Wednesday, April 16, 2014

ECOWAS may soon adopt common external tariff regime

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Members of ECOWAS met in Cape Verde to facilitate the process for a universal external tax regime.

The members of the Economic Community of West Africa States, ECOWAS, may soon adopt a region-wide Common External Tariff, CET, as part of its trade and economic integration initiative to give effect to the 2006 resolution of the regional leaders for a universal external tax regime.

Though the proposal is about five years behind deadline, the ECOWAS Commissioner for Trade, Customs, Industry, Mines, Free Movement and Tourism, Hamid Ahmed, said the new tariff regime would contribute to the strengthening of regional integration as the region proceeds to a customs union.

Mr. Ahmed, at the opening of a two-day meeting of the Trade, Customs and Free movement Technical committee in Praia, Cape Verde, said that the seven draft texts have been developed to facilitate the implementation of the ECOWAS Common External Tariff.

The implication of the directive of regional leaders, the commissioner said, is that seven ECOWAS Member States had to migrate to the new bands already applicable in countries of the West African Economic and Monetary Union, UEMOA, which would also strengthen partnership between both organisations.

The five band tariff regime, which has been the subject of extensive intra-community negotiations and consultations, is based on the existing CET applicable in the eight-member UEMOA countries.

The Deputy Minister of External Relations for Cape Verde, Jose Luis Rocha, said at the opening of the meeting that there is a need for regional solidarity in confronting the challenges of implementing the new CET, which he said would facilitate regional integration and open up the markets of member States.

Mr. Rocha, who also spoke about the ongoing negotiation of the Economic Partnership Agreement, EPA, with the European Union, EU, for a free trade area of both regions, said this is intended to ensure that trade relations between members are driven by World Trade Organisation, WTO, compatible rules.

The minister commended ECOWAS and UEMOA Commissions for allowing Cape Verde to host the meeting on agreement on the CET and take a regional position in the EPA, particularly over outstanding issues, such as market access and the EPADP.

He said that Member States would have to reform their tax regimes to cope with the challenges of implementing the EPA and the new CET.

During the meeting, the experts would consider the draft CET for the region and the draft regulations on highly taxed inputs, customs evaluation and regional integration community levy to replace the existing community levy for funding the activities of the Commission and institutions of the Community.

The regional Ministers of Finance are expected to consider the experts report as well as review their proposals for a harmonized regional CET.

Meanwhile, the ECOWAS Commission has commenced preparations towards the development of its four-year medium term strategic plan, 2016-2020, with an inaugural consultative meeting in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso.

The Member States, development partners and Community citizens are expected to identify gaps in the design and development of the strategic documents to revalidate the framework used in developing the strategic Plan.

The Director of the Strategic Planning Unit of the ECOWAS Commission, Essien Essien, described “2013 as the year to take stock of the progress of the implementation of this strategic plan and commence preparations for the next plan”.

Mr. Essien said that the Commission has resolved that preparations for the next strategic plan should be people centered; adding that the six strategic priorities embedded in the 2011-2015 Strategic Planning Document would be reviewed to identify areas that require amendments.

Areas in the strategic roadmap for regional economic integration to be reviewed include internal governance, institutional capacity, civil society and private sector involvement, crises management and prevention, policy harmonization, and regional security cooperation.

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