By Racheal Ishaya
Economists and experts in foreign trade, customs and integration from across West Africa and beyond are currently meeting to assess the potential implications of ECOWAS admitting two North Africa countries into the bloc.
The two-day ad hoc expert group meeting in Cotonou, Benin, was designed to avail the experts a platform to have a deepened and objective discussions on the pros and cons of Morocco and Tunisia joining the West African bloc as well as the re-admission of Mauritania.
Held on 25 – 26 June 2018 under the theme “Potential expansion of ECOWAS and the implications of African Continental Free Trade Area’”, the meeting was organised by the Sub-Regional Office for West Africa of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) and the government of Benin.
The director of ECA West Africa, Prof. Dimitri Sanga, tasked the experts to thoroughly look at the implications in terms of trade flows and public policy as well as consider the implications for the well-being of the people.
“So the objective is to identify and discuss the main challenges for ECOWAS, and also for the countries joining the community.
“They will also formulate recommendations for an economic and socioeconomic expansion beneficial to all parties.”
The ECA West Africa director said at the end of the meeting, the experts would formulate recommendations for an economically and socially beneficial expansion of the sub-region and an accelerated implementation of the African continental free trade.
He said that the recommendations, hopefully would ultimately foster the achievement of structural transformation of African economies and strengthen regional integration in West Africa.
“At the end of the meeting, the ECA secretariat will prepare a report on the major conclusions and recommendations from the deliberations and submit it to the experts for validation,” Sanga said.
The two day expert group meeting was organised to precede the 21st session of the Intergovernmental Committee of Experts (ICE21) for West Africa on the theme ‘Regional integration in West Africa: New challenges and prospects’, to be also held in held from 27 – 29 June 2018.
The ad hoc expert group meeting was prompted as two North African countries applied for admission into ECOWAS.
Morocco formally expressed its desire to join the West African bloc in February 2017, citing its strong, age-long ties with the sub-region as the rationale for its decision.
Tunisia also applied to become a full member of the bloc in August 2017.
Meanwhile, Mauritania, a founding member of ECOWAS, that left in the year 2000 to join the Arab Maghreb Union, has applied for re-admission into the sub-regional bloc.
The ECA, as a think-tank, in collaboration with partners, found it appropriate to examine the potential economic implications related to an eventual accession of Morocco, Tunisia and Mauritania to ECOWAS.
The admission of these countries is still up for discussion by the Authority of Heads of State and Government of ECOWAS, the highest decision making arm of West African body.