime, and drugs abuse, he assured that this would firm-up the process launched by the three regional organizations, with the support of the UN, toward the development of a strategic framework for the fight against piracy and maritime crime.
The president of the ECOWAS Commission, Kadre Ouedraogo, who is hosting the annual meeting for the first time since assumption of office, said it would afford the Commission to meet with development partners to review the modalities for the economic and political cooperation.
He said the meeting would provide an opportunity to present to the development partners the priorities and vision of the Commission as well as listen to their recommendations and observations to ensure that necessary improvements where necessary towards improved efficiency of programmes.
While commending the international partners that have assisted the ECOWAS in the implementation of its economic integration agenda, Mr. Ouedraogo noted the progress in negotiations towards establishing an EPA, pointing out that ECOWAS has been careful by insisting that whatever EPAs are agreed upon must be mutually beneficial to all parties.
"We are working to obtain and EPA that would be development-friendly," he said. "We believe that trade without development will not achieve much. We are working hard with our partners, the EU, to make ensure that whatever agreement is achieved is one that should promote development, regional integration and protect the interest of ECOWAS member states."