Building capacity to help Africa trade better

Regional integration and non-tariff measures in the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS)


Regional integration and non-tariff measures in the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS)

Regional integration and non-tariff measures in the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS)

This report examines non-tariff measures (NTMs) from an economic and an institutional perspective in the context of the regional integration process in West Africa, driven simultaneously by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the West African Economic and Monetary Union (WAEMU).

The regional integration process in West Africa is driven by ECOWAS and WAEMU. The elimination of tariff and non-tariff barriers to trade is at the core of their respective programs with the aim of fostering freer trade and the free movement of the factors of production.

However, as for most of Africa’s regional integration arrangements, the focus of ECOWAS and WAEMU has primarily been on border measures and tariffs. Originally, more concern was given to the prominence of tariff barriers which dramatically hindered all integration efforts.

While tariffs were undeniably an important barrier, economic analysis indicates that tariffs have gone down. NTMs, including behind-the-border measures, are more important than tariffs in inhibiting intraregional trade as they substantially raise the costs of doing business. Intra-ECOWAS trade is further undermined by the persistence of non-tariff barriers (NTBs), particularly quantitative restrictions.

This report is based on the analysis of NTMs data that were collected by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) and the African Development Bank (AfDB) in 13 ECOWAS countries as well as an institutional analysis. The purpose of this report is to provide policy options to national and regional policy makers from the ECOWAS region to support deep regional integration based on the reduction of non-tariff barriers (NTBs) and regulatory cooperation.


Regional integration presents unique opportunities to drive Africa’s transformation and development. ECOWAS is among the major African Regional Economic Communities that has been shaping the evolution of regional integration in Western Africa. From better crisis prevention and management, financial and macroeconomic integration, to free movement of people, the list of achievements by ECOWAS is long since its formation in 1975.

Today, the establishment of a functioning common market is among ECOWAS’ top priorities. The ECOWAS Treaty states that the common market should be ensured through “… liberalization of trade among Member States by [..] removing non-tariff barriers to establish a free trade area at the community level [… and] the removal, among Member States, of obstacles to the free movement of [.] goods”.

Although tariffs have been widely reduced, effective market access and integration also requires addressing non-tariff measures (NTMs). NTMs are policy measures other than tariffs that can potentially hinder trade. They refer to regulations whose primary objective is to protect health and the environment such as Sanitary and Phytosanitary (SPS) measures or Technical Barriers to Trade (TBTs) but which directly or indirectly distort trade.

This study provides an institutional overview of NTMs and an assessment of its impacts on regional integration in West Africa. It is part of a global initiative titled the “Global Transparency in Trade Initiative” jointly implemented by the Bank, UNCTAD, ITC and the World Bank to improve transparency in and access to trade data.

ECOWAS was the first region in Africa in which the partners systematically mapped, collected, organized and analyzed all NTM data, including non-tariff barriers and behind-the-border regulations such as SPS measures and TBTs.

The report utilizes innovative methods to assess regulatory convergence and evaluate the impact of NTMs from an economic, legal and institutional perspective. From the analysis, clear policy recommendations are identified for policy makers in ECOWAS and their development partners.

Today, diverse stakeholders use the database for various reasons. For example, traders use it to identify the import and export regulations that they must comply with. Policymakers and negotiators use it to streamline and negotiate NTMs while researchers make use of the data to assess the impact of NTMs on trade and sustainable development.

It is the expectation of the Bank and UNCTAD that by facilitating access to information on NTMs, the report shall assist ECOWAS member States in their efforts to boost trade and economic integration.

This report was prepared by UNCTAD in close collaboration between the African Development Bank and the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development.


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