By Franklin Alli}
The Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI), has lashed out at ECOWAS, saying â€˜itâ€™s not doing enough to facilitate economic integration in the subregion.â€™
According to LCCI President, Asiwaju Solomon Onafowokan, it is a paradox that ECOWAS has done much more in the area of regional peacekeeping, security and conflict management than in promoting economic integration, which is its core mandate.
â€œAfter over thirty years of its existence, ECOWAS cannot claim to have achieved a free trade area.Â This is not a good commentary,â€ Onafowokan told stakeholders during a forum on Business opportunities in ECOWAS.
He noted that the ECOWAS trade Liberalisation treaty contains excellent provisions to develop and promote trade within the West African Subregion, but progress has been rather slow and impeded by a number of factors.
These factors, he pointed out, are both political and economic, namely, lack of desired political will to implement treaties and drive the integration process, colonial allegiance and loyalty, sometimes taking precedence over regional protocols, including inadequate inclusion of the Private sector in the preparation and implementation of integration treaties, product homogeneity, which limits the range of products which could be traded.
Other factors hindering integration, he observed, also includes language barriers among economic players, weak manufacturing sectors in most of the member states, arising largely from poor infrastructure conditions , inadequate capital for investment in most member states , tariff and non tariff barriers which he said isÂ major problem in many member states.
â€œPolicy inconsistency, low level of economic policy convergence necessary for proper integration.
There are also infrastructure issues which include the following: road network within the subregion is poor, making trade relations difficult, poor ICT infrastructure and low computer literacy.Â It is sometimes easier to call(on phone) Europe than to call a neighboring West African Country.
Interregional flights are few, and non-existent in some cases, intra regional rail linkages are virtually non-existent, few regional shipping activities,â€ he said.
As private sector organizations we could deal with these challenges and constraints to intra regional trade,Â Â in the following ways: partnership and cooperation of the various private sector entities in the subregion, cross border investments should be encouraged, greater advocacy by private sector organizations to promote economic integration, development of private sector champions of West African regional economy, and the Federation of West African Chamber of Commerce (FWACC) could play this role if reinvigorated and well positioned.
â€œThis is one message we should all have to go home with from this forum: With a robust market of over 250 million people, significant benefits of economies of scale would be enjoyed by businesses in our sub region in the event of full market integration.Â This would lower unit costs and enhance our competitiveness.Â Integration is in fact the main vehicle for the boosting of trade within the sub region.
With integration, our economies would be stronger and their capacity to cope with the challenges of globalization would be enhanced,â€ he concluded.low-income populations. With food prices expected to remain high and volatile for some time, IFC is leading World Bank Group efforts to support private sector to increase production.
IFCâ€™s agribusiness strategy includes supporting intra regional investments to transfer knowledge and technology, increasing access to credit through wholesale facilities with traders and financial intermediaries, and bringing land into sustainable production. IFC also focuses on increasing production in middle-income countries with strong agribusiness potential; improving logistics, infrastructure, and water efficiency; and developing modern financial instruments for agriculture.