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Covid-19, insecurity major barriers to AfCTA, says ECOWAS

ECOWAS-headquarters

The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) has decried that the efforts of the regional bloc to harness the potentials of the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCTA) is being threatened by the ravaging impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and security challenges that have bedeviled the region, especially as it concerns growing companies and start up businesses.

These were the majors concerns of the members of the ECOWAS Parliament, who converged in Cotonou, Benin Republic on Tuesday for a meeting of the “Bureau of the Parliament” and a “Delocalized meeting of the Joint Committees on Administration, Finance and Budget; Macroeconomic Policies and Economic Research; Public Accounts; Trade, Customs and Free Movement”.

The West African legislators lamented that notwithstanding the benefits of free trade, terrorism and insecurity have increased uncertainty and raised the cost of goods and services. The lawmakers added that these visible threats, which stall progress and create stumbling blocks to investments in turn, affect commerce and employment in the region.

The Speaker of the ECOWAS Parliament, Sidie Mohammed Tunis, during the opening ceremony of the two meetings scheduled with a week-long activities, said that “Terrorism slows the flow of goods and resources through ports due to greater inspections and safeguard and divert government expenditures from more productive public investment to less productive security activities.

“In addition to terrorism, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has also affected the implementation of the African Continental Free Trade Agreement,”

The Bureau is to consider and adopt the draft budget of the Parliament for the 2021 fiscal year. The meeting is scheduled to run from November 2 to 6, 2020 while the Delocalized Meeting of the Joint Committee meet under the theme “African Continental Free Trade Area, How Feasible in the face of Cross-Border Threats” will run from November 3 to 7, 2020.

Concerning the implementation of the AfCFTA, the Speaker Tunis pointed out the need for Members of Parliament to gain better understanding of its challenges and prospects.

Tunis said since the emergence of the pandemic, there has been abrupt fall in commodity prices, fiscal revenues, foreign exchange receipts, foreign financial flows, travel restrictions, a decline in tourism and hotels, and so on.

“Beyond its impact on human health, the pandemic has disrupted an interconnected world economy and border closure has reduced economic activities with following predictions of recession across the continent,” Speaker Tunis said.

He said further that “in the midst of all these, what is at stake is the dignity and well being of Africa’s farmers, workers and entrepreneurs, particularly women and youths.

“The promise of free trade is prosperity for all Africans, particularly West Africans, because it provides a prospect for the production of value-added goods and services, increase in income and better living conditions for our citizens”.

He expressed hope that the meeting of the Parliament would enlighten on the important issues and provide the Parliament with sufficient resources on the prospects of implementing the African Continental Free Trade Agreement.

He stressed the need for the Parliament also to be acquainted on the role it should play in mitigating challenges and facilitating the application of the AfCFTA.

Head of Benin Republic’s Delegation of the Representatives of ECOWAS Parliament, Sédami Romarique Medegan Fagla, urged member countries not to lose sight of the threats that risk undermining the AfCTA and efforts to achieve objectives especially in the face of insecurity in the region.

She explained that since the meeting of the region with the West, and since the Berlin Conference in 1884, West Africa had lost the quality of spontaneity the freedom of movement and action the AfCTA represents. She encouraged the continuity of hope generated by the creation of ECOWAS in 1975 which aims to help regain the fluidity of movements in the sub-region.

She said “that is why the Continental Free Exchange has been designed. Its creation aims to strengthen the dynamics of the free movement of people and goods beyond our sub-region, and the African entirety.

“Deploying a continental commercial area reflects above all the desire to take possession of our common living space and to carry out activities that can improve the daily lives of our peoples.

“This is an opportunity for African intracontinental trade which, compared to other continents is still insufficient.”

Also speaking at the opening of the ECOWAS delocalized meeting, the Minister for Industry and Trade, Republic of Benin, Alimatou Assouman, stressed on how crucial the AfCTA on African integration and the economies of the 26 Countries that are party to the trading rectification instruments.

Assouman called for an in-depth reflection during the meeting without laying aside the Pan-African idea.