The Economic Community of West Africa States, ECOWAS, is the least integrated region in the world in terms of cross border trade, a report by the Borderless Alliance group has said.
According to the report, the non- application of ECOWAS directives relating to free movement of goods and people, ECOWAS Trade Liberalization Scheme, ETLS, and the Common External Tariff, CET, are some of the factors responsible for the low level of trade integration in the region.
Other factors militating against trade in the region include the high cost of transport & logistics, Long delays at ports and borders, harassment along transit corridors, mainly from uniformed services and corruption.
Speaking at a one day workshop on dissemination and launch of the ECOWAS Trade Liberalization Scheme handbook, Mr Justin Bayili, Executive Secretary, Borderless Alliance said that while Europe recorded 71 per cent in intra-regional trade, Asia recorded 53 per cent, South America 48 per cent against 12 per cent recorded by the ECOWAS region.
Bayili disclosed that East Africa is more integrated than its West African counterpart citing Customs inter-connectivity for the success so far recorded in East Africa.
He said, "We want to make West Africa a borderless border, East Africa is more integrated than West Africa.
"In international trade, there are no restrictions but standards must be met, the same best practices on transit that are applicable in East Africa must be applicable in West Africa.
"Burkina and Togo are inter-connected, Burkina- Cote Ivoire is also inter- connected and this has reduced the cost of trade between these countries."
He explained that lack of professionalism amongst operators in the ECOWAS trade corridor has also been identified as a problem.
Bayili also noted that some of the issues affecting the ETLS are national issues adding that they must be addressed by national administrations.
Earlier in his opening remark, the Executive Secretary of the Nigerian Shippers' Council, NSC, Mr Hassan Bello, said that barriers to trade increase the cost of trade and Africa has the highest cost of transporting goods between origin and destination across all modes of transportation.
ECOWAS calls for barrier elimination
He stated: "We must work assiduously to reduce these unnecessary costs by eliminating all the barriers to trade and make our products more competitive in the international market.
"Removing obstacles to intra-regional integration in the ECOWAS sub-region would be particularly beneficial to the small scale traders that conduct cross border commerce within the sub-region.
"The potential benefits include food security, job creation, poverty reduction, increased tax revenues for authorities and long term development outcomes."