• Wednesday, May 22, 2024
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Regional integration through commerce

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The multilateral agreements existing among the sixteen ECOWAS member nations need effective implementation within the West African sub-region. The economic gains through commercial activities need to attract special attention. This is very vital considering that immense opportunities for growth are created among nations whenever such interactions are consummated through daily commercial activities.

However, the regional organisation is bound to be failing in its duties if adequate promotions and efficient regional trade are not properly facilitated and harnessed through diplomatic channels. Most importantly, outside regional peace and security among member states, economic gains remain the mainstay of every diplomatic relation. It is observed that their economic status could only be influenced through trade with other economies. For that reason, regional growth and development demand stronger and deeper integration policies by way of liberalising trade and services for mutual prosperity. Therefore, Free Trade Agreement (FTA) among member states must be the watchword.

Whenever a regional economy is healthy, the driving force, which is investment, is bound to spread indiscriminately within the economic bloc, among member states, for a greater rapid economic growth. Based on this concept, Nigeria, for instance, could make more efficient use of the existing Free Trade Zones in the country by effective utilisation of our organised private sectors (e.g., the chambers of commerce) to embark on regional trade missions through a well-coordinated plan from the ECOWAS headquarters with all its respective offices throughout the region. This will consolidate the common market, enhance convergence programmes, promote private sector contributions, and as well boost the regional cohesion through implementation of appropriate sectoral policies in the long run. The effect of this liberalised market access could further bring the smooth application of the ongoing work on the Common External Tariff (CET) and a conclusive negotiation on the pending Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) with the European Union. It will also boost the share of the global trade of the economic bloc, which is one of the five pillars of the African Union. These are visible landmarks that could be achieved for the regional economic bloc, maturing into a sustainable and vibrant African model and brand in regional integration worldwide.

The common market needs to be created as a single community space, where citizens could settle and trade freely in any of the member nations without let or hindrance. The shared values expected as part of economic gains shall include a situation where a Nigerian establishes a trading shop in the city of Accra, Ghana, or a Senegalese invests on the shores of Nigeria for fabrics productions without molestation. Moreover, if Nigeria’s real sector is so loaded with a diverse range of finished goods, citizens from member nations could be attracted to various FTZs within Nigeria, with free access for acquisition of such desired goods and services – the same way Africans besiege Dubai market daily.

By this arrangement, market share for goods and services providers is appreciably increased with a combined population of over 230 million when compared with any single member nation within the economic bloc. In the real sector, choice of siting manufacturing industries within the sub-region would be considered on the economic basis of “comparative advantage”, for the purpose of effective competitive pricing of products in the international market. Enhanced economy of scale among manufacturers is also gained as added advantage within the same regional economy, in light of presumed cheap labour costs for the investors, enhanced employment generation in the society and reduction of poverty within the economic bloc.

In November 2008, the governor of Anambra State approached the then supervising minister of commerce and industry with a request for the establishment of a Free Trade Zone in the state. This was after his first attempt in 2007. The governor understands very clearly the impact of such facility in the state and the eventual effect on the overall economic wellbeing within the sub-region. This is a state that boasts of a commercial nerve centre, Onitsha, which is a world-class commercial hub and has greatly influenced trading activities within the sub- region for over five decades.

It is also not a coincidence that Chukwuma Soludo, former CBN governor and PDP gubernatorial candidate in the 2010 elections in Anambra, during his campaign made a promise to Anambrarians that if given the mandate, he was going to transform Anambra State to “Dubai of Africa”. These gentlemen really knew what they meant, as a statement of fact, in their respective business plans and blueprints because the actualisation of any of those proposals definitely should have astronomical boost on the economy of the entire ECOWAS sub-region, with increased trading and commercial activities amongst the citizens of the member nations. The regional performance by the world-class merchants within the economic bloc would be so impressive when observed and rated with the global trade standards – that is, if they are given such opportunity through creating of enabling environment by government.

In the final analysis, my take is that efficient trade relations within the bloc can improve Africa’s performance on global trade from the present record of 3 percent share. 

 

Nwachukwu writes from Onitsha,

Anambra State.

[email protected]

 

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