The President of Ghana Union of Traders Association (GUTA), Dr Joseph Obeng, has declared that the Economic Community of West Africa States (ECOWAS) has lost its steam in regulating trade disputes within the region. Specifically, Obeng stated that ECOWAS had been a failure to the trade liberalization agreement among member state countries. Following the recent happenings among member state countries with regards to trade activities, Ghanaweb quoted Obeng as saying ECOWAS was supposed to be the key channel to settle these issues of dispute among member countries concerning trades since there is an Economic Trade Liberalization Scheme (ETLS). Speaking with GhanaWeb, the trade president noted: “ECOWAS has been a failure, especially since Nigeria listed 45 items … that’s why other countries are following suit.
It destroys the whole protocol and especially when they closed their borders at their own will. Even though they might have some reason for doing that, it wasn’t fair to other West African countries and ECOWAS could not prevail upon all these. How can a member state say that they are exiting from the ETLS? ECOWAS has failed.” Benin has increased duty tariffs on some 45 items being exported to their country and this has made trading activities very difficult in the sub-region.
Meanwhile, calls have been made to the Africa Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) to intervene in the on-going trade dispute among Benin and other countries. New Telegraph recalls that the decision of Nigerian government to close its land borders for one year was described as mere “muscle flexing.” Ghanaian trade experts criticized Nigeria’s bully attitude that led to the closure of its land borders from August 2019 till December 2020 and cautioned that that kind of decision would not be condoned by AfCFTA.
Eye on Port quoted a former Deputy Minister of Trade and Industry, and the Member for Parliament for Tema West, Carlos Ahenkorah, as empathising with Nigeria’s reasoning to safeguard its market and people, but disagreed with the option to close its borders.
“If you ask me, I still challenge the rationale for Nigeria to close its borders,” he stated. According to him, Nigeria’s closure of the border was to flex its muscle as the regional superpower. “They see themselves as big brothers of West Africa and can decide to do what they want to do,” Mr. Ahenkorah expressed. He revealed that during his role as deputy minister of trade, there was a meeting where Nigeria proposed some 13 ultimatums that needed to be fulfilled, before reopening of its borders.
Ahenkorah explained some of the dynamics of the border closure on businesses in Nigeria and its trading counterparts, hinting that some of the consequences may linger for some time. “Companies in Ghana and throughout the West African region that they trade with as well as Nigerian companies themselves, the suffering is not going to end now. People have to reconnect and re-establish business relationships.” He said AfCFTA would fill the loopholes that the ECOWAS Trade Liberalization Scheme exposed and ensure that such practices will not be condoned during its implementation. “The ECOWAS protocols were couched in a gentleman’s agreement by the heads of states and there were no dispute resolution mechanisms within that framework.
AfCFTA has corrected this mistake.” Also contributing to the discourse, Nana Osei Bonsu, who is the CEO of the Private Enterprise Federation, corroborated the former deputy minister’s assertion and emphasised that the conflict resolution mechanisms embedded in AfCFTA protocols will not allow trade injustices to grow. “Whatever you do now will be subject to the AfCFTA. The rules of origin, the arbitration that was clearly missing with ECOWAS is now in place,” he cautioned. He cited, “Even under that agreement, when exports were getting into Nigeria, they were imposing additional mandates on the Ghanaian businesses without any reason to do that and disregarding the protocol.”