Promoting Regional Integration

As part of the measures designed to promote regional integration, ECOWAS held its seventh regional trade in Accra, Ghana, to provide a forum for member countries and companies within and outside the region to showcase their products

By Maureen Chigbo  |  Nov. 18, 2013 @ 01:00 GMT

THE two-week ECOWAS trade fair in Ghana, which started October 31, provided another opportunity for member states to exchange ideas on economic integration in the region.  Twelve ECOWAS member countries along with hundreds of companies, traders, manufacturers, investors and industrialists also seized the opportunity to showcase their products and services during the regional fair. The fair was instituted to boost intra-community trade which presently hovers between 11 and 15 percent, and also to facilitate the implementation of the ECOWAS Trade Liberalisation Scheme, ETLS, as well as empower local producers and stimulate regional economy.

Hoisting of the ECOWAS Flag during the celebration of the ECOWAS Day at the Fair
Hoisting of the ECOWAS Flag during the celebration of the ECOWAS Day at the Fair

At the Fair, participants challenged member states to translate their various decisions and statements on regional integration into concrete actions. At an interactive workshop organised by the ECOWAS Commission in Accra, on Monday, November  4, on the sidelines of the ongoing 7th regional Trade Fair, participants called for greater political willingness on the part of leaders of member states and governments to give meaning to their avowed commitment to regional integration.

Some of the participants cited the incessant extortion and molestation of community citizens at various border posts by security agents and the multiplicity of check-points as impediments to free movement of persons, goods and services enshrined in the ECOWAS flagship protocol. They noted that as major stakeholders in the integration agenda, governments and their agencies should ensure the full implementation of the legal instruments and texts they have signed to.

VP McIntosh and Honourable Dewornu cutting the tape to declare the Fair open
VP McIntosh and Honourable Dewornu cutting the tape to declare the Fair open

Answering questions raised by the participants after his presentation on the ECOWAS Trade Liberalization Scheme and the Common External Tariff, CET, Felix Kwakye, a Customs expert at the ECOWAS, explained that the commission and the other institutions in the community have continued to step up efforts to sensitise citizens and advocate on the integration process. “Regional integration is a collective responsibility requiring the support and cooperation of all stakeholders including all the member states, governments, civil society organisations, the private sector and the citizens,” he said.

Sacko Seydou and Adou Koman, both from the ECOWAS Trade Directorate, expatiated on the many benefits of improved trade to member states and community citizens in general. They also shed further light on the citizen’s rights, responsibilities and their vital contributions to the realization of the ECOWAS goal of regional integration and economic development. The workshop, under the Trade Fair’s theme: “Regional Integration through Trade,” was part of activities on the margin of the biennial fair, which Ghana was hosting for the second time since its inception in 1995.

Commissioner Ahmed speaking at the same occasion
Commissioner Ahmed speaking at the same occasion

Guinea Bissau and Liberia, two of the 12 ECOWAS member countries participating in the two-week fair observed their National Day on November 4 while Benin and Burkina Faso observed their National Day on November 1, followed by Cape Verde and Cote d’Ivoire on  November 2. The other participating countries will take their turns in marking their National Days at the fair which also featured Business to Business talks, trading and exchange of information and ideas by traders, manufacturers, investors and industrialists from within and outside the region.

The ECOWAS Day was celebrated on November 2, with a flag hoisting ceremony attended by Toga McIntosh, vice president of the ECOWAS, and Hamid Ahmed, commissioner for Trade, Free Movement and Tourism, Gbenga Obideyi, acting director of Trade, and members of the Local Organising committee of the Trade Fair. At the event, citizens of ECOWAS were enjoined to exercise and protect their rights under the instrumentalities provided by the 38-year-old regional economic bloc.

McIntosh with a member of Ghana’s National Council of State, Dewornu (sitting), who represented Mahama
McIntosh with a member of Ghana’s National Council of State, Christopher Dewornu (sitting), who represented President Mahama, at the official opening of the 7th ECOWAS Trade Fair in Accra. Behind Dewornu is Ghana’s Trade and Industry Minister, Haruna Iddrisu

Speaking to a gathering in the auditorium of the Ghana International Trade fair Centre, venue of the regional fair, McIntosh reminded community citizens of the numerous opportunities and mechanisms available to them through their countries’ membership of the 15-nation organisation with a combined estimated population of more than 350 million. He cited the ECOWAS Court of Justice where citizens can take their cases against organisations or their own state after exhausting domestic legal options.

There is also the ECOWAS Parliament, an assembly of lawmakers currently chosen from the legislature of member states, with the vice president expressing the hope that in the next two years members of the regional parliament would be elected directly by community citizens themselves. This is in line with the new vision of an ECOWAS of people, as against an ECOWAS of States, he said, and urged the citizens to show more commitment and proactive engagement around the issues of regional integration under the ECOWAS agenda.

McIntosh also challenged the citizens, particularly the youths to take advantage of the promising business opportunities and the community’s huge market, potentials that make the region a major player in the global space.

VP McIntosh, Minister Iddrisu and others touring the Pavilion after the official opening of the Fair
VP McIntosh, Minister Iddrisu and others touring the Pavilion after the official opening of the Fair

Similarly, Ahmed, said the citizens should not be shy of protecting or defending the sacred rights granted them by their heads of state and government, ministers and parliaments under different protocols and legal instruments. The commissioner noted that by exercising, defending and protecting their rights, that the citizens can contribute to the entrenchment of democracy and good governance in the region, adding: “ It takes more than one person to commit corruption.”

Earlier, Sunny Ugoh, the ECOWAS acting director of communication, took the gathering through the organsation’s structure, objectives, programmes and activities as well as achievements, challenges and prospects.

 Meanwhile, the buying and selling continued at the pavilions, while traders, manufacturers and investors from within and outside the region compared notes and exchanged ideas and information on business opportunities under the platform provided by the biennial trade event which started in 1995.

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