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ECOWAS Commission restates commitment to strengthening regional customs union and infrastructure upgrade

ECOWAS Commission restates commitment to strengthening regional customs union and infrastructure upgrade
Photo credit: ECOWAS

02 Nov 2018

The President of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Commission, Mr. Jean-Claude Kassi Brou, has restated the commitment of the Commission to strengthening regional Customs union and an infrastructural upgrade that can sustain the renewed integration efforts within the community.

Declaring open the 4th meeting of the Ministers of Finance holding on the heels of the convergence of Directors-General of Customs Service of ECOWAS Member States in Abuja, Nigeria on the 2nd of November 2018, President Brou held that the main idea of establishing ECOWAS is to foster an economic union in order to raise the living standards of citizens while maintaining and enhancing the economic stability of the region.

Speaking through the Commission’s Commissioner of Finance Mrs. Halima Ahmed, President Brou noted that the ECOWAS Authority of Heads of State and Government remains unshakeable and resolute in its “determination to make regional integration a potent, viable and appropriate tool for accelerating and achieving the sustainable development of West African countries”.

He maintained that in keeping alive the ECOWAS Vision 2020, what is envisaged is an ECOWAS which has a dynamic regional economy driven by a regionally-inclined business community that operates in an efficient and diversified regional production system.

President Brou stressed that the leaders are working hard for a region that is sustained by modern infrastructural networks. He noted however that the vision may not be easily attainable if the requisite regional economic instruments are not adopted and effectively operationalized in Member States.

The President recalled that the adoption of the ECOWAS Common External Tariff (CET) by the Heads of States and Government of our Community in January 2006 marked an important milestone in the West African integration effort. This, he said is because the ECOWAS revised Treaty, in line with accepted theory of economic integration, has made the creation of a customs union, a critical building block for the achievement of an economic union.

He stressed that while it is imperative to move into the fifth year of the implementation of the ECOWAS CET, appropriate procedures towards the achievement of optimal tariff levels in our fiscal and external trade regime should be put in place “to ensure that this critical integration instrument is not overtaken by the economic realities and aspirations of our region”.

President Brou maintained that the role of customs administrations is central to the success of the regional economic integration agenda while “the level of professionalism exhibited by the administrations in revenue collection, trade facilitation, protection of our industrial sector, and the general protection of our society is a major determinant of their effectiveness in delivering on their mandate”.

He further disclosed to the ministers, participants and experts that following the adoption of the ECOWAS Customs Code by the Heads of State in December 2017, the ECOWAS Commission has begun a capacity building programme of training, sensitization and dissemination of the provisions of the code to the various stakeholders in the trade and fiscal space of the region.

As the Community moves to consolidate its customs union, President Brou stressed the importance of harmonizing tax laws of Member States in order to guarantee equal treatment of economic operators and minimizing the negative effects of tax competition within the Community.

He also made a passionate appeal to the ministers for their support of the Community through the efficient collection and remitting of the ECOWAS Community Levy which he noted, “is the life-blood of the ECOWAS integration process”

The chair of the meeting and Nigeria’s Minister of Finance Mrs. Zainab Shamsuna Ahmed made a detailed presentation on consolidating the ECOWAS Customs union including allied fiscal matters.

She opined that the regional regulations being fashioned out in this regard will also assist in the “deepening of integration of the region with the global strategies to improve public revenue through the elimination of tax malpractices”.

She stressed in this regard that Nigeria’s current economic policies, in several aspects, seek to identify with, and actively participate in the effort to achieve regional economic development through cooperation, hence the country effectively commenced the implementation of the ECOWAS CET in April 2015, with additional measures under the ECOWAS approved Supplementary Protection.

During the meeting, several texts to facilitate the operationalization of the Customs code will be presented for examination and validation. These relate to mutual administrative assistance in customs matters and customs cooperation as well as the harmonization of customs duty reliefs in the ECOWAS region.

The implementation of the ECOWAS CET, which began in January 2015 effectively ushered the Community into a customs union on the road to consolidating the West Africa regional market.


Regional directors-general of Customs meet on the consolidation of the ECOWAS Customs Union

The Directors-General of Custom service of the fifteen member countries of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) have met in Abuja, Nigeria on the 1st of November 2018 in the quest to consolidate the ECOWAS Customs Union.

The heads of Customs are also deliberating on information exchange and cooperation between Customs administrations as a concerted response to the obstacles to the free movement of goods, security challenges and resurgence of illicit trafficking.

Declaring the meeting open, the ECOWAS Commission’s Commissioner for Trade, Customs, and Free Movement, Mr. Tei Konzi, affirmed that the coming together of senior officials is in line with the current desire of the President of the Commission to strengthen the economic integration process of ECOWAS.

Noting that the Customs service constitute a critical central link in this regard, Commissioner Konzi recalled that since the last meeting in 2017, the ECOWAS Commission “has worked tirelessly to strengthen the regional Customs Union”

He stressed that the efforts of the Commission are translated with the assistance of the experts of the Member States who examined the draft Community texts on the reinforcement of the Free Trade Area (FTA), the application of the Common External Tariff (CET), harmonization of customs procedures, cooperation as well as the establishment of the Tax Transition and Tax Harmonization Programmes.

He further disclosed that the Commission has also made good progress on the construction of a regional automated transit system based on the interconnection of national customs Information Technology systems.

He solicited for the necessary support (by the Directors-General) of the ECOWAS Commission’s efforts to consolidate the Customs Union so that all the elements contributing to its smooth realization “are quickly and effectively implemented”.

Of particular importance to be taken into account, by the Commissioner’s estimation, is the new role of the Customs Administration in the current security context. He said in this regard: “There is today an expansion of customs missions with emerging missions such as the fight against trafficking, the fight against money laundering and the financing of terrorism”

In her keynote address, the Comptroller-General of the Nigerian Customs Service, Colonel Hameed Ali (Rtd) noted that for continuous progress in the fight against transnational crime there is a need to deepen and intensify information exchange cooperation.

Represented by the Deputy Comptroller-General of the Nigerian Customs Service Mrs. Ronke Olubiyi, the Customs boss said this is in consonance with the World Customs Administration publication in 2004 which urges all Customs administrators to collaborate with each other to share sensitive information about enforcement through Customs Mutual Assistance Agreem,ent (CMAAs)

Lamenting that the security challenges of the region have severely affected trade facilitation, he explained that the realisation that no nation can go it alone informed the setting up of intelligence data base among the participating Customs administrations of Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Mali, Niger, Nigeria and soon to join-Burkina Faso.

The Vice president of the WCO (OMD and AOC region) and Director-General of Customs of the Republic of Guinea Brigadier-General Toumany Sangare urged participants to harmonise, as far as possible and necessary the vision of technical issues of the ECOWAS region with that of the African Union “in order to facilitate for our region the continental economic integration that seems more and more inevitable”.