By Daniel Gumm
IT may be one thing to write a rule â€” it is quite another to implement it. A new study is identifying gaps between the written ECOWASâ€™s Trade Liberalisation Scheme (ETLS) and actual practices in its implementation across the West African region.
The ETLS, as it is commonly known, is one step towards ECOWASâ€™s goal of creating a common customs union, which will facilitate trade in the region.
Around the world, customs unions have led to demonstrated increases in economic development. They allow businesses to link with each other within a regional value chain, increasing economies of scale and incentives for the processing of raw materials rather than their export. Local processing leads to more jobs and creates wealth.
The ETLS is based on the fundamental principles of the treaties, protocols, decisions, resolutions and regulations related to the free movement of transport modes, goods and people within ECOWAS. It includes protocols on things like the removal of tariff and non-tariff barriers on goods originating from ECOWAS countries and the documents ECOWAS member state citizens and drivers need to cross borders with their vehicles. The ETLS also defines height, weight and length limitations for vehicles that transport goods.
From the outset, though, countries have had problems implementing the ETLS.After member states agree on rules at ECOWAS meetings, they are supposed to ratify those protocols â€” and then implement them. Somewhere between writing the rules and actual implementation at the regionâ€™s numerous borders and checkpoints discrepancies sneak in.
Preliminary results show that none of the four countries is fully implementing the ETLS protocols â€” and there is a significant lack of awareness on what the ECOWAS protocols actually say. At the Togo-Burkina border, for example, customs agents did not have a copy of the protocols available. Even if the rules were available, however, enforcing them would be difficult if the national legislation has not been enacted making ETLS protocols law.
What is particularly painful is that the business people, whose livelihoods depend on cross-border trade, are both willing and able to make whatever changes to their business methods or paperwork demanded by ETLS, but are obstructed by the implementation and bureaucracy, said a freight forwarder working in Seme at the Nigeria-Benin border.