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ECOWAS seeks private sector partnership to check poverty, infrastructure deficit

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ECOWAS

Worried by the high unemployment, poverty and infrastructural deficit in the West African region, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) has advocated improved private sector collaboration to bridge gaps in the region.

With a population of 400 million people, the bloc noted that an infrastructure deficit needs to be addressed for the region to be competitive, adding that the cost of electricity in the region is three times higher than that of the developed countries.

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ECOWAS added that unemployment is a major challenge for the region, as millions continue to enter the labour market, necessitating the need for job creation through the private sector as well as a conducive environment for such businesses to thrive.

President, ECOWAS Commission, Mr Jean-Claude Brou, during a webinar organised in collaboration with the Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI) to commemorate the Commission’s 46th anniversary emphasised the need for collaboration with the private sector to move the region’s 400 million people out of poverty.

Themed, ”Optimising sustainable trade, investment and regional economic integration through effective partnership between ECOWAS institutions and the organised private sector”, Brou, represented by the acting Director, Trade, ECOWAS, Kolawole Sofola, said the commission, in recognition of the private sector’s role, created a stronger framework to boost the sector’s capacity for enhanced trade.

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He said that the commission had also adopted more than 100 regional standards with 70 others under development as part of the implementation of the West African competitiveness programme.

Brou listed mango, cassava, textile and garments as well as information and communication technology among such products.

“The growing importance of informal trade compels the ECOWAS to create a framework expected to engender more availability and reliability of up-to-date information on informal trade.

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“The framework also seeks to implement reform that is essential to eliminate obstacles to informal trade among others.

“It is important to improve investment, particularly, private investment, in all sectors and I stress that digitalisation must be at the centre of activities for economic recovery.

“Infrastructural deficit must be addressed as well as sustainable and cheaper energy for the competitiveness of products.”

“The Commission is developing projects on roads, renewable energy and education, needed for private sector development; all these to lift millions in the sub-region out of poverty,” he said.

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The Minister of Industry, Trade and Investment, Niyi Adebayo noted that the ECOWAS Trade Liberalisation Scheme (ETLS) and the protocols of free movement of persons, capital and goods should be leveraged to deepen economic integration.

He stated that protocols that provide the principle for progressive elimination of obstacles to the free movement of persons and Right of Residence and establishment among others are key towards the realisation of regional integration.

According to him, collaboration across societal sectors has emerged as one of the defining concepts of international development in the 21st century, adding that partnerships have become an essential paradigm in sustainable development.

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“Our world has limited resources – whether financial, natural or human and as a society, we must optimize their use. The fundamentals of a good partnership include the ability to bring together diverse resources in ways that we can together achieve more impact, greater sustainability and increased value for all”, he added.

On her part, the President of the Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI), Mrs Toki Mabogunje, noted that with a population above 410 million and a Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of about $690 million, the West African sub-region is a high potential market with boundless opportunities.

She explained that the private sector is better positioned to create the needed jobs, produce goods and services and drive commerce across the West African sub-region and Africa as a whole.

She noted that ECOWAS trade protocols need more monitoring, advocacy, and harmonized trade regulations for successful implementation in support of free trade and integration within the sub-region.

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She however expressed concerns that despite the numerous efforts by ECOWAS and other regional blocs, trade within Africa is still very low.

Citing data from the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), she said intra-African trade was around two per cent during the period 2015–2017, while comparative figures for America, Asia, Europe, and Oceania were, respectively, 47 per cent, 61 per cent, 67 per cent, and seven per cent.

A Look at agricultural trade, for example, shows that the intra-African market accounts for roughly 25 per cent of tea exports from Africa, 15% of cotton exports and 10 per cent of the continent’s apparel exports.

She then urged all concerned parties to explore the emerging opportunities offered by the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA) and the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA).

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Despite the challenges, she noted that ECOWAS has played a vital role in developing this sub-region through the accelerated implementation of numerous sectoral programmes for wealth creation, trade promotion, and economic integration.

Dr George Donkor, President, ECOWAS Bank for Investment and Development (EBID) said that many western states showed numerous hurdles to overcome as countries continue to export raw materials, therefore maintaining low levels of development.

Donkor, however, said that reforms were already underway to accelerate the capacities of the Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSME) to spur private sector development for intra-African trade.

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He noted that the EBID 2025 strategy was aimed at ensuring that the private sector benefitted up to 65 per cent of the $1.6 billion available facility.

“A vibrant private sector is key in driving regional integration and securing its active participation and has the potential to create a win-win situation for all participants.

“Increasing credit to the private sector will enhance capacity and the EBID is ready with strategies to ensure that the sector’s capacity is boosted,” he said.

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