The Federal Government and other Ecowas member countries have been urged to quicken the implementation of the Ecowas Trade Liberalisation Scheme, ETLS, with respect to free movement of agricultural produce in West Africa.
This was the recommendation of Stakeholders at a meeting on Programme for Food across Borders (ProFAB) in West Africa just concluded in Abuja.
In a communique signed by National President, National Association of Nigerian Traders, NANTS, Ken Ukaoha, the meeting noted that vibrant agricultural sector will no doubt lift most West African countries who have over the years relied on exportation of raw materials and international aids to fund their budget from the throes of poverty.
According to the NANTS President, with an investment of $57.2 billion in agriculture creating 33,000 jobs in 2013, implementing the ETLS with respect to the ProFAB programme was the way to go for the sub region.
Ukaoha also called on President Mohammad Buhari to establish a Supervisory Unit/Committee under the Presidency for the application of ECOWAS protocol on the Free movement of goods and services across borders and also ensure the adaptation of national regulations to the legal provisions of the sub regional economic body.
The Stakeholder Consultation on Programme for Food Across Borders (ProFAB) in West Africa was a collaboration between the National Association of Nigerian Traders (NANTS), Borderless Alliance, USAID and ECOWAS, had over 50 participants drawn from the security and trade value chain.
The stakeholders noted that despite the creation of trade measures and instrument such as ETLS, CET, the Free Movement Protocol, etc.to promote the free movement of goods, especially agricultural commodities originated from member states, movement of goods particularly agro commodities aimed at increasing agricultural productivity and processing as well as incomes to farmers and revenue to the nation has remained at a low ebb especially with numerous roadblocks and checkpoints on international highways.
“More so, given that the President Mohammad Buhari targets agriculture as an anchor to rebuilding and diversifying the economy through agriculture, it is therefore imperative and urgent to identify with smooth implementation of the ETLS as regards agro-industry by identifying and finding solutions to all impediments and infractions associated with the movement of agro-commodities along the border routes.
“Essentially, as Nigeria strategizes on increasing her market share of global trade and making up the loss revenue, the local actors must be given the opportunities to expand their export tentacles and access to international markets,” the meeting agreed.
Lack of collaboration between various stakeholders and security services; insufficient training for cross border security personnel on the knowledge of ETLS approved goods, poor information on the ECOWAS Free Movement Protocols, rules and standard; difficulties in accessing funding for the production, poor processing and marketing of agricultural commodities; Insufficient and adaptable infrastructure and equipment for production; lack of dialogue between economic operators and institutional operators; lack of respect for regional texts and legal instruments; absence of regional trade information systems and market opportunities, lack of information sharing among key stakeholders; multiple taxation/levies and multiplication of uniformed agents, difficulties in or high cost of accessing transportation, lack of network opportunities for agro commodities producers and exporters to participate in ECOWAS trade fairs, have been identified as factors militating against the movement of agricultural products across the sub region.
In order to overcome these challenges, those present at the meeting urged the government to involve civil societies and other small business groups in the national programme and activities that will promote regional economic integration particularly the free movement of Nigeria’s agro commodities across the borders is on ad-hoc basis and often very fragmented.
“Participants noted that the inability of ECOWAS member states including Nigeria to link national policies with regional policies has given the country a big drawback to the implementation of regional trade policies. They urged Nigeria and other Member States to align their national policies with regional instruments in order to harness the benefits of intra-regional trade particular free movement of agro commodities which will ultimately translate into economic wealth.
“Participants stressed that for the ProFAB programme to be a success, there is need for regulatory agencies to inter-face with the Private Sector before any policy is formulated. Also, they suggested that a one-stop shop be established to ease the cost of doing business across the region. It was unanimously agreed that information sharing between Private Sector players and security officials will go a long in tackling trans-border security challenges,” they stated.
While acknowledging that implementation of the various Protocols by Ecowas member states have been poor, Ukaoha advocated for capacity building framework of the project target both the public and private agencies. Importantly, the implementing agencies should endeavour to provide adequate market information as well as helping to remove all impediments to free movement of agro-produce across West Africa. Even as he added the ECOWAS ProFAB project when it is fully implemented would facilitate agricultural growth and market development which Nigeria will benefit immensely.
Other recommendations by participants at the meeting includes a call on “ECOWAS Member states to show commitment in the implementation of the relevant protocols and instruments such as the protocol on free movement of peoples, goods and services, the ELTS, and the recently adopted CET etc. In addition, the need for the construction of regional trade and transport infrastructure such as cross border roads and rails was emphasized. This is in addition to the provision of facilities such as scanning machines that would facilitate easy conduct of checks on goods to avoid unnecessary delays especially on perishable agricultural commodities,” the communique said.
Participants at the meeting include representatives of the ECOWAS, Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (FMARD), Federal Ministry of Trade and Investment (FMTI), Nigeria Quarantine Service, Standard Organization of Nigeria (SON), Nigerian Export and Import Bank (NEXIM), Nigerian Export Processing Zones Authority, (NEPZA), Nigeria Police Force (NPF), Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) and Nigerian Drug and Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA). Others are, NACCIMA, NANTS, Borderless Alliance, GIZ, Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA), Civil Society Coalition on Poverty Eradication (CISCOPE), Association of Cross Border Women Traders, Association of Agro-Commodities Exporters and Small Scale Farmers Association as well as intra-regional trade specialists/Analysts, amongst others.