26 October 2013

West African Bloc Moves Further Towards Regional Economic Integration

Leaders of the regional African bloc ECOWAS have taken more steps towards a monetary union, agreeing to implement a single customs tariff system from 2015. Mali was also on the agenda of talks in Senegal.

The agreement on the so-called Common External Tariff was reached Friday at a special summit of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) in Senegal focused on moving the region towards a common market and monetary union by 2020.

The single-tariff scheme is designed to standardize customs fees charged on goods imported into the 15-nation bloc. Eight ECOWAS nations already have a single-tariff regime and a shared currency - the CFA franc - as members of the Economic and Monetary Union of West Africa (UEMOA).

Hopes for deal with EU

The president of the ECOWAS commission, Kadre Desire Ouedraogo, said the introduction of the harmonized customs regime would help kick-start negotiations with the European Union on an Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA), which have currently stalled. The EU is West Africa's largest trade partner.

The talks broke down because of differing expectations with regard to how fast West African nations were prepared to open their market and get rid of tariff barriers. The EU has also balked at an ECOWAS request for compensation for adjusting to a new trade regime.

The summit in the Senegalese capital, Dakar, also approved the introduction of a 1.5 percent levy to finance the activites of the west African bloc.

This will replace the current 0.5 percent tax, which is now to be phased out over five years.

Crisis in Mali

Leaders at the summit also called for "urgent steps" from the international community to secure peace in the ECOWAS member nation Mali.

The UN has said more soldiers are needed to help stabilize Mali and combat militant groups. Recent election results have given hope for peace but violence continues to highlight the country's instability. (17.10.2013)

The bloc urged that more international troops be sent to the UN mission in Mali (MINUSMA) to counter a recent surge in attacks by Islamist militants. Currently, MINUSMA has some 6,000 uniformed personnel, but is meant to eventually grow to 12,640 troops and police.

Speakers in Dakar also wished member state Guinea-Bissau a "happy ending" as it moves towards democracy following a military coup in 2012. ECOWAS troops are also stationed in the country, which is due to hold presidential and parliamentary elections on November 24.

The 15 member states of ECOWAS are Benin, Burkina Faso, Cape Verde, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Ivory Coast, Liberia, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone and Togo.

tj/ipj (Reuters, AFP)

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