ECOWAS Legal texts and policy documents
The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) was established on 28 May 1975, when the Heads of State of Government of 15 West African countries signed the Treaty of Lagos, with the objective of “promoting cooperation and integration leading to the establishment of an economic union in West Africa in order to raise the living standards of its peoples, to maintain and to enhance economic stability, foster relations among Member States and contribute to the progress and development of the African continent”.
The 15 ECOWAS member countries are Benin, Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, The Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Liberia, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Senegal and Togo.
In pursuit of its mission, in June 2007, the Authority of Heads of State and Government adopted the ECOWAS Vision 2020. The vision was aimed at creating “a borderless, peaceful, prosperous and cohesive region built on good governance and where people have the capacity to access and harness the enormous resources through the creation of opportunities for sustainable development and environmental preservation”. With the expiry of this Vision in December 2020, the region was prompted to develop a new strategic vision for the years to come; a vision that considers the current developmental challenges and emerging regional and global dynamics.
“ECOWAS of the Peoples: Peace and Prosperity for All”
Vision 2050 was prepared to replace the former Vision 2020, taking into account the major changes in the development context that have occurred at the continental and global levels which have profoundly impacted the dynamics of the integration process in West Africa. These include the adoption of the African Union’s Agenda 2063, the renewal of commitments to poverty eradication through the adoption of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the Addis Ababa Action Agenda on financing for development, as well as the Paris Agreement on Climate Change.
Beyond these multilateral frameworks, the current trend towards the regionalisation of partnerships reaffirms the strategic importance of regional mechanisms in the achievement of development goals. In particular, the deepening of the integration processes at the continental level through the establishment of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) and, at the West African level, a resolute commitment to the Economic and Monetary Union, are key indicators of the current context in which the region is evolving, which require a clear vision and new strategic orientation by ECOWAS over the next three decades.
The Treaty Establishing the Economic Community of West African States was initially signed on 28 May 1975. This was subsequently revised on 24 July 1993. Among the stated objectives of the Community, as enshrined in its Treaty, are to ensure, through stages, the harmonisation and co-ordination of national policies and the promotion of integration programmes, projects and activities, particularly in food, agriculture and natural resources, industry, transport and communications, energy, trade, money and finance, taxation, economic reform policies, human resources, education, information, culture, science, technology, services, health, tourism, and legal matters.
In the area of trade, as a step towards the achievement of a Common Market, the objectives of the Community are to:
liberalise trade through the abolition, among Member States, of customs duties levied on imports and exports, and the abolition, among Member States, of non-tariff barriers in order to establish a free trade area at the Community level;
adopt a common external tariff and a common trade policy vis-a-vis third countries;
remove, between Member States, obstacles to the free movement of persons, goods, services and capital, and to the right of residence and establishment; and ultimately
establish an economic union through the adoption of common policies in the economic, financial, social and cultural sectors, and the creation of a monetary union.
According to Article 3 of the Revised ECOWAS Treaty, one of the main objectives of ECOWAS is to promote the economic integration of the region by establishing, among other things, a Free Trade Area (FTA). The instrument created for this purpose is the ECOWAS Trade Liberalisation Scheme (ETLS). The ETLS is a tool which aims to operationalise the Free Trade Area. The ETLS mechanism ensures the free movement of originating products without the payment of customs duties and taxes of equivalent effect on importation into ECOWAS Member States.
The indicative timeline for the establishment of a Customs Union among the Member States was a period of 10 years with effect from 1 January 1990. While a Free Trade Area has been established, to date the Customs Union and Common Market have yet to be fully realised.
The ETLS was established in 1979 and at that time only covered agricultural products and handmade crafts. Then, in 1990, it was extended to industrial products. This expansion required the formulation of rules relating to the definition of the concept of “products originating” from ECOWAS. The “Rules of Origin” have therefore been stated. An industrial product which complies with one of these Rules of Origin can benefit from the advantages of the ETLS.