Leaders of the Economic Community for West African States (ECOWAS) met on the 25 of October 2013 in Dakar Senegal for an extraordinary summit almost devoted to economic issues to strengthen regional integration. According to Stephane Ballong, Special envoy of Jeune Afrique in a publication dated the 26 of October 2013, this meeting was regarded by the host, President Macky Sall as a historic one. The leaders of ECOWAS states adopted a Common External Tariff (CET) for all fifteen Member States of the Community. Concretely, this means that from the date of application of this new customs duty scheduled to kick off in January 2015, once customs duties are levied on goods at the entrance of one of the states in the sub -region, these goods will be able to move freely in all other states in the sub-region. This will equally allow foreign business partners have access to a market of over 300 million people of the ECOWAS community.
The leaders of ECOWAS states also put in place an additional tax, which regulates importation and protects local production. A tax was also instituted which warrants that member states make some financial contributions to hasten Africa’s regional integration. Ballong of Jeune Afrique concurs that the realisation of this new customs duty planned since the inception of ECOWAS in 1975, is also a strong argument that the community can use in trade negotiations. “Thanks to the Common External Tariff, we now form a solid competitive block”, affirmed Alassane Ouattara, the Ivorian Head of State and Chairman of ECOWAS. According to Kadré Desire Ouedraogo, President of the ECOWAS Commission, ECOWAS states will be able to accelerate trade and financial negotiations for an Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) that will give guidance on trade with the European Union. EPA is supposed to replace the Cotonou Agreement in force since June 2000 and allow products from states in Africa, the Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) have privilege access to European markets. The Cotonou Agreement contrary to World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules did not allow Africans to develop their business and diversify their economies. Some economists argue that EPA should not only comply with international standards, but also take into account the development dimension of African economies.
The ECOWAS summit in Senegal was a very ambitious one especially with respect to regional integration. Having a single custom duty for the whole sub region is a laudable idea, but will the statesmen of these nations respect the conditions of this newly created customs duty? The responsibility of ensuring that this dream reaches fruition lies in the hands of the leaders of the ECOWAS region. ECOWAS states are still plagued with ills such as corruption. Taxes still remain very high in these ECOWAS states. The private sectors in most of the ECOWAS states remain poorly organised. Decentralisation remains an illusion in some of these states especially as central governments still continue to carry out functions traditionally associated with regional and local governments. Leaving these ills unresolved and instituting a sub regional custom duty will thus be a waste of time because come 2015, these very states that agreed to institute such a custom duty will find fault in it. It is thus germane for African leaders to put the horse before the cart and stop wasting tax payers money by organising summits which produce no fruit. It is important for every African state and most especially ECOWAS states to first of all put in place institutions of transparency and good governance, revamp the private sector, before agreeing on a custom duty for the sub region. If not we may just have another scenario of empty promises.