Former Deputy Executive Secretary of Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS Commission), Dr. Sola Afolabi, has stated that Nigeria is the greatest beneficiary of the ECOWAS Trade Liberalisation Scheme (ETLS).
He stated this while delivering a paper titled: “The Trajectory of Intra-West Africa Trade and Travel 1975 till date,” at the inaugural lecture to mark the 10th anniversary of Inside Watch Africa (IWA) magazine in Lagos.
He said ETLS and Free Movement Protocol are the most promising tolls for enhancing regional integrations in West Africa.
“The success of the schemes today has made ECOWAS to stand out among the regional economic communities in Africa.
“The entry of Morocco into ECOWAS and the entry into force of AfCTA should be prudently managed to achieve the desired objectives. With greater sensitisation and efficient application, the schemes can continue to contribute to the enhancement o the welfare of the ECOWAS citizens.”
The ETLS, he said, was established in 1979 to encourage entrepreneurship development in the region and increase intra-regional trade and boost economic activity.
“The ETLS was also established to increase West African competitiveness on the global market, increase the gross domestic products (GDP) of Member States, thus welfare of citizens,” he said.
While stressing that Nigeria is by far the largest beneficiary of the scheme, he said large companies and businesses have benefitted all across the region, adding that there was high compliance by member states during the compensation regime.
The scheme, he added, allows registered companies move approved products and goods within ECOWAS free of duty and taxes.
“Raw (agricultural) materials and artisanal goods move freely, however, manufactured products must satisfy country of origin requirements to benefit.
“Applications for approval are made to the National Approval Agencies (Customs, Trade, Foreign Affairs, as may be applicable). Applications are processed at national level and forwarded to ECOWAS for final approval,” he stated.
Afolabi, blamed low awareness for the reason why the scheme has not been beneficial to most corporate in the region.
He also stated that intending users do not understand the technicalities of the scheme blaming operational deficiencies in the national approval for this.
This, he stated, resulted sometimes inordinate delays in granting certificates of origin (CoO)
Highlighting some of the problems facing the scheme, he said: “Non-mutual recognition of CoO resulting from distrust in the national approval processed and language barriers creating problems for users making applications.
“Parallel FTA scheme in ECOWAS and UEMOA resulting in selective application at borders, re-export of goods from third countries further stressing trust in CoOs are some of the problems.”
He added that phase one of the ECOWAS free movement protocol guarantees right of entry making it possible for citizens to travel freely visa-free within ECOWAS.
He added that provisions are also made for free movement of vehicles within the region in the ECOWAS free movement protocol.
However, he said bribes and delays, especially at land borders and requirement of Yellow card is hampering the ECOWAS free movement protocol.
He listed inadequate immigration information infrastructure at land and sea borders, parallel travel document requirements in UEMOA and ECOWAS countries, non-compliance of commercial vehicles, language difficulties and gender-based harassment of cross-border traders as some of the setbacks for the ECOWAS free movement protocol.
The former deputy executive secretary of ECOWAS Commission said corruption is a major inhibiting factor for sustainable development in Nigeria and Africa