International trade has increased exponentially in recent years. Though African countries benefitted from this increase, their share in world trade has remained low; Africa’s export trade amounts to only about 3 percent of world exports.
While this poor trade performance is partly caused by trade protectionist policies of the advanced economies against Africa products, there are also constraints that inhibit trade within the continent.
With the expectation of a generally moderate recovery of the global economy and world trade, it is even more pertinent now than before to foster intra-African trade for improved trade performance.
Experts say rapid conclusion and resolution of the outstanding issues in the Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) negotiations are crucial to Africa’s medium-term prospects in both regional and international trade.
Indeed, among the different measures that several advanced countries adopted in 2009 to curb the effect of the financial crisis, trade protectionism has been on the rise. Protectionism increased despite repeated assurances in the context of the G20 meetings in London, as well as in the context of World Trade Organisation (WTO) talks.
Often stimulus packages were geared to favour domestic sectors, such as through export support, or to favour buying, lending, hiring or investing in local goods and services. Such measures clearly discriminate against developing countries, including those in Africa, on several levels. Unfortunately, African governments lack the resources to curb the domestic impact of the crisis with the same type of measures.
Also, African companies face unfavourable treatment precisely in markets where additional spending is being promoted. Hence, with these new measures African products easily face discriminatory treatment in relation to similar domestic products and services in developed countries, despite the general agreements about preferential treatment they may enjoy.
To check the situation in the West African Sub-Regional, the Federal Government of Nigeria recently set up a taskforce on trade facilitation in Nigeria with a mandate to remove all bottlenecks to trade between Nigeria and its neighboring countries.
The Taskforce member comprises representative from Ministries of Commerce and Industry (now trade and investment), Finance and Transport. Others are: the Nigeria Customs Service, Nigeria Shippers Council, the Nigeria Port Authority (NPA), National Agency for Food, Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC), the Standards Organisation of Nigeria (SON), Nigeria Quarantine Services (NQS), the Nigerian Police, the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and Nigeria Road Safety Corps.
While on a visit to the Managing Director of Nigeria Export Import Bank (NEXIM), Mr. Roberts Ungwaga Orya recently, the chairman of he taskforce, Mr. David Adejuwon, said the body has taken proactive steps to identify what constitutes technical and physical barriers to movement of goods in the sub region.
He confirmed that there are about 35 check points during the day and about 50 checkpoints at night from Lagos to Seme border hindering trade between both countries. This, he said, was against protocol that ECOWAS member countries signed to reduce it to 3 check points.
According to him, all these have been impacting negatively on the country’s image and its competitiveness in the effort to attract Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) into the country.
He pointed out that once the taskforce was able to remove those barriers in the border post, it will go a long way to facilitate trade between Nigeria and other African States. He called for support and collaboration from NEXIM Bank to facilitate trade between Nigeria and other West African States.
Adejuwon on behalf of the taskforce sought for the support of NEXIM Bank in the provision of surveillance vehicles, trade facilitation workshop, sensitation and public awareness as well as disseminating and publicizing information on the operation of the Committee.
Earlier, the Managing director, NEXIM Bank, Orya, had pointed out that Nigeria has the biggest market in Africa and there was need to reduce the multiple checkpoints, which have militated against free movement of goods in the sub-region.
He added that Nigeria, being a strategic nation in both economic and political institution owned by ECOWAS, needs to explore the sub region market, saying that NEXIM Bank has started deepening payment system by supporting Nigerian exporters. Despite his promises at the time, nothing much has been done to show seriousness on the part of government.
NANTS CHARGES ECOWAS
However, despite Nigeria’s efforts, some African countries especially those in West Africa are not taking adequate steps to ensure hindrances in achieving regional integration are removed.
Recently, the National Association of Nigeria Traders (NANTS), charged Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) leaders to address the poor implementation of the ECOWAS Treaty and protocols, especially the protocol on free movement by member states as a major hindrance in achieving regional integration objectives.
Also, the association, in a message and agenda to the speaker of the ECOWAS parliament, pointed out that there is poor adherence to the provisions of the protocol on Rights of Residents and Establishment.
It added that the problem is further complicated by the lack of access to the ECOWAS Court of Justice by community citizens on violations of their socio-economic rights under the Protocols and the ECOWAS Treaty itself.
“NANTS has been canvassing for the compliance of member states with these laws, but has also noted that the role of the ECOWAS Parliament in cases like this is unfortunately limited to merely advisory as it lacks law making powers necessary for the review of sub-optimal provisions in a Protocol,” the association said.
NANTS added that, “It is therefore our expectation that your administration as the Speaker of the Parliament would strengthen the extant weak powers of the ECOWAS Parliament, empower the ECOWAS Commission to be more efficient where necessary, enhance the laws of the Community by possibly infusing strict sanction mechanisms there unto and effectively capacitate even the National Parliaments and other relevant institutions as fundamental organs in the enforcement of laws and or dispensation of justice and integration in West Africa.”
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